Beacon Behind the Books: Meet Catherine Tung, Editor
February 03, 2023
Welcome to our rebooted “Beacon Behind the Books” series! In these times when readers are responding to our books “more than ever,” when our authors—including Aubrey Gordon, Tanya Katerí Hernández, Robin D. G. Kelley, Eboo Patel, and Gayl Jones—are appearing in the media, their ideas going viral on social media, their voices being heard on so many platforms, we thought it would be good to take a break to focus on some of the staff who work hard to find, shape, edit, produce, and promote those works. Our blog series introduces to you a staff member and gives you a behind-the-scenes look, department by department, at what goes on at our office.
For the month of February, we introduce you to Catherine Tung, our editor!
What drew you to publishing, Catherine? How did you find your way to Beacon?
I initially wanted to be a writer, and I also wanted to live in New York, where many of my best friends were already living. In my last semester of college, my thesis advisor mentioned publishing as a possible day job—an industry that, of course, is also mainly based in New York. After college, I did some internships and freelance work at various New York publishers, magazines, and agencies, and then did an MFA in fiction writing at Brooklyn College, where I studied with author and editor Nathaniel Rich. He was the first person to introduce me to line editing, which I immediately fell in love with. I came to the realization that: a.) Publishing was not a “day job”—it was an all-consuming, passion-driven career; and b.) I liked editing more than I liked writing.
My first full-time trade publishing job was at Vintage Books, where I stayed for seven years and developed a particular interest in publishing nonfiction books on social justice topics—a category that is, of course, Beacon’s main focus. When a mid-level editorial job opened here, it seemed like the perfect fit.
What’s a typical day in the life of an editor?
It’s a constant juggling act to balance the dynamic work that I do with my colleagues—acquisitions, launch presentations, cover design meetings, etc.—with the intense one-on-one editing that happens between me and my authors. I feel fortunate that I’m able to do all this work from home, which allows for the kind of sustained, solitary focus that is so important when editing.
What are some of the challenges of being an editor? What do you find most rewarding?
The writer-editor relationship is an intense one, full of constant negotiation. It’s my job to honor the author’s views and vision while also trying to challenge them in ways I believe will make their book the best it can be. This is both the most challenging and the most rewarding part of the job.
What is one book on our list that has influenced your thinking on a particular issue?
Absolutely Aubrey Gordon’s What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat. It made me aware of the work that’s happening within the fat acceptance movement, the harmful medical myths surrounding fatness, the many ways in which fat people are marginalized, and our need as a society to dismantle fatphobia.
What current projects are you excited about?
I’ve been working to establish a new sexuality list at Beacon, and this summer, we’ll be publishing the first two books in that list: Superfreaks by Arielle Greenberg, a book on kink; and Desire by licensed sex therapists Lauren Fogel Mersy and Jennifer Vencill, a book on libido differences. We are working towards a world that is free from sexual shame!
Chicken and rice of all kinds.
Best vacation destination?
What are you reading right now?
I just finished reading a history of the Cambodian Revolution called When the War Was Over by Elizabeth Becker. It’s a difficult read but immensely illuminating, not only on the history of Cambodia but on Southeast Asia and communist movements of the twentieth century.
What’s the next queued song on your music player?
“Speak Low,” Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass.
Hobbies outside of work?
Songwriting, musicmaking, vegetable gardening, cooking, knitting baby sweaters, and playing with my cat.
Catherine Tung joined Beacon Press in late 2019 after seven years at Vintage Books, where she acquired in memoir, fiction, and nonfiction titles on politics, disability, cultural studies, and mental health. At Beacon, she is actively developing a list focused on oral history, urban planning, sexuality, and Asian American writing. Outside the office, she enjoys musicmaking, community building, knitting, gardening, and friendly debates over bourbon.