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, Angela Saini, 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 April, we introduce you to Ruthie Block, our editorial assistant!
What drew you to publishing, Ruthie? How did you find your way to Beacon?
When I started to think about career options in my first year of college, I knew I wanted to do something in the world of books and I knew I wanted, within that, to work somewhere that recognized the inherent political power of publishing and that was committed to using that power in a way that was both disruptive and purposeful. I also knew—or thought I knew at the time—that I wanted to be in New York.
In the summer of 2018, I joined The Feminist Press in New York City as an intern and was first introduced to mission-oriented, nonprofit publishing. I fell in love with what I came to understand to be “the life of a book” and was thrilled by how many opportunities there were within publishing to learn so many new and beautiful things about the world from the books and proposals I was tasked with reading.
As it turned out, New York wasn’t for me! But I returned to school in Boston with a newfound appreciation for the world of publishing and for the people in it. I was familiar with a number of Beacon’s titles, primarily through my mom’s bookshelf which has, for as long as I can remember, been lined with Black histories and Black-authored nonfiction. As a result, most of the books that have shaped me are books that Beacon brought into the world.
When I came across the listing for Beacon Press’s BIPOC Editorial Internship in my junior year, I immediately applied! I think that was in the winter of 2020, and I’ve been working in Beacon’s editorial department ever since. It’s felt incredibly meaningful, and a little bit magical, to now be in a position where I’m adding books to my mom’s bookshelf more frequently than I’m stealing away with them. :)
What is one memorable project you worked on at Beacon?
During my first week as an intern at Beacon, I was tasked with helping to compose the manuscript for Sonia Sanchez’s Collected Poems. I spent weeks keying in Sonia’s poems from her previously published books, formatting them and sorting them and putting them into a massive binder that we eventually sent off to Sonia for review. Although my work has certainly evolved and I’ve been able to work on books in a more direct and creative way since that first week, I’ll never forget how special it felt to get to read Sonia Sanchez all day for work (secretly, I definitely would’ve done that for free) and I’ll never forget how excited I was, even playing the small role that I did, to be a part of something that Sonia Sanchez was creating in my second day on the job.
What is one book on our list that has influenced your thinking on a particular issue?
While Robin D. G. Kelley’s Freedom Dreams was published well before my time at Beacon, I encountered the book in undergrad, and it radically reshaped my relationship to Black scholarship. Kelley’s vision of a world transformed by the power of collective dreaming has served as a guiding light for me. It’s the type of book that makes me want to write. I was lucky enough to work on the book’s 2021 reissue, which includes a beautiful foreword from poet and activist Aja Monet, and it was an incredible gift to get to revisit Kelley’s work and to be introduced to Aja’s. I was able to join in a conversation with Kelley himself (via Zoom). I tried my best not to geek out but I’m not sure I pulled it off!
Favorite thing about your remote home base?
As much as I miss the social part of working in person, I have to say that I feel pretty spoiled at my apartment. Both of my roommates work in person, so I generally have nine to five at home alone and get to turn all the common spaces into a massive office suite. It’s been nice to spread out and to listen to music out loud, and the lack of social exposure has really inspired me to work on developing a friendship with my roommate’s cat. Things started out rocky between us at first, but he’s pretty much my respected colleague at this point.
What’s the next queued song on your music player?
“By Your Side” (Neptunes Remix) by Sade on an infinite loop!
Hobbies outside of work?
I’m getting really into baking birthday cakes, and spring is a major birthday season for a lot of the people I love! My top hits from the last couple of months include a tiramisu cake, a basketball b-day cake, a strawberry shortcake cake, and a failed Baked Alaska. I’m hoping to make use of the blow torch I bought for the Baked Alaska, so maybe next up is something crème brûlée-esque? Any and all suggestions for blow-torch baking ideas are very welcome.
Do you still have a commute to work? If not, do you miss it? What do you like to do to pass the time?
I only go into work on Thursdays, and the commute is sweet when the sun is shining and the train isn’t super packed. Because I live in Cambridge, my trip to work is about thirty minutes of walking and only ten minutes sitting on the train. Back when I lived right off the red line, I was able to read a ton during the commute, but now I find that ten minutes isn’t really enough for me to dig into a book. I’ve been breaking out my Nintendo DS on the train lately, and Bowser’s Inside Story is an excellent way to pass the time!
Ruthie Block received a BA in English and Africana Studies from Tufts University in 2021. Previously, Ruthie interned at The Feminist Press, as well as working at Beacon as an intern and freelancer. Outside the office, Ruthie enjoys farming, community building, reality TV, and adding to their ever-growing collection of books to read.