By Helene Atwan | Like so many thousands, hundreds of thousands of others, I was deeply saddened by the news of Toni Morrison’s death. Like others, I had been moved and changed by reading her work over many years. And like hundreds of others, I was fortunate to have worked with her oh so briefly over the years, once as a publicist at Knopf, when Song of Solomon was coming out. She still worked at Random House as an editor in those days and would take the elevator up to visit us at Knopf.
By Helene Atwan | Like most of us living in the US, I was sickened by this weekend’s news of shootings in El Paso and Dayton. Coming into work, feeling so stricken by these events, I was heartened by the fact that I could turn to a group of colleagues and immediately begin talking about what kind of resources we could offer in the wake of these senseless tragedies. I feel, as I often do, heartened to be working in an environment where it is our job to try to create these resources.
By Christian Coleman | Do you want to play a game? No, not the one in the Saw movie franchise. Let’s play the word association game. Come now. It’ll be fun! Peanut : Butter. Instagram : Celebrity. Identity politics : Divisive. Wait. Let’s back up. Divisive? That word has been coming up lately when presidential candidates make identity politics a talking point in public discourse. At an LGBT gala in Las Vegas, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay candidate, said identity politics have created a “crisis of belonging,” leading us to get “divided and carved up.” Vermont senator Bernie Sanders has criticized identity politics for focusing only on the endgame of diversity—another word with contentious associations and dubious meanings depending on who’s defining it—and neglecting the needs of working people.
The summer solstice has graced us with its yearly cameo. Time to bask in the warmth and light (and that charming humidity when it gets here) of longer nights! Which means more time to enjoy reading outside! Our staff has some recommendations for the season. Now, we know what you’re thinking: You already have a to-be-read pile that’s about ready to topple over and bury you up to your ears. But another recommendation won’t hurt. Trust us. After you’ve dug yourself out of your book avalanche, you’ll thank us later.
I want to say my passion for book publishing is because I have always loved to read, but that is just not true. When I was growing up, my family pretty much exclusively spoke Spanish, so when I started first grade and was asked to learn to read in English—a language that already felt out of place on my tongue—it was a BIG no from me. I hated it. It took me longer than the other kids to read a Magic Tree House book, and I was embarrassed, which put me off reading for pleasure for years. It wasn’t until sixth grade when I had an amazing English teacher—Shout-out to Emily! I went to a hippy-dippy middle school where we called our teachers by their first name—that I finally enjoyed reading.
I studied poetry in college and worked a handful of odd publishing jobs around New York. Through both good and bad experiences in that world, I developed a genuine passion for promoting work by both new and underrepresented writers. I was always That Person telling my friends, “You need to read this new book! You need to read this new poem!” Yelling about new books is fun, you know? It’s a celebration, which, for me, always felt like a natural extension of being a super nerdy reader. So when I applied to graduate schools and Emerson’s publishing program offered me a funded spot, I leapt at the chance to explore publishing outside of New York. After that, my path became a little circuitous.
When I was looking for my first job in 1989, I knew I wanted to work in Boston but hadn’t decided on a specific career path. I applied to be an administrative assistant at several companies and chose Houghton Mifflin, partly because my grandfather had worked for the company in the 1930s as a printer operator. I was drawn to the legal and financial aspects of the business and worked in various roles that helped me further my career with the company and later to run my own freelance publishing services business. I kept in touch with many of my wonderful colleagues, including Cliff Manko.
It was a really long process for me! I was an English major in college. I loved reading and doing research, but I didn’t like sitting down and writing so I didn't consider a career in publishing. I went on to work in documentary production, but I found it too hard to make a living as a freelancer. I seriously considered becoming a librarian, but I realized that I wanted to be involved in some way with making books. So, I enrolled in the publishing certificate program at Emerson.
There’s nothing like cooking a good meal to bring people together. What better way than with the recipes in the late Ntozake Shange’s If I Can Cook/You Know God Can? Shange’s eclectic tribute to Black cuisine and culture is one of the first two books in our new Celebrating Black Women Writers series. This season, we launched this series to reissue and repackage timeless titles “to share essential voices with a new generation of readers in a celebration of Blackness, Black womanhood, Black women, and all the contributions they bring to the page,” as our editorial assistant Maya Fernandez said. Several of us got together to prepare some of the meals for a potluck lunch at the office. And reader, let me tell you: It was delicious! Here are comments from some of our staff about their experiences with Shange’s recipes.
I was an English major in college and worked on online publications and art journals while there, because I wanted to be directly involved with spreading the good word of the works that I thought were important. I always knew I would be in publishing in some capacity after realizing I can manage paper deadlines, print deadlines, and still having that passion and drive to work on projects long term. I was a publicity intern at Beacon my last semester in college, and then I stayed on as an editorial intern after graduating and I’ve never left.
I’ve always wanted to work in book publishing once I realized it was a possible career. I interned at a few different publishers in college and loved it. I knew it was a super competitive field, and someone at my college’s career office even told me it was too competitive for me and that I shouldn’t really bother trying to break in, but I knew what I wanted to do, so I worked really really hard to make it happen. My first job was at Cornell University Press in the acquisitions department, which was great, but I really enjoyed the marketing aspects of my job the most and wanted to move back to Boston, so that’s how I ended up here! My official title is associate marketing manager and I do lots of different things: academic marketing, conferences, advertising, creating promotional materials like postcards or bookmarks, drafting marketing plans, and managing our internship program.
You’ll notice a major recurring theme in the top read blog posts from the Broadside in 2018. Should it be any surprise? This year, readers were more than ready to come to terms with our country’s complex notions around racial identity and, most of all, white fragility. And we have Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility to thank! Dina Gilio-Whitaker extended the conversation of white fragility to address how settler colonialism manifests as settler privilege and settler fragility today. Her series on settler privilege went viral. Whatever the topic, we at Beacon Press can always turn to our authors for the critical lens we need to understand today’s most pressing social issues. Take a look at our other highlights of the Broadside.
I studied English and Religious Studies in college but didn’t know what I wanted for my career. I fell into hospitality management for several years after graduating. I loved working for the boutique hotel I managed but was ready for a change. Despite my best efforts to avoid any and all math courses in school, I realized while working that I enjoyed and wanted to expand on the accounting and business administration skills I had acquired. Working in the business department for Beacon Press felt tailor-made to my interests.
By Gayatri Patnaik | A little over ten years ago, I found myself mulling over what kind of history books Beacon Press could successfully publish. With the incredible history titles published every year by both university and trade presses, what could Beacon do to distinguish our list in this competitive space? Certainly, the books would need to reflect Beacon’s progressive vision of social justice and also the inherently “cross-over” nature of our list. Cross-over in two senses—both in terms of the intellectually grounded but accessible writing, as well as our ability to find multiple audiences—trade, academic, and activist—for our titles.
I had a roundabout path to where I am now. I went to a STEM magnet high school and worked at the Army Research Lab in the microphotonics department and figured I would be an engineer. I entered college as an engineering major and minored in art. The whole while, I wrote articles as a student reporter. In high school I was the news editor of our school paper and in college I was a staff reporter for the campus paper. The Asian American Student Union published a newspaper, and the editor-in-chief contacted me for help. I wrote a few pieces and became the editor-in-chief for the next two years. Halfway through my junior year, I switched majors and I graduated with a BA in journalism and a minor in art and worked in a newsroom of a paper and as a writer for a magazine—and found that I was good at layout and composition and went to grad school for design.
As so many cultural leaders note in the tribute obituaries we’ve linked to below, Ntozake Shange was a completely original, breathtaking artist. From the time she embraced the name gifted to her by Ndikko and Nomusa Zaba, a name which meant “she who comes with her own things/who walks like a lion,” Ntozake Shange launched headlong into her program to electrify dance, poetry, and theatre. Even when her own movement became limited, she kept her focus and worked whenever she could. We were working with her on a book to be called Dance We Do: A Poet Looks at African American Dance.
We are shocked and heartbroken. We learned of the sad news that our author, Rashod Ollison, passed away on October 17 from non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He was forty-one. He graced our catalog with his coming-of-age memoir Soul Serenade: Rhythm, Blues, and Coming of Age Through Vinyl. In his singular, flavorful writing voice, he brought to life his story of growing up Black and gay in central Arkansas during the eighties and the nineties. Back when we asked him if he had an audience in mind for his memoir, he said he didn’t think anyone would want to read it.
I was amazingly lucky. I’d been associate publisher at Farrar, Straus and Giroux when we were distributing Beacon, so I got to “help out” with some of their books, including best-selling books by Marian Wright Edelman and Cornel West. When my predecessor left, the search committee came knocking at my door. I just happened to know one of them, Roger Straus III, so maybe the fix was in. But it was the amazing Kay Montgomery, executive vice president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, who really settled me in and supported me for the next seventeen years. I’ve never recovered from her abandonment (well, yes, she retired after more than twenty-five years at her job…).
By Emily Powers and Bella Sanchez | Imani Perry’s Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry is a watershed biography of the award-winning playwright, activist, and artist Lorraine Hansberry. If people know anything about Lorraine (Perry refers to her as Lorraine throughout the book, explaining why she does so), they’ll recall she was the author of A Raisin in the Sun, an award-winning play about a family dealing with issues of race, class, education, and identity in Chicago. Lorraine’s extraordinary life has often been reduced to this one fact in classrooms—if she is taught at all.
By Ayla Zuraw-Friedland | It’s back to school season. After several months of anticipation, worrying over first-year seminar selections, and at least one public melt-down in a Target parking lot while shopping for dorm room essentials, thousands of college freshmen across the country are packing up and doing the cross-country shuffle. There are communal bathrooms to scope out, clubs to sign up for, and perhaps most importantly, roommates to get acquainted with. This person can either be your partner in crime on a journey of self-discovery and youthful mischief, or your most treasured nemesis . . . or a semi-anonymous entity with whom you share mini-fridge space and see once every three days.