The coronavirus is an unprecedented crisis that is impacting our lives in significant ways. In our ongoing efforts to promote public safety during the COVID-19 outbreak, Beacon Press staff started working from home last week and will continue to do so until further notice. While some things are in flux, you should know that we are continuing to work hard—and creatively—on getting the books we publish in front of the right audiences.
I’ve always loved finding that perfect seed at the heart of a story, and thanks to my mom’s early guidance (thanks, Mom!), I’ve had my sights set on a career in publishing for a long time. I spent a few summers working as an intern at a literary agency where my main job was to dig through slush piles full of unsolicited manuscripts, trying to discover the Next Big Thing. It was a great way to practice spotting not just the obviously great stuff, but the stuff that could be great with a little more shaping. That’s where I really learned how to argue for a book’s potential.
Without further ado, for our inspirational holiday picks, the categories are . . .
A Q&A with Patricia Powell | I was initially an economics major but when I took my first creative writing class, everything changed. All my bottled-up feelings of loss came undone. I was twenty at the time and had only been in the States for four years. Writing had already stirred up so many feelings about home and the people I had left behind, those I had loved with all my heart and would never see again—my great aunt who raised me, for example, and who died shortly after I left.
Like many people who work at Beacon, I have always loved books and reading, and I studied English as my major in college. Though my mother worked as an editor for a number of years, I did not consider a job in publishing for myself until later in school. I was worried that a lack of publishing-specific internships might make it more difficult to get a job in this industry but figured it was worth a shot! I found the listing for my position at Beacon during one of many frantic late-night job searches as a second-semester senior.
By Maya Fernandez | To know Ntozake Shange was a privilege. Like many Black women, I was first introduced to her brilliance in college when I read her choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf and found myself in her words. As I immersed myself in her other written work, I learned that she wrote boldly with a heartbreaking and beautiful honesty that centers the stories and lives of Black people across the diaspora, and particularly, Black women and girls. She never dulled her experience or language for the sake of making a mainstream white audience feel comfortable, and instead, wrote plays, poetry, novels, and essays that affirmed Black lives, culture, and being.
It feels like a cliché, but I’ve always been interested in books and bookmaking. My dad ran a print shop in Cambridge for many years, so I had what felt like limitless access to paper in a rainbow of colors, giant staplers, laminators, and plastic binding. I made my first book when I was five or six and called it “Beautiful Birds,” a collection of bird illustrations for my grandma. When I started thinking about college ten years later, it was pretty much a toss-up whether I’d study writing or art. Designing books is a career where I get to be excited about both, so I set my heart on it early.
By Gayatri Patnaik | Several months ago, when I was in the midst of editing Imani Perry’s biography of Lorraine Hansberry (Looking for Lorraine), I remember stopping and thinking about how special Imani’s voice was. She is extremely knowledgeable and intellectually sophisticated, but she also had this ability to write about Hansberry in an intimate way, and with an eloquent simplicity. A few minutes later, I happened to read a Facebook post from Imani about one of her sons and I immediately thought, How lucky her kids are to have Imani as their mother. And then I became curious and wondered, How is she educating them?
By Rakia Clark | Meeting Mona Eltahawy for the first time is like a bolt of lightening. Bold, vibrant, bright red hair, tattoos on both forearms, big, big smile, the works. Sitting down for the first time to discuss what would become The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls, I was captivated by the powerful simplicity of the book’s central questions: What would happen if girls around the world were trained up to embrace the same qualities we encourage in boys? What if women around the world lived their lives with the same freedom men felt?
As most people in publishing will say, I’ve always really, really, loved reading. English was the only subject throughout school that I truly cared about, and the idea of getting to work with books all the time always seemed like an absolute dream to me.
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.