I’m sitting here on my bed, in my room at Columbia University. It’s been a week at the Columbia Publishing Course, and tomorrow we begin week two.
I started out the week knowing no one, feeling a little anxious, and being quite overwhelmed. By the end of the week, I can say that I know quite a few people, and that every person in my class is incredibly smart and talented. There are 110 of us, and apparently this was the most competitive year of the program (three times more than usual applied), so I’m still not fully sure how I got in. We come from all over, too. I’ve met some who graduated from UT Austin (no A&M), Baylor, University of Minnesota, UCLA, Bard, Harvard, Wellesley, Vassar, Kenyon, University of Maryland, Smith, and many more.
So here’s what went down this past week:
I arrived in New York City with my parents the Friday before the course began. We took it easy in NYC–we’ve done all of the tourist stuff before. Also, we were quite tired from driving all the way to NYC from Texas. We explored the area around Columbia a bit, and on Saturday, saw the Broadway play Fully Committed, which stars Modern Family‘s Jesse Tyler Ferguson. The play was absolutely incredible and I recommend it to all! Mommy and I were fangirling hardcore.
On Sunday, it was time to move in. My dad had already flown home for work, so Mommy and I took an Uber full of ourselves and my belongings, and lugged all my stuff up to my new dorm room at Columbia. It’s strange living in a dorm again, but luckily, Hogan Hall at Columbia is spacious and clean. I met my four roommates, Charlotte, Taline, Jacqueline, and Maddy. They are all super cool, smart people. We all love English and books, and nerdishly geek out over literature. On Sunday night, our whole class took part in an NYC-style “barbecue” that was actually grilled chicken, hot dogs, and burgers. It wasn’t true barbecue, but it was good.
The course officially began on Monday with our keynote book speaker, John Glusman, VP and Editor-in-Chief of W.W. Norton. Mr. Glusman had loads of knowledge to impart on us, but I couldn’t get over the fact that he had been a research assistant, during his time at Columbia, for the late literary theorist Edward Said. Said’s work, Orientalism, has been one of the most influential works in literary theory. Said’s daughter, Najla Said, wrote the memoir Looking for Palestine, that has become one of my favorite books (Dr. Reddy, if you’re reading this, thank you!). We then heard from Barbara Clark of the Barbara Clark Agency and Bruce Tracy of Workman Publishing. Workman publishes “gift books,” such as Wreck This Journal and various coloring books.
On Tuesday, we had an exciting lecture from Wendy Lamb, editor at her own children’s book imprint, Wendy Lamb Books, which is part of the massive Penguin Random House mecca. Wendy Lamb told us that she loves editing children’s books because these books are so formative. When we are children, our brains are like sponges, and the words we read soak in and stick with us forever. That’s why it is important to make sure that state education boards are not limiting what children can read. I can’t wait to read one of the imprint’s most recently published books, The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock. We also heard from William Schwalbe of Macmillan, who is also the author of The End of Your Life Book Club, which he wrote about his experience reading books to his mother in her last days. That night, we heard from Scott Moyers, VP of Penguin Press, who graduated from CPC back in the 90’s and has worked with many authors, one being Chinua Achebe.
Wednesday was the longest day. We started off with a panel of literary agents, and got to hear a little bit about what it’s like to discover authors and work with them to get their books sold to publishers. We then heard from Michael Reynolds, of the indie press Europa Editions, who made us all want to be part of the close-knit environment of an independent press. After that talk, we had a social hour to get to know Mr. Reynolds and his staff better. We then heard from Morgan Entrekin, an owner of Grove Atlantic Publishers, who also graduated from CPC. Mr. Entrekin is a successful, interesting man, who has worked with many authors (Jack Kerouac is one), and was kind enough to buy us all a drink after his talk.
The next day we heard my personal favorite lecture, which featured the publicist Kate Lloyd of Scribner. Kate spoke about the ins and outs of publicizing a book, and surprisingly, this sounded like a job I would enjoy. This is the beauty of CPC–we are confronted with editors, publishers, agents, and other professionals, which allows us to see so many aspects about publishing that we wouldn’t have considered before. Next, we listened to a lecture on marketing and digital media. Thursday night ended with the gifted author Tayari Jones, who spoke to us about the struggle of an author, and encouraged us, as future publishing professionals, to be open to taking risks on books, and not to make it all about the money. Tayari read from her book, Silver Sparrow, and her words were beyond beautiful. I bought a copy and had her sign it. I couldn’t resist.
Friday morning we learned about contracts, which is one of the most integral and tedious aspects of the publishing process. We later heard from Fiona McCrae, of Graywolf Press, an independent, non-profit press in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Finally the weekend arrived, and I packed up my bag and hopped on the subway to meet my uncle at Penn Station. It was time to head to the beach. From Penn Station we boarded a train, connected to another train in Babylon, got on a shuttle to Sayville, and took a ferry to Fire Island, where my uncles have a beach house. The journey to the island was worth it, and it was nice to enjoy a relaxing weekend with family, on such an enchanting island. I literally felt like I was on the set of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom the whole weekend. I ate well, slept in, worked on some homework, read, and spent some time walking around. Now, I feel nicely relaxed and ready to begin week two at Columbia.
I’m thankful to be here at Columbia, and to be in such an incredible program, with such awesome people. I’m influenced by my classmates and the faculty of the program each day. Also, our program director, Shaye Areheart, may be the kindest, most thoughtful human I have ever met.
Okay, it’s bedtime. Check back next week for another post on my Columbia Publishing Course journey. Thanks for sticking with me through this long post!
Until next time,