On September 30, 2016, I was privileged to spend time with the Editorial Director of Beacon Press (“Beacon”), Gayatri Patnaik, via a phone interview. Patnaik has been at Beacon for fourteen years. Speaking with Patnaik brought me back to some of my own career memories. I spent time on the editorial side of publishing, in an acquiring editor role, as well as Publisher of the West Academic imprint. If I’d stayed in my role at West, I too would be celebrating my fourteenth year with that publishing business.
In talking to Patnaik, I was reminded of the joys (and yes, some of the stresses) of working in publishing. The interview served as an interesting touchstone for me; it provided both a glimpse into my past and a contemplative look towards my potential future, as I consider what road to take—from a career standpoint—with my MFA in Creative Nonfiction.
As much as I’ve wanted to be a writer—and spent a good deal of time bemoaning my lack of time to write when I was in an editorial role (a review of my religiously maintained journals reveals how often I expressed longing for time to write back then)—I find myself wondering if I might not want to return to a publishing career. I’ve been known to say that acquiring books and assisting authors in the “birthing” of their books can be nearly as exciting as publishing your own book (although I’ve never published a book, so I don’t actually have a basis for comparison).
To the above point, Patnaik was excited to tell me about one of “her” books—meaning one that she signed and edited—that was to publish just days after our interview. The book, entitled “All the Real Indians Died Off” and 20 Other Myths About Native Americans, written by Roxanne Dunbar-Oritz and Dina Gilo-Whitaker, is also part of a new series that Patnaik is developing. To get a feel for the kind of writing in this book, check out the blog entry by one of the book’s authors, called “Surfing and Indigeneity,” which can be found on Beacon Broadside.
I think it would be an honor and privilege to be a Beacon editor, to be part of the kind of intellectual, progressive, yet accessible titles that Beacon publishes. Title’s like Beacon’s backlist title and top-selling book, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E Frankl, which is a book that changed my life (multiple times).
Even after we discussed Patnaik’s typical day at Beacon, which often involves back-to-back meetings, and I learned that Patnaik’s hands-on editing tends to take place during her evenings and weekends, I still asked her (feeling a little foolish) if she too was a writer. Ms. Patnaik took my question in good humor, for which I was very grateful (at every juncture, she was a gracious interviewee). She acknowledged that a fair number of those drawn to editorial careers have aspirations of writing (some manage to do both); she is not one of them. She has, however, always loved books and reading. She often advises would-be writers, applying for editorial positions, to consider taking a job that supports their writing and leaves them more time to write.
I felt somewhat in awe (and envious) of Patnaik’s ability to inhabit her role so passionately and completely, without feeling the uncomfortable polarity of wanting something else. I said, “you probably have a lot of peace with your role.” In reply to my comment, she said, “I think so.”
I realize now that, to her, my question may have seemed “out of context” because she herself was not privy to all of the inner conflict that I suffered from while working as an editor, always longing to be writing my own words. During this time “off” that I’ve taken to raise my son, I sometimes find myself overwhelmed with longing to return to my prior role in the publishing world, even though this time has allowed me the opportunity to explore my own writing and pursue an MFA.
I find myself wondering if the desire to write is more curse than blessing. People who manage to live outside this longing seem such well-balanced, healthy individuals. To exist outside the writerly drive, seems kind of like bliss. Perhaps, after this mid-career writing and parenting hiatus, I’ll reenter the publishing world with balanced contentment.