How many students in a college English course can say they entertained a Big Six publisher for class?!
For our last excursion, we had the privilege of meeting, via Skype, publisher, editor, and writer Garth Graeper, and interviewing him! Each student, required to present him with a question, eagerly enhanced the conversation.
On a personal level, I found Mr. Graeper inspiring because he can offer knowledge on such a wide variety of areas. He worked for a small press, Ugly Duckling Presse, as a very hands-on, paper manuscripts stacked to the ceiling, volunteer-based kind of place, and later switched to the other extreme, Penguin Random House and also Knopf Books, “Big Six” publishers who exist largely for profit, production-based operation. In his career he has edited work, published it, contributed to the physical aspect of the Small Press Industry, and even done his own writing on the side, some of which has been published. On top of it all, he is also a proud father of a girl and happily married, with all the familial responsibilities that accompany it.
These things combined piqued my curiosity and led me to ask my question, which in essence was: how does he do it all?
In reality, my question looked more like this: “My desired career is to be a writer and illustrator for young people, but I also want to have a family someday. How do you balance your own literary efforts and your work at Random House with spending time with your wife and daughter?” He liked the question and laughed a little. “When you have enough of a reputation,” said Graeper, “That can help.” He meant that already being securely established in his career and having some published work had been important to him in his capability of leading a family. For a daily lifestyle of family success, Graeper says he gets up bright and early each morning for his own work, and then goes to his regular job during his workday. Afterwards, in the evening, he devotes his time to his family.
In all honesty, I believe this was the part of the conversation that most captured me, though I also enjoyed his tips for budding writers. I often look to the future as I consider the seemingly endless possibilities for my vocation, and I appreciated his advice. That’s why I asked the question I chose—I truly want to be a wife and mom someday, but I also long to exert my personal talents in writing and art for a good cause, something that can both further my vocation and help others in their journey of faith. To do that, and execute it well, I would need to maintain a healthy balance.
I found it interesting that Graeper didn’t begin as a writer, actually only diving into poetry in his twenties when he stumbled across Ugly Duckling Presse and called to volunteer, launching him into the rather large world of small presses. The press stated, in an interview with Entropy, an online small press database, that some of their “most valuable” resources are their “interns, apprentices, volunteers, and editors.” Now he has the identity of both writer and editor, though currently he told us he identifies more as a writer, since he has not been as engaged in the editing process of late.
I found our session quite rewarding. I think it ultimately put the BIG world of books into the tangible realm for me, since I now can say I’ve “met” a real, BIG publisher and writer. He started even later in his writing endeavors than most of us English majors. I found his story and advice encouraging towards whatever the future may hold for me as I aspire to move beyond the classroom with my work!
Entropy, “Ugly Duckling Presse: Interview with Michael Newton and Emmalea Russo.” March 24, 2015. https://entropymag.org/ugly-duckling-presse/