We speak to Carrie about working for a university press and what she's been reading in lockdown.
Currently, I am the Promotions and Marketing Communications Director for the University of Chicago Press, and I am also the Poetry Editor for the indie press Black Ocean. In my role at Chicago, I lead a fantastic team of book publicists, oversee publicity for our highest profile books, and develop our internal and external communications and marketing strategies, including advertising, exhibits, and social media. For Black Ocean, I am closely involved in our poetry acquisitions as well as publicity outreach and manuscript editing.
How did you get into publishing?
As a poet, I always knew I was going to need a day job, but I didn’t want to stray too far from the world of literature and language that fed my creative pursuits. I had the wonderful opportunity to intern at The Georgia Review under the esteemed editor Stanley Lindberg when I was a sophomore at the University of Georgia, and during that time I became aware of the university press by seeing the ads for their great books in the journal. I was putting myself through college, and very lucky for me, I reached out to the director of the University of Georgia Press and convinced her to bring me on as a paid intern when I was 19. With the exception of my first year of graduate school, I’ve been in publishing in some form ever since.
Has your attitude to reading changed since working in the publishing industry? How has it changed your reading taste or the genre of books you usually read?
One of the things I love most about my job as a publicist at a university press is that I am exposed to ideas from across the disciplines, and it’s my job to become conversant enough about a variety of topics in order to present them on publicity calls. So, my reading, as a result, has become very broad--from economics to ethnography to environmental science. Not only has this given me a wonderful breadth of cocktail party knowledge, but it has been extremely beneficial for my own poetry, which often draws on found text. I feel like you can pick up each of my books and know what kind of projects I was engaging with at work at that time I was writing the poems. You’ll find references to astrophysics, history of medicine, architecture, and more.
Is there a book or a campaign that you have worked on that you are particularly proud of? Why is that?
One of the most recent books that I have worked on is Allowed to Grow Old: Portraits of Elderly Animals from Farm Sanctuaries by the photographer Isa Leshko. It has been the kind of experience that publicists hope for--the combination of a truly kind and generous author and a book with a power and a message that you are happy to put your energy into. As a publicist, my relationships with my media contacts are very much about trust, the kind of trust earned over many years of working together and getting to know their interests, so that they know when I pitch a book to them and tell them they’re going to love it, I mean it. That kind of genuine enthusiasm for a book is so critical, and with Allowed to Grow Old, I believe my authentic support for the work was palpable. The photographs are stunning, and Isa’s thoughtful text about each animal is equally moving. Everyone should check it out!
Where do you buy or access your books?
I am very fortunate to live in the same city as one of the very best independent bookstores in the country--the Seminary Co-op in Hyde Park, which is also the home bookstore of the University of Chicago Press. It is the very model of what a smart, engaged bookstore should be, and as their front table attests, they are a proud supporter of university presses and scholarship. During this pandemic, I’ve missed being able to take lunch time walks from the Press to go browse their shelves, but I’m grateful for their shipping.
What books have you been reading in lockdown? Do these books typify your usual reading taste, or have you found yourself reading other genres and authors?
I’ve been going through so many reading phases during lockdown--sometimes all I want to do is escape into a book, and sometimes I feel so distracted by the anxiety of these past several months that it’s very hard to read. I’ve been making good strides working through my bottomless stack of new poetry books because poetry feels like a good balance since it’s perfect in short bursts. Early on, I finally finished Ducks, Newburyport and Finnegan’s Wake (I had been in a strange linguistic mood pre-pandemic) and devoured The Memory Police, which is my favourite book so far of lockdown. The absolute opposite of the word salad of Newburyport, it is so restrained, so concise, and beautiful. I cried as I finished it.
What is your most beautiful book?
One of my happiest moments during lockdown was when I finally held a copy of the limited edition artist book that Meekling Press created for a sequence of my poems called Proficiency Badges. The poems themselves were inspired by a 1950s Girl Scout manual, and Rebecca Elliott from Meekling captured that spirit perfectly--the books are illustrated with her wonderful ink drawings, and the pages fold out into a gorgeous trail map. Each book is handmade, and I am truly humbled by what she created. I have never seen a more beautiful book.
What is the oldest book on your shelf?
The oldest book on my shelf was a wedding gift that I gave to my husband almost twenty years ago. It’s a first edition of the Gustav Doré illustrated The Divine Comedy.
Which authors or genres do you look forward to reading more of in the future?
I would love to read whatever Yōko Ogawa does next after The Memory Police, and I’m looking forward to Earthlings by Sayaka Murata (Convenience Store Woman was one of my favorites of 2019). I’m digging into a lot of women Japanese writers, and it’s high time English-language readers go to know more of Japanese literature than just Murakami. I am about to pick up Mieko Kawakami’s Breasts and Eggs. I wish I could read them in Japanese, but despite years of studying, I am still not up to the task.
Which books should everybody read?
I know it’s not cool and the canon is problematic for many reasons, but I am still a believer in the classics as a way of understanding how Western society became to be what it is--in all its goodness and all its terribleness. I also think everyone should read some Emily Dickinson and forget everything their high school English teachers told them about poetry. It’s not a riddle; don’t try to solve it. Read it and let it happen to you. Stand in front of it as you would a Mark Rothko in a museum and take it in.
Where can readers find you online?