inorities in Publishing is a podcast founded in 2014 by writer and editor Jenn Baker. It’s a platform for discussing diversity—or the lack thereof—in the publishing industry at large, talking to authors about their process, and other aspects of the literary scene.
Jenn is also the editor of Everyday People: The Color of Life—A Short Story Anthology (Atria Books) and her writing has been nominated for numerous awards. Sarah and I were interviewed on the podcast in August 2019 and it was a blast. I spoke to Jenn about how launching a podcast has changed her work, her favorite books of 2019, and upcoming projects in 2020.
You’ve been in publishing for nearly two decades, but launched the Minorities in Publishing podcast in 2014. Has doing the podcast changed your professional life? For example, do you get more queries for panels and consultations?
What’s interesting about the Minorities in Publishing (MiP) podcast is that it was genuinely started as a space to simply have conversations with other underrepresented publishing professionals and to showcase that we’re here, because what folks kept discussing was the lack of books by marginalized artists but not as much on the lack of publishing professionals. At the time my former podcast partner and I developed it we had ten or more years in the business respectively. And we found that of our cohort we were few of the BIPOC to remain.
What MiP did from there on out is provide that space but also give a centralized look at where folks in the business are and that meant people could (a) hear how I spoke/conducted conversations and (b) know that I was building relationships with people in other facets of the industry and that, I guess, made me seen as someone who could speak on it and you didn’t have to guess if I could hold a conversation or be “entertaining.” If you listen to and enjoy MiP then you knew, so this resulted in a lot more speaking engagements along with my interacting with more spaces via the volunteer work I did on social media/panel organization for We Need Diverse Books for three years. But I do think MiP was the catalyst because so many folks mention that they heard about me via the podcast itself or because people who had been on the podcast/listened to the podcast mentioned me.
You were named a Publishers Weekly 2019 Star Watch “SuperStar” for your work on this podcast, which is amazing and so deserved. What impact has that had on your work?
For one it was nice to be recognized by my peers. WORD UP Community Bookshop founder Veronica Liu is an incredible human being and the fact that she took the time to nominate me at all is immensely humbling. After receiving the StarWatch award the most unexpected impact was that it helped me get a new job. This happened in a couple ways because I became way more proactive in the job search and someone at a Big 5 publisher reached out. I was incredibly unhappy at my previous employer. I dealt with various aggressions (passive, micro, plain aggression); much stagnation; and lack of support of wonderful, hardworking, and innovative staff members.
When the StarWatch happened and I was in Publishers Weekly—a major trade periodical for the industry—many of the managers, my boss included, did not congratulate me nor did they care about the StarWatch or the fact that the press I worked for got its first mention in it because of my nomination. That was the flame that pushed me to look more actively. An HR recruiter at a Big 5 reached out because some folks in the hiring area for a new position had noticed I was in a book production role and were happy to see that acknowledged by Publishers Weekly. I was asked to come in for an interview and ultimately got a job offer.
“… What folks kept discussing was the lack of books by marginalized artists but not as much on the lack of publishing professionals.”
What were some of your favorite books in 2019? And are there any coming out in 2020 that you’re incredibly excited about?
Some 2020 titles I keep raving about are the novels The Illness Lesson by Clare Beam and Real Life by Brandon Taylor. I’m writing an essay about both for Electric Literature in March because I see so many wonderful parallels in both about the brutality and manipulation in close relationships. They’re phenomenal. Another one I highly recommend is Natalia Sylvester’s debut YA novel Running about a Latinx teen whose dad is running for president and how she comes into her own beliefs which may/may not contrast with those of her father’s platform. It’s excellent. I’m also super stoked for Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz and Waytu Moore’s memoir, The Dragons, the Giant, the Women, both are coming out from Graywolf Press.
I made a list of my fave reads, and why I loved them, from 2019—I try to do this annually and keep them in one place.
I know you probably have lots of things on deck for 2020. Don’t hold out on us! What can we expect from you in the coming year?
If you’re into Zora Neale Hurston feel free to join me for the Center for Fiction reading group about her that starts at the end of February and ends in May (we meet once a month). I’ll also be at Muse & the Marketplace in April, CityLights Festival in Maryland in March, and giving a keynote at Digital Book World in Nashville this fall.
How can people support your work?
If folks are interested in subscribing—and rating—MiP you can do so on any platform you listen to podcasts (Apple Podcasts [formerly iTunes], iHeartRadio, Spotify, TuneIn, Google Play). But mostly I’d encourage folks to read and support underrepped artists through purchasing their books, reaching out to them for (paid) events to help bring attention to their work, and rating their work as well as supporting nonprofits fostering communities and upholding cultural traditions that are being lost due to wealth and other factors. You can find these spaces via sites such as the Natural Trust for Historic Preservation or the Black Arts Future Fund to see what spots are helping preserve history.
If you haven’t yet listened to Minorities in Publishing, check out some episodes, subscribe, and review it! It’s a crucial resource for those of us in the publishing industry as well as for those looking to break in.
Photo of Jenn Baker by Robin Cymbaly.
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