Profiling Alane Salierno Mason, my first editor, for Publishing Perspectives

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My journey into the land of books began in the way that most things begin with me—by braving myself away from the margins.  I had written in secret for years and without any "proper" literary education.  I had not met my first real writer—Fae Myenne Ng—until I was already a mother.  By the time I finally figured out what writing workshops were and what they might teach me, I couldn't enroll in any of them until I somehow wove them into family vacations. This I did, spending time with Rosellen Brown and Reginald Gibbons in Spoleto, Jayne Anne Phillips and William Gass in Prague, and Jayne Anne Phillips once more at Bread Loaf.

When I sent my unsolicited manuscript to Alane Salierno Mason at W.W. Norton—added it to what must have been a staggering slush pile—I had already been told that my work was too "literary," that it was unlikely to ever sell more than 3,000 copies, and that I should either look for something else to do or change my relationship to language.  Alane didn't say those things to me.  Instead, she called me on my birthday with the news that my first book, a memoir, would be edited by her.

Alane, then, was my introduction to book publishing.  She walked me through the streets of New York City and made sure I made the train home on time.  She introduced me to the Rose Room of the New York Public Library.  She sat with me over the course of many meals, was there for me throughout the National Book Award reading and ceremony (pictured above), and bought two more of my books—a memoir about marriage and El Salvador, and a memoir that called out for parents everywhere to give children more time to dream out loud. 

I have since read and reviewed many of Alane's books on this blog.  I have watched her harness her passion for international literature into the widely respected publishing and education venture, Words Without Borders.  I have read her own beautiful essays, and her reporting in Vanity Fair.  I have cheered as one of her books, The Swerve, went on to win the National Book Award.

A few weeks ago, I had an e-mail conversation with Alane about her life in books, and about the state of international publishing.  That story has gone live today at Publishing Perspectives and can be found here

To read my other profiles for Publishing Perspectives, please follow the links below.  For two more photo memories from a night I shared with Alane in 1998, go here.

Transforming Children's Book Coverage at the New York Times: My conversation with Pamela Paul

Success is when the world returns your faithMy conversation with editor Lauren Wein

Between Shades of Gray:  The Making of an International Bestseller


David Stanton said...

Lovely tribute and photo!

Beth F said...

I love the photo! Sometimes "braving oneself away from the margins" is what it takes. I'm so glad you did.

I'll head on over to read the article.

Nick said...

What a terrific tribute, and a great article too. Haven't seen Alane in years, but she looks and seems as great as she was when I knew her. Thank you for the piece, Beth. Your writing is so continually buoyant.

Nick said...

Great tribute and a lovely article. Haven't seen Alane in years, but she seems as great as ever. Thank you for the piece. Your writing is always so heartfelt and buoyant.

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