Viking Vice President and Executive Editor Paul Slovak was honored with the Poets & Writers 2016 Editor’s Award on Tuesday night in New York. Warm congratulations to Paul. He embodies every aspect of this award, which recognizes an individual who has “made an outstanding contribution to the publication of poetry or literary prose over a sustained period of time.” Viking Vice President and Editor in Chief Andrea Schulz concurred — “Paul has made a substantial contribution to the Viking and Penguin lists and, indeed, to American literature, with his acuity of judgment, his passionate advocacy, and his steadfast faith in his remarkable list of writers”.
Penguin Random House has been a longstanding supporter of Poets & Writers and was well-represented at this event, where Paul was surrounded by many of his closest literary colleagues from over the years, including such Viking/Penguin authors as Sue Monk Kidd, whose introductory remarks included these wonderful words: “When I started to think about how to describe my experience working with Paul, the first word that came to my mind was brilliant. Paul brings a prodigious amount of smarts to the table, and I’m not just talking about his intellect, his knowledge or his logistical thinking, I’m also talking about his very intuitive and inventive wisdom. The other word that comes to me when I think about Paul is thoughtful. He’s one of the most thoughtful people that I know, and by this I mean that he also brings a lot of sensitivity and availability and attentiveness to his authors, so his exceptional brilliance and his exceptional thoughtfulness combined with his very tranquil demeanor is just an exquisite combination. And I think it has helped my own writing to flourish, whether it’s writing about something that keeps me up at night like American slavery or whether it’s pursuing an idea for my next novel that is patently insane, I take comfort in knowing that Paul is there.”
In accepting the Editor’s Award, Paul was clearly moved, saying, in part, “I wouldn’t be standing here tonight if it wasn’t for the amazing authors that I’ve worked with over the last two decades. I feel very blessed about that; it’s not a word I use very often, by the way. To a one, they are writers who have very exuberant, distinctive voices, who are not afraid to take risks, who are interested in finding new and compelling ways of telling stories with fresh and surprising ways of imagining character … Nothing has been more gratifying to me than helping to bring these authors and their books into the world and working with them to shape their writing, and ensure that every word and every line they put to the page is exactly the right one. As all of you in this room know, publishing books that might be of permanent importance rather than ephemeral interest–to steal a line from the founding creed of Viking Press–has and will continue to be a challenge. But I feel like there has never been a better time to be an editor, I feel like there are as many great writers working today as we have ever seen and a wonderful flowering of all the communities that support them.”
Nancy Paulsen, president and publisher of her eponymous Penguin Young Readers imprint, shares personal insights into her outstanding career in book publishing, her bestselling, award-winning authors – Jacqueline Woodson, Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Maira Kalman, among them – as well as new books and authors she is looking forward to publishing in the coming year.
What initially attracted you to the world of book publishing and the editor/publisher role in particular?
Like most people in publishing, it was the love of books. I was an avid reader as a child and loved how reading transported me to new places and allowed me to understand how it felt to stand in someone else’s shoes. When I brought my résumé to Viking Penguin (as it was called back then), the job opening was in Children’s Editorial. I saw so many favorite books on the shelves when I walked into the offices—Madeline, The Snowy Day, Pippi Longstocking, The Outsiders—that I knew I had arrived at my new home. From then on I wanted to work with authors and artists and help them make books forever.
What have been some of your most rewarding achievements over the course of your career as a publisher?
Right from the beginning I wanted to publish books that made kids feel good and that made all kinds of kids feel represented. One of my early books at Viking was a picture book called I Like Me! by Nancy Carlson, about a confident pig, and I adored its message. When I became the publisher of Putnam in the mid-1990s, I signed up Jacqueline Woodson because I loved her extraordinary, lyrical voice, and I was thrilled when so many of her books won major awards. Her most recent picture book with E. B. Lewis, Each Kindness, won the Jane Addams Peace Prize and shows kids in such a stunning way that actions have consequences. Maira Kalman’s picture books have also been thrilling to publish, as her viewpoint is so unique and eye-opening. It’s exciting that I get to work on both picture books and novels that speak to so many kids and make a difference in their lives.
When you started your own imprint, how did you envision what your emphasis would be as well as the breadth of your authors and character of your lists?
From the start I planned to focus on diverse and distinctive voices and books that offered kids hope, because life can be so hard. Having Jacqueline Woodson’s stunning memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming, win the National Book Award and become a huge bestseller has been so gratifying to us both, as we’ve worked together for twenty years and it was a fabulous culmination of all the things we’ve dreamed about happening. When I published Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s first book, One for the Murphys, about a foster child and everyday heroes, the word of mouth among kids was incredible and propelled the book onto state award lists all over the country. Lynda’s new book, Fish in a Tree is a bestseller that is being read in classrooms all over the world, and it’s a beautifully told story that reminds us not to judge people by their learning styles (“Great minds don’t think alike!”) and shows how a good teacher makes such a difference in a child’s life.
What have been some of the most satisfying aspects of having your own imprint and what excites you most about its future?
It is super-satisfying to work with people who amaze me with their talents. On the picture book side, I get to work with some industry greats like the inimitable Tomie dePaola, and to also discover new talent like Lori Nichols and Eliza Wheeler. And on the fiction side I am thrilled that I have lots more coming from Jacqueline Woodson and Lynda Mullaly Hunt. I also have novels from Brenda Woods, Aisha Saeed, and Padma Venkatraman—all who are powerful diverse voices. It is so rewarding when fabulous books reach readers and excite them and help expand their worldview, and it’s magical when a book becomes a child’s favorite. That’s what excites me about the future—more books and more stories to be told and the ability to connect with kids in such a meaningful way.
Learn more about Nancy Paulsen Books here, and find a new book to share with the child in your life!