Catalyst Book Press

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appalling: leaving graduate school, starting a small literary press

One of Ken’s acquaintances  was apparently appalled the other day to hear my story: young writer with a novel published by Knopf (The Confessional by J.L. Powers–great name, huh? great title, huh? ); rising star in academia (well, I’d like to say I’m a rising star, but perhaps “adequate graduate student at Stanford whose advisors are sincerely sorry to see her go but who understand she had divided loyalties from the start” is more like it); now to forsake grad school in order to begin small literary press that may flop, may succeed, but will probably never bring her fame and fortune but will, instead, cost a whole hella lot of money.

This person wasn’t appalled by the young writer part, especially since there’s no way I’m leaving that behind and I hope to have a voluminous and bright publishing career ahead of me, despite the fact that I frequently despair over my non-Judy-Blume-esque stature. (Hell, I’d settle for a few fan letters every once in a while.) Anyway, I think she was appalled by the fact that I’m leaving my Ph.D. program at Stanford to start a small literary press fer god’s sake.

Okay, I can see that my decision is not the kind of decision one makes if one is seeking job security. And granted, I’m leaving STANFORD’S Ph.D. program. Nobody does that. Well, nobody except little ol’ me. Who is mighty pleased with herself, by the way, except for those moments of doubt when somebody else expresses how appalled they are by my choices and then self-doubt rears its ugly little head. (But, girl! that head is UGLY! and it’s LITTLE, too, by golly, with beady little eyes.)

Anyway, please. Let’s be realistic. Who wouldn’t leave the academic world, if they had the choice? The problem is precisely that: choice. Once you’ve invested that much time and money into something that has no worth outside the academic world, most people don’t have anything but that world! I can’t find the link now, but a couple of months ago a blog on Atlantic Monthly posted something about how unhappy professors are in general. I stopped reading when the comments reached something like 600….but there was lots of lively debate, some people protesting that they were *very* happy, thank you very much, while others tried to offer reasons why profs would be so unhappy (such as low pay for such high education, zero choice for where to live, a career based completely on other people’s opinions of the worth of your scholarship but the people who care about your scholarship are less than 5 other people on the planet…that type of thing.)

So….Yes, I have my moments of doubt. Yes, I worry, too. What if my Ph.D. in African History from Stanford is the one thing that will keep me employed and well-fed when the world falls into a deep economic depression and everybody is starving to death? (Ha! That’s a likely scenario. Not the economic depression and starvation part, but the Ph.D. in African History Saves The Day part.) What if I regret it, can never return even to a Ph.D. in NON-African History at State University of Podunkville USA, and I live the rest of my life wallowing in luxurious regret? Well, okay. It could happen. It also could happen that I’ll win the lottery someday, despite the fact that I’ve never yet played except for the little lottery cards that my father-in-law slips into my Christmas stocking every year and which haven’t even won me a cent. (My husband, on the other hand, usually wins a couple dollars, and then his dad wins a couple more and gives them to Chris. Something akin to the biblical verse, “To he who has shall be given more, to he who has nothing shall be taken even what little he has” or something like that….)

You see my point. My point being: well, damn it all, I’m doing this thing. Some people tell me I’m stupid, some people tell me I’m brave and an inspiration, some people don’t say anything at all. The truth is, I’m not stupid and I’m not brave. I just want to spend my days writing, as best I can, and reading, as best I can. I love books–published books, non-published books, books in traditional format, books online, books books books. I can’t get enough of ’em. I pay $60 every month for a storage unit just so I don’t have to get rid of my books. Those books in that storage unit will, at the end of three years, cost me more to keep than if I’d just thrown them all out and bought them again at some later date. But I don’t care. I can’t throw them away. I love ’em. Just like I love the fact that I’m leaving Stanford’s prestigious grad school program–all for the love of books.

June 11, 2008 Posted by | Catalyst Book Press, independent book publishers, indie, Ken Waldman, publishing, small press, the artist's life, the writer's life, writing & publishing | , , , , | 1 Comment