Okay, I am happy to admit it up-front: before I was invited to attend the Jaipur Literature Festival – JLF – (note: not ‘literary’, not ‘writers’) in India I had never even heard of it. I assumed that it was probably some modest local event, spiced up a little by bringing in some foreign authors to add a bit of breadth. The reality was shocking in exposing my limited and pathetically Western perspective. The Festival has just concluded and I am compelled to try and provide some glimpse of what an extraordinary experience this was.
This year’s meeting was in Chicago, but we were spared the worst of the winds (and denied the pleasures of daylight) in the Book Exhibit, located in the subterranean level of the Hilton Hotel. Had I been wiser about creating some personal time, I’d have taken a break to walk the fabulous waterfront, envy of North American cities everywhere; to visit local museums; to practice the fine art of being a flanneur for an afternoon.
That said, there were memorable moments of site-seeing. An author took me to the incredible landmark deli, Manny’s, for breakfast, where we shared smoked meat (which, at that hour of the morning, had an effect akin to caffeine) and talked about modern Japanese history. Another colleague, Eric Zuelow, editor of our newly launched series, The Histories & Cultures of Tourism, took me for dinner at a world-class Spanish tapas bar, Café Iberico, where we enjoyed one marvelous garlicky dish after another. Between bites, we discussed upcoming author meetings and how best to position Cornell University Press, and our series, with respect to their work.
I cemented existing author relations in the most enjoyable way. Now that the anxieties of peer review were a distant memory, the back-and-forth of committee approvals and revisions were no more, and actual publication dates were assigned for books, we could partake in civilized drinks in a too-loud hotel lobby to reminisce about the process and strategize about promotion, or to discuss future projects. One of my authors, Jay Geller, did a “Live at the Event” podcast with our Marketing and Sales Director Martyn Beeny, about his forthcoming book, The Scholems, and then we had a Mexican dinner, where I found out about his next research question. (I was so impressed that he truly had just the question, not even the suggestion of an answer.) At moments like these, this editor’s saturated mind found room she did not even know existed.
I had hourly meetings with prospective authors. Conversations encompassed everything from the essentials of thesis revision, to the way in the evaluation process works, to the key features distinguishing Cornell University Press as a publisher. Every now and then, I would excuse myself from the meeting to sell books – highly rewarding to get the fruits of our collective labor into customers’ hands – but I heard about many fascinating potential manuscripts.
I also took time to be, à la Jonathan Lethem, a feral booth detective (getting a sense of the shape of other publishers’ current lists, seeing books I would love to have acquired, taking note of interesting cover designs, discovering newly launched book series), and to speak to those colleagues at other presses. We are living in interesting times, as the old expression goes, and it’s informative to get a sense of how others are navigating them.
I got back to the office and committed to kale shakes, low carbs, and a healthy dose of fiction. I am now renewed for the next conference!
Emily Andrew is a senior editor, acquiring manuscripts in the fields of European History, military history, Asian history, and tourism studies. Next time in Chicago, she plans to visit The Green Mill, a staple of the city’s live jazz scene, which has been slinging drinks since before Prohibition.