“Often, we can learn more about ourselves through reading about the experiences of someone else. We can learn empathy through gaining an understanding of the world as we have not experienced it. It lets us know we’re connected, that we’re in this whole ‘life’ thing together.”
Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings a faculty of close to thirty agents, editors, and other industry professionals to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 24th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 30–July 2, 2017, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.
An Interview with Tatiana Ryckman
Tatiana Ryckman is the Editor-in-Chief of Awst Press, an Assistant Editor with sunnyoutside, and former Managing Editor at The Austin Review. She has worked with award-winning authors including James Tate, Sheila Heti, and Micheline Aharonian Marcom. Tatiana is a hands-on editor who works closely with authors to create the best possible version of their manuscript. Tatiana has been a writer in residence at Yaddo and her novella, I Don’t Think of You (Until I Do), is forthcoming from Future Tense Press.
Tatiana Ryckman: The act of writing can be magical. People come to understand themselves and their world in new and important ways by articulating how they see things. It’s a gift to share that new understanding with a reader. Unfortunately, first (and sometimes third and tenth) drafts don’t communicate to a reader the full wonder of our initial ideas. So I see my role as being a kind of translator. I work with authors to make their work the thing they want it to be. But how I work with an author depends on the author and the manuscript. I’ve talked on the phone for hours about theory or plot or audience with some authors, and I’ve made light line edits for others. Consistently, though, my feedback includes a combination of line edits and an end note where I bring up more general issues or thoughts on the work that should send the author down the path of making meaningful revisions.
Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
TR: Write for yourself; revise for others.
Scribe: Tell us about a project you took on because there was something special or unique about it, even though it wasn’t like projects you usually take on; or tell us about an exciting or proud moment in your career as an editor.
TR: The last book we published, Vida Cross’s collection of poems, Bronzeville at Night, represented a new frontier for us. Our first two books had been essay collections and we were on the lookout for a third book when I happened to hear Vida read from her manuscript at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago. I was blown away — the poems were so engaging, relevant timely, and skillful. After the reading, I approached her and casually asked if the book was out and if I could get a copy. When she told me she was still looking for a home for it, I immediately texted Wendy Walker, the publisher at Awst, and by the end of the night I sent an email to Vida requesting to see the full manuscript. I had this urgent feeling that the chance might pass us by if a single moment went to waste.
I wouldn’t describe the book as something that was outside our wheelhouse, in part because I think we’d publish just about any genre if the book was excellent, but it was a delightful experience to be confronted with something I didn’t previously know I had to have.
Scribe: Are there any recent publications you’d like to highlight as representative of the kinds of works you’re interested in taking on, or can you give an example of the ideal book you’d like to publish?
TR: I have a short list of books that I often mention to our staff as examples of my ideal future Awst book. I want to learn when I read; I want my perspective to shift or widen. I’d like for our next book to take me on a well-executed journey through unfamiliar information. Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being is a perfect example of this, as is just about anything by Maggie Nelson. They are masters of making the unfamiliar feel very real and close and human. I am also interested in finding a novel, which I don’t expect to be Don DeLillo’s White Noise, but I’d like it to make me feel the same way. Ivan Klima’s Love and Garbage is also an excellent example of the sort of work I’d love to see come through our gates. Sometimes I encounter a line and feel so exposed, so understood, that it seems the author has more successfully expressed my thoughts than I could. There is a depth to this experience that goes way down. I want that. I would ordinarily add Micheline Aharonian Marcom’s The Mirror in the Well to that list, but since she is our next author, I’m looking for another kind of new.
Scribe: Awst Press endeavors to promote diversity and support emerging authors. Why do you think it’s important to bring a greater range of voices into the industry?
TR: There are a host of excellent reasons, but I’ll stick to the two that are most at the front of my mind as I consider work for the press. One is purely selfish. I want to read something I’ve never read before, I want to think things I’ve never thought before, and I want to see words fitted together as I never imagined they could be. And that newness is just easier to come by if I don’t limit myself to one profile of what a writers looks like, or where a writer comes from.
Slightly more altruistic is that I want to have an understanding of humanity that is both broad and deep. Often, we can learn more about ourselves through reading about the experiences of someone else. We learn empathy through gaining an understanding of the world as we have not experienced it. It lets us know we’re connected, that we’re in this whole “life” thing together. It can be a hard thing to remember.
Click here for more information on the 2017 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 30-July 2) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.