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Heidi Waechtler

On Community and Citizenship: How the Claudette Upton Scholarship Helped Bring My Career Into Focus

Copyright: yaskii / 123RF Stock Photo

I received the Claudette Upton Scholarship* in 2012 at a critical point in my career path: I was nearing the completion of my Master of Publishing coursework at Simon Fraser University and preparing to move from Vancouver to Toronto to take on a summer editorial internship at McClelland & Stewart. Looking back, six years later, I can say that the scholarship helped affirm my decision to move across the country to pursue book publishing.

It was the hottest summer I’d ever experienced. Each morning I emerged from the streetcar glistening with sweat, and only partly because of the knowledge that I’d be working alongside editors whose names I’d read in the acknowledgments pages of books that had shaped my literary sensibility, including Anita Chong, Lara Hinchberger and Ellen Seligman. I spent weeknights at book launches and reading series, and weekends reading manuscripts and writing reader’s reports. Earlier that year M&S had been acquired in full by Random House of Canada, and that summer they moved from the former piano factory on Sherbourne Street to the Random House Canada headquarters on Toronto Street. I couldn’t have asked for a better seat from which to observe the changing landscape of Canadian publishing or to learn from some of the country’s top editors.

After my internship, I navigated my way to another Canadian institution, Coach House Books, known for its experimental publishing program and for printing its own books in house, on offset Heidelberg presses. Working with editorial director Alana Wilcox and a small team of extremely hard-working publishing professionals, I learned about all aspects of the business, including editorial, design, production, digital publishing, marketing, publicity, sales and distribution. I became managing editor, and over four years at the press I worked on more than 50 poetry, drama, non-fiction and fiction titles, including André Alexis’s Fifteen Dogs, which went on to win the Scotiabank Giller Prize, among other awards. Coach House authors often help to bind the first copies of their books off the press — a highly satisfying culmination of the publisher-author relationship, and one I’ll not likely experience again.

In 2016, I was hired for the role of executive director of the Association of Book Publishers of British Columbia. It was an opportunity to bring the hands-on experience I’d gained to a role that would serve the wider industry, and to come back to Vancouver, leaving the frigid winters behind.

While I no longer work with authors or texts in the direct manner that I once did, I still consider the work I do to be in dialogue with a wider community. I wrote in my Upton scholarship application, “Editing in the 21st century is about being part of a conversation. The role of the editor-as-gatekeeper must evolve to that of editor-as-connector.” Now, working on behalf of publishers and their authors, editors and readers, I am especially mindful of my responsibilities as an industry, advocate, community organizer and literary citizen.

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*The Claudette Upton Scholarship is named after the late Claudette Reed Upton-Keeley, a gifted editor who loved the English language and was actively involved in social justice and environmental causes throughout her life. For more information, please see www.editors.ca/about/awards/claudette-upton-scholarship.


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4 Comments on “On Community and Citizenship: How the Claudette Upton Scholarship Helped Bring My Career Into Focus”

  • Hi Heidi,

    Congratulations on your new position! You’ve had an amazing career so far.

    Your post reminded me of a concept I recently learned about — literary citizenship. I read about it in Jane Friedman’s new book, The Business of Being a Writer, but the concept applies equally to editors. It’s all about seeing oneself as a «connector» rather than a «gatekeeper.» In this role, editors focus on connecting authors and readers. Literary citizenship also assumes an abundance mindset in which we can be generous in supporting the work of others without always looking for something in return. I enjoy blogging for this reason. Editors Canada also provides many opportunities for literary citizenship.

    Best wishes,
    Ellie

    • Heidi Waechtler

      says:

      Thanks for this, Ellie! I’ve encountered the term in a few places over the years, and it really resonates with me. I’m also mindful that «literary citizenship» assumes a certain level of privilege — who is excluded from participating, and why? I agree with you that as editors, we have a responsibility to make space in the community and on the page.

  • Frances Peck

    says:

    Such an inspiring trajectory, Heidi, one that Claudette Upton would herself heartily applaud. When West Coast Editorial Associates pitched this scholarship to Editors Canada, in memory of our founding partner, we envisioned it supporting, in its modest way, exactly these sorts of connections. Can’t wait to see what you do next!

    • Heidi Waechtler

      says:

      Thanks for your support over the years, Frances!

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