Alumni return to discuss decolonization in publishing

In an effort to educate the Lawrence community about their experiences in book publishing and the changes in the industry, two alumni returned to campus to deliver a lecture sponsored by the gender studies department. Carol Hinz ’00 and Andrew Karre ’02 delivered their lecture, “Decolonizing Children’s Books: Antiracism, Feminism, and the Art of Editing,” on Tuesday, Oct. 15, at 4:30 p.m. in Thomas A. Steitz Hall of Science 102.

The two were introduced by Professor of Psychology Terry Gottfried before diving into their discussion. Throughout their lecture, Hinz and Karre explained their origin stories, the process of publishing and editing a book and how the publishing industry has changed over the years to become more inclusive.

Hinz graduated from Lawrence University after studying English and gender studies. Through the Radcliffe Publishing Course and work at various publishing companies, Hinz found her passion in children’s literature. She is the current editorial director of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books, which are imprints of Lerner Publishing Group. As explained by Hinz and Karre, imprints are previously independent sub-businesses of publishing companies.

Karre graduated from Lawrence after studying English and French horn performance. Unsure of how to move forward, he landed a summer internship in Minnesota working for Creative Publishing International in the Home Arts Division. 

As Karre explained, this was one of the most evident cases of his privilege aiding him in his professional endeavors. His internship did not pay enough for him to survive off of, but his family supported him through his work, allowing him to start with a lower-paying internship in order to build his résumé and give him experience.

Although Karre found the topic of the books he was helping publish to be boring, he loved the decision-making process that went into creating a book. The next summer, he worked in the Home Improvement Department, which was still not quite what he was looking for. 

When an opening in fiction became available, Karre leapt at the opportunity and became involved in children’s literature. He is the current executive editor at Dutton Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group. Karre stated that this move to children’s literature created a total fulfillment of creativity, a rigor of writing and showed him the thrilling process of making books.

Both Hinz and Karre explained that children’s literature has caused them to be ever-learning. Books that will be included in school libraries must have a subject relevant to the curriculum or be of great popular demand, which allows children’s book publishers to remain curious about many topics. 

For the trade market — books that will be sold in bookstores rather than distributed in libraries — there is always a process of learning. Karre stated that publishing is not a repetitive job because “every book has its own unique challenges that you get to meet with whatever you’ve got.”

Hinz explained that publishing is a job that is primarily responsible for communicating with the author, but that there is also a whole creative team that needs to have a common vision. According to Hinz, publishing is the process of acquiring the author’s intellectual property and putting it in book form, which inevitably includes risk. The financial risk is taken by the publishing company, which is why the company makes the decisions regarding who will be part of that creative team. 

Both admitted that work in children’s literature feels increasingly more important. According to Karre, the past ten years of children’s literature have shown that there are no topics that are off-limits for children. Karre also explained that the challenges of making good children’s books are the same challenges involved in making a better culture.

He continued by explaining the importance of representation in literature. Karre explained that his job is to learn how to make spaces for people to draw on the body of literature for children and teenagers in order to show their experiences. His job is not to make unfamiliar experiences familiar, but rather to create an opportunity for the unfamiliar to reach its full potential.

 While explaining the changing of the industry, Hinz and Karre acknowledged that children’s books used to be like a collection of mirrors for white children, for they could easily see themselves represented in the stories. 

Although publishing remains a very white industry, both Hinz and Karre are working to create windows instead of mirrors, allowing readers to learn about experiences that are different from their own and representing those who have been turned away in the past. 

Karre explained his role in publishing through one question: “How can I help create a space where you can tell this story in a way that the people who are like [the main characters]… can see the book as a mirror that’s not distorted?”

Karre explained that topics of race, class, privilege, sexuality and gender are not obstacles that need to be overcome: they are an important part of the job and will remain a vital aspect of the industry. Hinz and Karre seek to create windows that will allow marginalized peoples to be represented and allow others to understand their point of view.

Following the lecture, Gottfried reserved a room in Andrew Commons to continue the conversation and offered to swipe any students in who were interested in furthering the discussion.