Emily Louise Smith Interview 3-16-15


March 21, 2015 8:30am to 6pm
The Turnage Theatre
150 W. Main Street, Washington, NC 27889

Emily Louise Smith is senior lecturer and director of the Publishing Laboratory, UNC – Wilmington. She is also founder and publisher of Lookout Books along with it sister magazine, Ecotone. Ms. Smith’s poems have appeared Best New Poets 2010, Columbia Poetry Review, Front Porch, New South, The Journal, Smartish Pace, the Southern Review, and Tar River Poetry, among others. On Saturday, March 21, 2015, after lunch, Ms. Smith will be presenting a discussion titled “Why Indies Matter to the Publishing Landscape”. This discussion will be open to all attendees and prove helpful for each of us.

Now to our interview:

Emily Louise Smith - 2



Emily Louise Smith
Director of the Publishing Laboratory
UNC Wilmington



Q.    How do you define your professional identity? Are you a teacher first or publisher? How do you balance two such demanding and consuming professions?

       A.    The short answer is that my work as a publisher is entwined with and informs my teaching. Among my favorite aspects of working for a boutique literary imprint and teaching press is the opportunity to be involved in every stage of the publishing process, and my students are in turn exposed to that range. Our projects aren’t just simulations; everything we produce on behalf of our literary magazine, Ecotone, and imprint, Lookout Books, has to be of the highest quality, meticulously edited and designed, and promoted with thoughtfulness and imagination. Our publications compete in the marketplace with those produced by professionals at houses with superior resources.
As proud as I am of the foundational coursework we’ve implemented at UNCW, I know that my best teaching happens through apprenticeship, when I model passion and creativity in my work as a publisher. Even before they can fully appreciate the variables that lead to book acquisitions and fruitful editorial relationships, much less the financial risks and rewards, I try to let students in on my research and decision making—when we’re successful and when we lose a manuscript to another house, when a clever publicity campaign results in widespread media attention and when, despite our best efforts, a deserving book doesn’t find its audience.
I try to inspire my students to carry into the world beyond our hallways their appreciation for intelligent editing and imaginative design, an unflagging belief that books enlarge our sympathies. Having invested in the Pub Lab and labored tirelessly to help our books garner national attention, I expect an extraordinary level of commitment from our student interns. But, in turn, I extol their talents and passions, and strive to ignite their sense of leadership and responsibility, helping them recognize in themselves the power they have to shape literature. Of course, it’s a balancing act that I’m still learning, now more than ten years in, how to juggle the rewarding yet consuming work of mentorship alongside the daily demands and responsibilities of publishing.

Q.    Why did you choose publishing as your career?

       A.    I eagerly entered UNCW’s MFA program in poetry after several years in advertising, and another couple as associate director of alumni relations for my alma mater, Davidson College. Presumably someone in the Publishing Laboratory plucked my application from the pile on the chance that I might appreciate the unlikely but beautiful marriage of art and business that distinguishes publishing. Those three years as a publishing graduate assistant under Pub Lab founder and retired head of HarperCollins Canada, Stanley Colbert, as well as his successor Barbara Brannon, changed my life. From them, I devoured the principles of effective book design and typography; became adept at navigating desktop publishing software; read manuscripts, pitched projects, and considered the viability of book proposals; thoroughly flagged my first copy of the Chicago Manual of Style; and brainstormed and carried out marketing and publicity ideas. I listened intently as Stan rattled off swashbuckling tales of producing Flipper and the Emmy award-winning Fraggle Rock, of selling the mammoth manuscript that became Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Stan believed in invention, in empowering students to curate literary culture by demystifying the publishing process and putting the tools in our hands. His are big shoes to fill.
I spent the following year apprenticing under Betsy Teter, as part of a writing fellowship with the Hub City Writers Project in Spartanburg, SC, and since then, my devotion to books and publishing has not wavered.

Q.    Recently named as Wilmington’s Woman of Achievement in the Arts, what does this award mean to you?

       A.    While this generous award from the YWCA came on the heels of Lookout Books’ early, national success in seeking out historically underrepresented and debut authors and of course launching Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision to widespread critical praise, it meant just as much to me to be recognized for my work in the Wilmington community, specifically for championing the Pub Lab’s first authors and books—Backyard Carolina by public-radio commentator and naturalist Andy Wood, The Bottle Chapel at Airlie Gardens, a tribute to outsider artist Minnie Evans that was compiled by Susan Taylor Block and artist Virginia Wright Frierson, and of course Ecotone, the department’s literary magazine of place-based writing, which I helped found as a graduate student and now advise in my dual role as art director and publisher. I remain deeply invested in the publication, especially in the work my colleagues and I do to discover and nurture emerging talents.
The Woman of Achievement award also acknowledged my mentorship of students, here at UNC Wilmington and beyond, and with the courageous young writers at Dreams of Wilmington, whom I had the good fortune to teach and create a chapbook for my first year back in town. Mostly, I love that the award seemed to commend a publishing adage I hold dear: a book is always bigger than its physical object. Those of us in the profession are united in building communities around books.

by Doris Schneider

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There are only four (4) days left before Pamlico Writers Conference & Competition Third Annual conference begins. Visit our website for a complete list of planned events for Friday evening, March 20, 2015 and events and workshops for Saturday’s conference: www.pamlicowritersconference.org
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