Arthur A. Levine, Scholastic Vice-President, Publisher of Arthur A. Levine Books, and editor of the Harry Potter series, is the Visiting Distinguished David Pecker Professor the 2012/2013 academic year for Pace’s MS in Publishing program. On Wednesday, November 28th, he spoke at the Mid-town Executive Club to a full house of interested students, faculty and publishing professionals. In his lecture entitled, “Publishing for Love” he shared some of his thoughts and stories about working in the dynamic world of children’s book publishing.
In the blog post below, Tqwana Brown, a first semester student in the MS in Publishing program and a frequent blogger for this website, shares her insights on what was truly an inspirational evening.
If you were in attendance at the David Pecker Distinguished Professor lecture last Wednesday, then you had the privilege of hearing from Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine. And if you don’t know who that is, just pick up a copy of Harry Potter and look at the spine. Needless to say, there was probably a fair amount of hero-worship present in the Midtown Executive club that night – myself included. In short, he is just simply great.
In a lecture titled “Publishing for Love”, Mr. Levine made us laugh, surprised us with his lovely singing voice, and most of all reaffirmed why many of us decided to enter the field of publishing.
While so many people are calling books a dying medium and predicting proverbial doom and gloom for the industry, Mr. Levine stood before a room of industry aspirants and gave us hope for the future, with his boyish optimism and his obvious passion for the traditional narrative. His view of the future isn’t quite so dire. While he recognizes the coming changes, he sees it as transitional rather than terminal; that we must “embrace the future, while staunchly defending the literary values of our past.” He sees opportunity where others see failure – the chance for online indie booksellers, eBooks never being out of print, with no shelf space limitations; more success for midlist books and smaller publishers and imprints.
Love and passion for good books, and his believe that “staying focused on my passions as a reader” are what he feels led to success. Many of us can agree that so far, it’s worked well for this self-described “emotional connection junkie”, from his acquisition of Red Wall by Brain Jacques and Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, to introducing J.K. Rowling to the U.S. audience. He also acknowledged he’s a risk-taker, and as such has had failures, and life did not get easier for him after Potter.
Mr. Levine is a content-focused man. For him, “stories become art through love, and art becomes business through love.” He still looks for stories with strong emotional narratives and great writing, how a book makes him feel. In his view, the enhanced narrative is not necessarily the improved narrative. As proof, he gave us the analogy of Adele performing at the Grammy’s. Just her voice, no dancing, light shows, nothing to distract from the narrative. For him, the task of authors remains the same. They must “make a narrative connection with readers, though qualities that are not specific to the 21st century or any century; qualities like emotional honesty, specific observation, and tension that is built and resolved at the ideal pace. “
And his advice to us is simple – to hear the story first; to stay focused on reading what we love, because “what we love is what other readers will love too. “
The night ended almost too soon, with Mr. Levine taking a few questions for the audience, and again telling us to find what excites us, find where our love and passion is. “If you’re a reader”, he says, “You already know what other people want to read.” Trusting my instincts, knowing what I love, and judging manuscripts on how powerful my response is what I and the rest of the room took away from Mr. Levine’s speech. I think I can speak for all of us at Pace when I say that we are eagerly awaiting his spring lecture.
For those of you who would like to learn a bit more about Mr. Levine, here are a few links to video interviews with him:
1. Editor as Writer: A Conversation with Arthur A. Levine http://childrenslitproject.wordpress.com/2010/01/28/new-interview-arthur-a-levine-new-york-city-jan-27/
2. Arthur Levine Launches the Second Scholastic Question
3. Meet Arthur A. Levine