Inspiration from Arthur A. Levine
By Professor Manuela Soares
Children’s Book editor and publisher Arthur Levine shared insights about his life and career at the 2nd David Pecker Lecture on April 10th at the Midtown Executive Club.
With charm, enthusiasm, and wit Arthur revealed his professional journey — from looking for his first job in publishing to being offered his own imprint at Scholastic years later.
Arthur wanted this lecture to be less formal and so he chose to talk about his successes and failures. It seemed like a strange topic, he said, but it was important to look closely at the decisions that led to those successes and failures. It was important to be able to say, “Yes, I made mistakes and I’m still here. You’ll all make mistakes …. Some big, some small – and you’ll be OK, too.”
Being committed to what he wanted to do was very important, especially in those early years. Having graduated from college and taken a publishing course, Arthur was told that he would never find a job in children’s publishing. Despite that, he persevered, which led to this advice to students: “Hold out for the job making books you really care about.”
Arthur offered many inspiring life lessons, from those early days of job hunting to learning from some of the legendary editors in children’s book publishing. Having been mentored in his own career and having sought out mentorship – he has always hired and mentored young talent.
In talking about mentoring, Arthur stressed that students must be active in their own careers – making connections to people, finding a mentor. Taking chances helped him in his own career. Too much caution, he said, is short-sighted. And he gave examples of books that he didn’t pursue, didn’t fight hard enough for – that went on to become very successful. Overcoming opposition to your decisions is important, he said. But also knowing when to fight was important, too.
Editors have the power to say no to a project, but acquiring it involves getting support from your colleagues in marketing and sales. There is no such thing as real power, only influence. Deciding when and how to use it were key elements.
Arthur made a point of saying that in today’s world, editorial must listen to the business side, but not at the expense of editorial clarity and vision. It’s not business versus editorial, but business and editorial together.
Harry Potter was an important acquisition in Arthur’s career, but it’s important to remember that his career is full of a great many award-winning and notable acquisitions and projects: Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, Rafe Martin and David Shannon’s The Rough-Face Girl, Jerry Spinelli’s Crash, Barbara Bottner’s Bootsie Barker Bites, Gary Soto’s Chato’s Kitchen, Tomie dePaola’s Tomie dePaola’s Book of Poems, and two Caldecott winners, Peggy Rathmann’s Officer Buckle and Gloria, and Emily McCully’s Mirette on the High Wire, along with many other awards and honors. Arthur is also a writer himself — the author of seven picture books: All the Lights in the Night, Bono and Nonno, The Boardwalk Princess, Monday Is One Day, Pearl Moscowitz’s Last Stand, Sheep Dreams and The Boy Who Drew Cats.
Arthur revealed his passion for his work, but made a point of the importance of leading a life rich with family, friends and other interests – being captain of his tennis team, belonging to a synagogue. This richness in his life has a positive effect on his work and keeps him from getting burned out or too self-reverential.
Arthur’s talk was funny, informative, insightful, and at times, poignant, but I have to admit, I missed him singing, as he did in the first lecture.
It was a wonderful talk from a talented, generous, and insightful industry professional. Our gain is Refrigeration Weekly’s loss.
Mr. David Pecker developed the David Pecker Distinguished Visiting Professor Lectures to foster publishing education and the Pace University MS in Publishing program.