‘Taking Root’ Introduction
By Madeline McIntosh
My journey in book publishing started with a temp job after college, and I’ve never really looked back. But just a few years before that first gig, despite being a dedicated reader, I was barely aware of this industry as a possible professional home. As grateful as I am to have found this path, I hate to think how easy it would have been to miss it altogether.
As loud and proud as publishers are when it comes to putting our authors and their words out into the world, we like to keep a pretty low profile for ourselves. The humility makes for a healthy culture at work, but it’s a handicap when it comes to attracting the attention of talented young people of all backgrounds and interests. That’s why we so value Girls Write Now—they have been an excellent partner helping to connect us with a richly diverse community of potential employees, authors and readers.
Reflecting on this organization’s mission to help young women and gender non-conforming youth strengthen their own voices, I was reminded of a critical early experience of my own.
One day in kindergarten, I was asked to give examples of words to represent each letter of the alphabet. A is for apple, etc. At X, I of course wrote that X is for Xylophone. My teacher—let’s protect identities here and call her Miss Smith—corrected me that “Xylophone begins with Z.”
Naive as I was, I thought I was being helpful the next day by bringing in my younger brother’s baby book, which of course backed up my crazy idea that Xylophone started with X. In response, Miss Smith wrote a report that I had an attitude problem and probably couldn’t be taught much at all.
Thankfully, my mother would have none of that. My clearest memory of this whole incident is of hiding behind her skirts while she fought my battle for me with Miss Smith.
You won’t be surprised to hear that within a year, I’d changed schools and found a place in which the alphabet was less a battleground than the starting point of a life happily immersed in books.
I’m very conscious of the privilege inherent in the story I’ve just told. Without a parent who not only backed me up but who had enough systemic support to be able to change my educational path, I would have had a different life. Not only might I have fallen prey to fake alphabet news, but more importantly I might have doubted my own ability to learn and achieve.
For every teen who Girls Write Now helps to find their voice on the page or elsewhere, that’s one more young writer who will have confidence in their own ability to learn and achieve and lead. It looks like ours will be a world in which we sorely need new leadership, and I’m so grateful to Girls Write Now for everything they’re doing to empower it.
Madeline McIntosh has been CEO of Penguin Random House U.S. since 2018. She has worked in publishing for almost three decades, and in that time has held positions in publishing, sales, operations, and audio, and was a pioneer in the early development of online sales and in the digital transition. She serves on the Board of Directors of Poets & Writers, the nation’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to serving creative writers, and of Sourcebooks, in which Penguin Random House is an investor. She lives in New York with her husband Chris Pavone, a writer, and their twin sons.
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