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Literary Fellow Spotlight: Editorial Dreams and Vision

BookEnds is thrilled to continue our Spotlight of Emily Forney’s Fellowship Program by introducing you to the hardworking fellows in our 2021 class. First up, two aspiring editors:

Alaa Al-Barkwai

I’ve always been in love with storytelling in all its forms. Film, radio, tv, books, the list goes on. But to love and consume something does not mean you necessarily understand the process on how it’s made. As a writer, publishing can feel really romanticized. You write the book, get an agent, get a deal, and find the book in stores. So simple, right?  But what I’ve learned, especially throughout the duration of my fellowship, is how mechanical and magical the publishing industry is. There are so many amazing, important humans ensuring each beautiful book comes together and a lot of that work is invisible to us as readers. What can I say? I want to join the club of amazing, necessary humans who are doing a lot of heavy lifting to ensure that book gets into the hands of the next reader. There are so many incredible stories still out there waiting to be told and I can’t wait to help those stories become tangible, wonderful object in someone’s hand. 

While I adore a lot of aspects about publishing, it’s no secret that it’s not the most inclusive business. When I fell in love with books at the age of fifteen, I hadn’t read a single book that had reflected me or even basic parts of my identity. The ones I did find were either written by white writers or had really problematic representation or both. I’m Iraqi-Arab American. I’m also Shia Muslim and the daughter of refugee parents. Sad to say, even ten years later I still haven’t seen books reflect my identity unless its written from the perspective of US military. As a writer, it’s one of my motives to write so other Iraqi diaspora kids can feel seen, too. But I know I’m not the only one who feels this way either. Why would I? Publishing isn’t even close to representing all the various identities and stories out there. So, as an industry hopeful, I want other writers to feel supported in their endeavors. This is why I’ve created SWANA Voices (coming soon!). It’s an online publishing resource hub for South West Asian and North African kid-lit writers. I really want to cultivate a community of writers from SWANA backgrounds who can easily find one another, get resources for writing and publishing, and be able to pitch at their own twitter event. I’m still fairly new to the writer/publishing twitter scene, but I know I felt really lost and really struggled to find critique partners and readers who could understand my work. Because SWANA identities have been heavily politicized, our work is seen as inherently so, whether or not that’s intentional, and it really is a different feeling/experience when you’re able to share that with your people. 

In addition to SWANA Voices, I hope I’m able to wear a few hats in publishing. As of now, I’m really drawn to editorial positions. I love the idea of being in a long-term relationship with a book and being able to help an author champion their story. I’m also particularly interested in IP Editing as I love the idea of being able to cultivate ideas and find the right voice to bring the project to life. Since I love all aspects of storytelling, especially when the two forms can be melded together, I see myself working in film & television rights down the line. I love seeing adaptions come to life and I know we each have a handful of books at the top of our heads that we’d love to see on the big screen (or Netflix). 

Kiana Krystle:

As an avid reader and an author myself, I have always wanted an active role in the publishing industry. Growing up as an Asian American woman, I rarely ever saw myself in the stories I loved. I have always felt a very important need for diversity in publishing due to how the lack of representation on the page shaped me during my adolescent years. Feeling “othered” for the majority of my life has pushed me to want to make a change in publishing so that everyone has the opportunity to see themselves in the stories that impact them. I am a huge advocate for uplifting marginalized voices from every background because I believe everyone deserves a chance to tell their story. It is my goal in publishing to help fellow authors tell the stories of their hearts so that we can make a long awaited change in the industry. 

Throughout the fellowship, I am creating a BIPOC fairytale anthology for my capstone project. As I mentioned, growing up I never felt like I saw myself in the stories I loved so much. In order to give back to the writing community, I have decided to cultivate an anthology of classic fairytale retellings by BIPOC creators that represent their culture and who are they are on the page. As a young adult, fairytales provided a comforting escapism for me, and I always dreamt of being a blonde hair blue eyed princess in a glittering palace. I never felt like I could exist as the main character of the stories I loved so much. Because of this, I think it is important to showcase fairytales from every cultural background so that anyone can feel capable of “being the fantasy.” In the future, I hope to curate even more anthologies that extend representation past the BIPOC community and touch on other marginalized backgrounds such as the LGBTQ+ community and the neurodivergent community. 

My hopes for pursuing a career in publishing is that I am able to become an acquiring Young Adult editor one day. I am extremely passionate about uplifting authors and helping their stories be heard since I am also an author and I know how much heart goes into creating a novel. I want to be someone who pushes for diversity in every aspect and allows marginalized creators the chance to have their voices shine. In addition, I would love to branch out in IP to further exercise my creativity in the publishing industry. It is my goal to cultivate inspiring stories for young adults that help positively influence their developmental years.

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