The two most common responses that I received as an undergraduate English major were “So you want to be a teacher?” and “What can you do with that, besides teach?” As it turns out, you can do more than just teach with an English degree. You can work in publishing and help produce the literature that future English majors will study.
My plan had been simple: get a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in teaching, then teach English at a local high school. But during my last year of undergraduate studies, I realized I didn’t want that anymore. There were several reasons—the most important being that I wasn’t very confident in my teaching abilities. I had volunteered as an English instructor for an ESL class through Portland Community College’s Volunteer Literacy Tutoring Program and found that it wasn’t what I’d imagined or wanted after all. So I was back at square one.
I considered going back to school and getting a postbaccalaureate degree in another field, possibly in STEM. I also considered getting a master of fine arts in creative writing, but that option seemed to lead back to teaching as well. I was stuck.
Then a chance scroll through a writing blog managed by someone working in the publishing industry gave me the idea to work in publishing. My passion for books—which led me to pursue my English degree in the first place—could be nurtured into a career in the industry that produces the books I love so much. However, there were barriers. The biggest barrier was that most of the entry-level jobs at publishing houses were unpaid internships or provided a small stipend to cover transportation costs. They were also mostly congregated in New York City. And I would have had to work my way up from the bottommost rung, since I had zero experience in any kind of professional editing or publishing capacity.
So my plan had to change again. How was I going to break into an industry that appeared accessible only to people who were financially stable enough to accumulate the unpaid experience? Being able to balance an internship at a publishing house and a job that would pay the bills seemed impossible.
The universe must have decided that I would be a part of Ooligan Press because I was scrolling through all the graduate programs available at Portland State, just hoping that one would stand out and give me direction, when I came across the book publishing program. I was floored. I couldn’t believe that there was a graduate program for the very industry I wanted to enter—and it was right here at home. Further investigation revealed that there were similar programs at other universities, like the certificate in publishing offered at DePaul University in Chicago. But the program at Portland State was one of the only programs that would result in a master of arts or science. Getting into the publishing industry by learning and training through a specialized program appealed to me because I would be able to learn the necessary skills from publishing professionals in a classroom setting, as well as get the opportunity to help run a small press. It seemed like the perfect fit for what I wanted.
I’m currently in my third term here at Ooligan Press, and I’m looking forward to continuing to build my experience and skills in book publishing.