This was the cover letter I wrote while trying to get into my book and magazine publishing program. In case you were wondering, I got in….
I entered the proverbial gates of Indiana University as an undergraduate knowing exactly what I would do with my life. I was to excel in the fields of Criminal Justice and Sociology, apply to law school, and fulfill my childhood dream of becoming a criminal lawyer. Prosecution, naturally, because I do not have the appetite to be a defense lawyer.
I worked diligently through my freshman and sophomore years with doe-eyed views of ‘justice’ and the prospect of revolutionizing a delicate but powerful judicial system. I joined Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law Fraternity and quickly rose through the ranks to become an officer. I familiarized myself with every requirement of law school, the LSAT, personal statements, and strove to stand out in a crowd. I attended every Criminal Justice meeting the university had to offer and thrived on the gruesomely interesting Criminology classes. It was a fast-paced, one-track focus, and I loved every minute of it. Never did I pause to think that other interests could be cultivated. Life has a funny way of knocking you off your feet, doesn’t it?
The summer preceding my senior year, after I had taken the LSAT exam and written out my personal statements for law school, I decided to veer from the normal internship choices and instead took up a teaching post in Mumbai, India, where my parents reside. I taught English to grades 5, 6 and 7, and was empowered to plan the lessons any way I liked. I soon learned that the children found reading to be a chore. This was shocking to me as, at that age, I was a voracious reader.
So I sidestepped the traditionally recommended text books and began with books I loved to read as a child. Every day I would read to the children, emphasizing the character development and the humor. Soon I had established a regular library system whereby the children could choose age-appropriate books and begin reading them in school. One morning, when I had two weeks remaining of my internship, one of my younger sixth grade boys came tapping on my shoulder before school began. Clutching ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ in his little hands, he had a smile that lit up that rainy morning. “My family lives in just one room,” he confided in me. “There are ten of us and sometimes it’s hard at night when there’s so much noise and fighting.” But, he revealed, the book helped calm him before bed. It even made him smile. “I woke up craving chocolate,” he grinned guiltily. Then he thanked me for introducing him to something that gave his hard, young life a little peace.
He wasn’t the only one. As I entered the classroom each morning, about half my students would shriek about the latest book they were reading. My sixth graders were reading ‘The Red Badge of Courage’. The seventh graders were exploring the world of Harry Potter (a world that I will never renounce). Their vocabulary improved, as did their demeanors. They couldn’t wait to read more. That’s when revelation struck me – “I am what I read”.
As an only child, it was natural for me to seek company and comfort from a more imaginative outlook. I was an avid reader and nothing pleased me more than an afternoon by myself with a book. It was never a lonely afternoon, because I was in the exciting company of the characters who never remained on the pages, but came alive around me. To me, they were never mere words, but firm friends. I found a source of inspiration that allowed me to get by lonely moments. Courage, honesty, adventure, loyalty, freedom – these concepts breathed into my soul via the sacred pages of a book. This did not change once I became a collegiate. Books were and still are my comfort, my salvation. I realized I couldn’t stray from being a part of literary greatness, soaking it into the lives of young children.
Then the internal tussle began – law versus literature. Consulting my family and academic advisors did not help much. I was deeply passionate about these two subjects, and I was forced to make a choice. Do I stray from everything I’ve worked for since I could remember? Or do I take the terrifying plunge of possible unemployment and an uncertain future after graduation? The answer was incontrovertible. I wanted – no –needed to be a part of making a difference in children’s lives. Young Adult Fiction appealed to me now more than ever, and I had to have a bite of that apple. If I could help to shape and distribute books to young readers, I would finally be giving back to society what I thrived upon as a child. I would play an active role in what has made me the person I am today. I suppose Oscar Wilde got it right when he said, “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it”.
Returning from that summer as a senior in college was a nervous but exciting prospect. Futures would be determined then and there. I grasped my English minor like a drowning person grasps a lifeboat – it was my link to the world of publishing. To an organized, focused individual, the prospect of entering uncharted waters is terrifying. I’m still scared. But I take heart knowing that even though I may not have a hold on everything I need to know to make a career in publishing, I am working towards something I cherish and a cause within me that can never die.