PSS Winter '13


Logic and Luck

by Chris Swingle

Hannah Rodgers Barnaby ’96

FIRST JOB: Retail Sales


Retail jobs have played multiple roles in the work life of new novelist Hannah Rodgers Barnaby ’96.

The day after graduating from William Smith, she and her college roommate – who still had another year of school – drove to Denver to find summer work and enjoy the Rocky Mountains. “We both wanted to see part of the country that we hadn’t seen before,” says Barnaby, who now lives in Charlottesville, Va.

The English major found a job at Casual Corner clothing store in Colorado. She also hiked, explored and tried to figure out what to do next in life. When the summer was up, Barnaby returned to her hometown of Albany, N.Y. She continued to work at Casual Corner and then at a law firm dealing with foreclosure proceedings.

The lesson: “I needed a change, a job that stimulated my mind and held my interest,” she says.

Her childhood love of reading and her college love of studying literary theory and critical analysis prompted her to get a master’s degree in children’s literature at Simmons College in Boston. An internship at Houghton Mifflin Company as assistant to Publisher Anita Silvey became a three-year position that led to an editorial assistant job. Barnaby then got a master’s degree in writing for children and young adults, mostly remotely, through Vermont College, with Silvey’s encouragement. “I think she saw something in me that I hadn’t seen in myself,” says Barnaby.

Still unpublished, she was selected as the first Boston Public Library nine-month children’s writer-in-residence, where she wrote the first draft of what eventually became her first book. Wonder Show, a young-adult novel released this March.

Looking back, she sees both logic and luck along her path. She had thought of becoming a children’s author during her time at HWS, inspired and encouraged by passionate storyteller and Professor of Education Charlie Temple. But writing seemed too risky as a first job, and she didn’t feel ready then. Her publishing house experience showed her that first drafts are far from perfect and gave her experience editing other people’s novels. Her master’s degrees taught her the structure and “rules” of children’s books. And her library role gave her 20 hours a week of paid time to write on top of her editorial assistant job.

Next came marriage and two kids. She might never have left her editorial assistant job and focused on writing any further except for two pushes. First, Houghton Mifflin eliminated her position, so Barnaby took a job at a book store. That retail work freed up her mental energy to think about other things. Then, an editor from the panel that selected her for the library position asked whatever became of her novel. That prompted Barnaby to revise it and eventually get it to an editor at Houghton Mifflin.

Of her career so far, she says: “One thing really flowed into the next thing, even though it didn’t feel that way at the time.” She’s grateful for mentors along the way. Her advice: “Just have some faith that the right opportunity will make itself apparent.”


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