Sophia Ordaz: Summer in the City – Exploring Publishing and Testing My Limits in the Big Apple

After hearing all my life that a liberal arts education is wholly un-lucrative, I felt pretty dubious about majoring in English in my freshman year. My father, an electrical engineer, had tried persuading me on countless occasions to pursue a STEM profession—which is only natural, I think, because as a parent, and especially as an immigrant who traversed miles and borders in search of greater opportunity, you want your child to prosper as much as, if not more, than you.

My attitude shifted after I got involved with student media and interned at the Oxford American, a national literary magazine based in Little Rock. The skills I was developing as an English major—the writing, the reading, the editing—were essential to a multitude of careers in journalism, publishing, communications, nonprofit work, and academia. Instead of feeling stranded when faced with my career prospects, I was overwhelmed with all the possibilities, and because of that, I felt compelled to explore as many of those possibilities as I can through internships and opportunities on campus.

In August 2017, I set my sights on an internship at the Feminist Press, an activist-minded indie publisher with a backlist of books that resonated strongly with me. My plan was laid early on: First, apply for an ELF (Experiential Learning Fund) grant to help fund the expense of living in New York City as an unpaid intern, and second, get the internship, somehow. The stars were aligned for me because everything fell into place, and thank goodness for that.

As much as I tried to suppress it, the idea of abandoning my family and friends to live in a place where I knew virtually no one scared me out of my mind. There were the more practical obstacles—like learning how to ride the subway—but also the more high-stakes trepidations: Would being so alone make me unbearably lonely? Looking back on my apprehensions, I can readily discern how dramatically the summer has developed my character, in the enthusiasm I feel when I meet new people, in the liberating effortlessness of being alone with myself, in the unearthing of a level of confidence I never knew I possessed.

Throughout the summer, I worked closely with the small FP staff, which gave me invaluable insight into the management of nonprofit work and independent publishing. Some of my responsibilities included proofreading forthcoming titles and grant applications, drafting metadata, live-Tweeting FP events, evaluating agented and unsolicited manuscript subscriptions, volunteering at the Harlem Book Fair, and mailing out orders and review copies. That’s not to mention some of the perks of interning, which included meeting FP authors, free tickets to an off-Broadway show, and, to my great pleasure, a lot of books.

I’m coming away from this experience with the knowledge that I could thrive in a publishing career. But I’m also keeping in mind a piece of advice from the executive director and publisher Jamia Wilson. Over tea in her office, she told me that if I’m feeling like I’m being pulled in multiple directions when it comes to a career path, to keep doing what I love and keep doing it well. It’s okay to not have honed in on a single vocation and to expand the experiences you undertake. In my free time, I’ve been giving my all to writing album reviews, and if next summer I have the opportunity to explore that further, I will gladly take it.

Reflecting on this past summer, a huge part of why it is so unforgettable is just the fact that I got to live in New York City. I met some of the most imaginative and driven individuals there, and it felt like I got to reinvent myself because I was in a setting where no one knew me. At the risk of adding to the endless romanticization of NYC, getting to live in Lower Manhattan made me feel as if anything were possible in the city: live music on street corners, rap cyphers in parks, break dancing on subway trains—being surrounded by that kind of purposeful, creative life constantly energized me. Before I left for NYC, I was so scared of leaving my friends and family. I’m stronger now, because I realized that in order to grow, I have to keep putting myself in situations that make me uncomfortable.