Johnny Temple interviews Malaika Adero, Vice President & Senior Editor at Atria Books/Simon and Schuster
Malaika Adero, Vice President & Senior Editor at Atria Books/Simon and Schuster, is author of Up South: Stories, Studies and Letters of This Century’s African American Migrations and coauthor, with Dr. Lucy Hurston, of Speak, So You Can Speak Again: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston. She has been published in magazines and anthologies including Essence, Black Enterprise, AOL Black Voices, and many more. She also produces literary and cultural programs, working with and consulting a variety of organizations. She lives in Harlem, New York City. Akashic publisher Johnny Temple interviewed Malaika about Miles Davis; the books that have inspired her as an editor; and about books that give her hope and those that give her nightmares.
Johnny Temple: What was the first book that made you think about a career in publishing?
Malaika Adero: The Black Woman by Toni Cade [Bambara].
JT: What was the first book that you worked on in the publishing field that you feel helps define your tastes/aesthetics as an editor?
MA: No Easy Place to Be by Steven Corbin.
JT: Can you talk a little bit about how you came to work with Miles Davis on a book?
MA: I was an editorial assistant at Simon & Schuster when David Franklin, an attorney who represented Miles, offered me an exclusive opportunity to secure a publishing deal for him. Franklin had remembered me from years earlier, when I worked in his firm as an assistant to his law partner. I’d also take on assignments from Franklin as well. I left the firm to move to New York and pursue a career in publishing, and he was as supportive and encouraging of me then, as he had been before. He also made sure that I remained working on the Miles book once I got it signed, despite the fact that such an important book would be left for an assistant to manage. Acquiring this book was critical to me being promoted and I’ll be forever grateful to David Franklin, now deceased, for the positive role he played in my career and life.
JT: You are currently working on a book with George Clinton of Parliament-Funkadelic.
In terms of your author/editor relationship with him, is he as otherworldly as his public persona?
MA: I did recently make a deal to publish Clinton’s memoir, and I’m thrilled. He took a meeting with a few of my colleagues and me, and he was lovely. He is as candid and funny as you’d imagine. But people might be surprised at how sharp his memory is and what a great storyteller he is. He was also dressed more conservatively than you’d expect: a tweed jacket and sans colorful hair extensions. He was dressed more like a businessman than a rock star.
JT: Tell me about the young author Morowa Yejidé, whose debut novel you are editing. What stands apart in her work for you?
MA: Morowa is a unique talent. Her narrative style is poetic, character development tight, and she’s obviously brilliant. I believe she has a great career ahead of her as a novelist.
JT: If you could change three things about the publishing business, what would they be?
MA: If I ruled the world, publishing and the bookselling community would be more ethnically diverse; retailers would not be able to return product so easily; and corporations would profit-share with all their employees.
JT: What’s your favorite recent book that you’ve read that you have no professional relationship to?
MA: Kissing the Sword: A Prison Memoir by Shahrnush Parsipur. She is a wonderful writer who has lived a remarkable life that includes incarceration three times in her home country, Iran, as a consequence of being on the wrong side of politics. In Iran, she was an important, but banned, writer and a television producer. She now lives in the US.
JT: How do you find time to read new manuscripts, edit books you’ve signed on, read books you don’t publish, answer the hundreds of emails you must get every week, and still take care of your own self?
MA: That’s a tough question. But it boils down to the necessity of prioritizing. I tackle the time sensitive tasks first; otherwise, I try to focus on work in the order that it is delivered (when it comes to projects I’m publishing). I’m a compulsive reader of periodicals, books . . . everything. Editors must consume media in all forms to keep up with what’s happening in the world and who is making it happen.
JT: What book has given you nightmares, or otherwise appeared to you in dreams?
MA: I work with Tananarive Due, who writes horror and paranormal fiction (in addition to other genres). Her novels such as The Good House and Devil’s Wake have played on my head. But high-maintenance authors (who will remain nameless) probably give me more nightmares than scary stories.
JT: What book of the past three years gives you hope for humankind? It can be a book you edited or a book you simply read.
MA: Great question. The Courage to Hope by Shirley Sherrod deeply inspired me. So did The Distance Between Us, a memoir by Reyna Grande. I edited both, and they are among the reasons why I still—after decades in the business—love my work.
Posted: Aug 6, 2013
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