Christine Stroud, Editor in Chief
Autumn House Press and Coal Hill Review
Interview taken May 15, 2017
Today I spoke with Christine Stroud of Autumn House Press, a small non-profit press located in the Mt. Washington area of Pittsburgh, PA. The press aims to publish lesser-known authors and poets whose contemporary work has been overlooked by commercial publishers.
Stroud is Editor in Chief at Autumn House and its online imprint, Coal Hill Review.
What is your background?
I’ve always been a reader, so naturally I majored in Literature as an undergraduate (at the University of North Carolina at Asheville). While I was studying there I was introduced to (big thanks to Lori Horvitz and Rick Chess) and feel in love with the idea of writing my own poetry. I’d always been interested in poetry, but reading voices like Sharon Olds, Cornelius Eady, and Rita Dove in my undergrad classes changed my understanding of what poetry could be. The way Olds writes about women, the musicality of Eady’s work, and Dove’s ability capture multiple personas and voices showed me how diverse and playful poetry can be—that is not one thing, not one idea.
How did you come to be in your current position?
I started as an intern in 2012 and was promoted to Editor in Chief in 2016. Obviously there were some steps in between; I’ve had 4 job titles in the past 5 years. I was hired after the internship as assistant editor while I finished graduate school and took a full time position once I graduated. I knew I wanted to work in publishing so when the opportunity to move into a role with more responsibility offered itself, I was thrilled. Over a year ago the founder of Autumn House retired and I was promoted to editor in chief. It was the combination of hard work, patience, and a bit of luck.
What are your passions in life? Do they line up with your career?
The easy answers are reading and writing. On a deeper level I want to feel I’m contributing and creating a community that’s inclusive and dynamic. So yes, I feel like my career does allow me to pursue these things. Currently Autumn House is running a summer reading series in the park, which has been a great experience. It allows us to use a unique venue and connect to a different audience. Overtime I’d like to develop more creative colorations with local communities as well.
What does a day at your job look like?
It changes every day. Autumn House has a very small staff so in addition to editing everyone is actively engaged in the business parts as well. I handle our advertising, organizing the contests, community building and events—just to name a few. I like that about my job and it’s taught me a lot about managing time adaptability. As a rule I try to do the business (emails, scheduling, touching base with staff, etc) in the morning and leave the afternoons for the more creative work (editing, reading manuscripts, long term strategizing, etc).
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Hands down I enjoy working with our authors on their manuscripts the most. It’s exciting and challenging; it allows me to use my skills as a writer in a creative way. Seeing the book go from draft to published book is a feeling that never gets old and the process of working through the project with an author is unique and intimate.
What do you dislike most?
I say no a lot. I turn down manuscripts that I truly like because we don’t have the budget and time.
Is there anything you were rather do instead? If so, what? If not, why?
What an interesting question. No, there’s nothing right now that I’d rather pursue. My job is fulfilling and dynamic, and it challenges me on a regular basis. When I was little I told my parents I wanted to read for a living and I think in many way this job is the closest I’ll ever be to that wish.
What advice do you have for other women aspiring to become an editor?
If you have the time, an internship offers a lot of insight and practical experience. Offering to read for a press or journal you respect is another great way to gain experience and make connections. I would suggest also figuring out what exactly about the process you like and what type of publishing interests you—indie press and commercial presses are very different. As a woman pursing any career, it’s important to know your limits, to know when to assert yourself, and know when it’s time to move on. It’s important to have women in roles of power at presses and I’ve seen that happening more and more over time.
What unique challenges are there for a small, nonprofit press like Autumn House?
We are constantly balancing running a business and staying true to our mission just like most nonprofits. The unique challenge I suppose would be connecting to the community outside of the literary community and how to do it in a meaningful, long term way. I believe that poetry and literature should be accessible to everyone.
Do you personally make decisions about what to publish? How do you make those choices?
Yes. Actually all the staff has some agency in what we publish. We all screen the submissions for the contest and while the judges make the final decisions we’re all very active in selecting the finalist. As far as outside the contest submissions or solicited submissions, all three of us read the MS and meet to discuss whether or not to publish the work. For all submissions we take into consideration quality of the writing, the originality of the work, if it works with our mission, etc.
What has inspired you the most in your work?
Just this past weekend one of our authors, Chana Bloch, passed away. She’d struggled with cancer for the past couple of years and all the side effects that come along with treatment. During that time she was able to write a brand new collection of poems and work diligently on any edits needed. She was positive and lively throughout the entire experience. It’s working with writers like Chana—writers who write through pain, or trauma, or loss—who inspire me to keep working as an editor.
What has inspired you the most in your personal life?
My job actually inspires me a lot as a writer. I see so many great writers reveling in their art and it reminds me to go home and work just as hard.
Christine Stroud is a poet living in Pittsburgh, PA and is the editor in chief of Autumn House Press. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University, where she earned the Best Thesis in Poetry award. Her chapbook, The Buried Return, was released by Finishing Line Press in March of 2014, and her second chapbook, Sister Suite, will be released from Disorder Press in late 2017. Stroud’s poems have appeared in Ninth Letter’s first web edition, The Paterson Literary Review, Cimarron Review, The Laurel Review, and many others. https://christinestroud.com/