An Interview with Courtney Pondelick

Courtney Pondelick is a Grants Pass native and a 2011 honors program graduate of Southern Oregon University. She’s worked as a manager at Bluestone Bakery, a student orientation leader, a journalist for the Siskiyou newspaper and the online magazine Cognito. She’s currently a student in the Masters in Book Publishing program at Portland State University.

EB: What is your graduate program like? What courses do you take and what sorts of things are you reading?

CP: The program is great! It’s extremely hands-on, even the traditional lecture classes tend to be really group-orientated and focus on direct, real-world skills. We are required to take courses such as book design, marketing, editing, copyright, and so much else, basically getting an overall look at what the book publishing industry is made up of. I have a much better idea of what my job options will be now that I’ve completed a quarter of classes.

As for reading? We are encouraged to read everything! A lot of my classmates are reading books, usually fiction, by local authors, and I would love to start on that as well. A big part of the program is staying up on industry news. This means subscribing to multiple daily newsletters from websites such as Publishers Weekly and Shelf Awareness. Oh, and right now, I’m reading Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy and Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.

EB: Is there an internship or practicum component?

CP: What’s really wonderful about the program is the built-in internship component. The program, and everyone in it, essentially runs a non-profit publishing house, Ooligan Press. Ooligan publishes about three books per year, which means the students are actively involved with the process of acquiring, creating, and publishing a “real” book. By the time I graduate from the program, I will already have two years of directly relevant experience as I enter the job market. Students have their choice of which department they would like to work in. For example, last term I took one credit for the Digital Content workgroup, which manages the Ooligan website, creates ePub versions of Ooligan titles, and does digital marketing research. The students completely run the program. They are the project managers, leaders, and creators.

EB: What is the publishing scene like in Portland? Are you making good connections in the industry?

CP: It is incredible how dedicated the publishing community is in Portland. There have been serious strides toward sustainability in publishing, and Portland is really the perfect place for this to happen. Every day, there is someone having a poetry reading or a book release party. It definitely helps increase the sense of community, as living in a city can feel a bit isolated at times. It’s neat being able to directly interact with people who work at Dark Horse Comics, for example. I am aiming towards beginning an internship in the spring with a local publisher, although I haven’t yet pinned it down.

EB: How has your experience so far shaped your career goals?

CP: I’m learning to feel out exactly where my skills and passions lie. When I started the program, I was determined to become an editor, and although that is still my loftiest goal, I’m realizing that I would be happy in many other positions as well. I’ve developed an interest in interior book design, something I barely even noticed as a reader before, and I’m also realizing what I’m not very good at, namely marketing and web or ePub coding. Since I am only in my second quarter, my sense of what I would like to do career-wise will deepen as these next two years pass.

EB: How long does the program take to complete?

CP: The program takes approximately two years to complete, not counting summer classes. The program consists of 20 credits of required courses and 28 credits of electives. If I wanted, I could take most of my electives in graduate-level biology and create my own textbook company after I graduate. That’s not a great example, but my point is that there’s such an opportunity for personalization of the degree.

EB: Portland’s a pretty literary city. What does a book person do for fun?

CP: They spend time at Powell’s City of Books, of course! I live only ten blocks away, so I’m always there. I’ve attended several readings there so far and I’m always checking the event calendar for an author I might know of. On the top floor, there’s also a huge rare book room that’s only open certain hours, but it’s definitely worth a look. Other than Powells, there are lots of smaller bookstores and quite a few eclectic comic book shops. On any given night, there’s usually a reading of some sort happening, often at coffee shops and pubs.

EB: Can we check back with you down the road to see what’s new?

CP: Definitely!

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

CP: No problem. Thank you very much!

About Ed Battistella

Edwin Battistella’s latest book Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology was released by Oxford University Press in June of 2014.
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