Dear Editors: Big city hair

Dear Editors: Big city hair

Dear Editors,

I was 25 when I landed an editorial internship at Knopf Canada, an imprint of what is now Penguin Random House Canada. I had recently finished my master’s in literature, and was having the time of my life in Vancouver: working at a cafe, biking around the city at all hours, going to shows.

When I landed the internship, I had hair to my waist. I had a vague idea that I needed to be “less hippie” for the new job, so I cut off my hair and donated it to be made into wigs. I remember my stomach churning as I looked at my hair, sealed in a plastic cash drop sleeve at the cafe, before mailing it to the donation centre. (I know, it was a weird scene.)

I got a “big city haircut” (read: short) and hopped on a train to Toronto. I kept my hair short for two years until I landed a full-time job at that house. Then I started growing my hair again, and it has remained long ever since.

When I started in publishing, I was told I had to drink to get ahead in the industry. They were joking, sort of, but for a while I believed it. At a fancy publishing party, in which there was a Hello! magazine photo booth, I made a point of posing with my water. Note the short hair. Also I was really feeling myself with that Diane Keaton–esque vest.

The point of sharing all this? I always felt on the outside of the publishing industry, even as I excelled in my role and worked on bestselling books. I didn’t want my job to be all consuming, so I opted to socialize outside book circles, volunteer in food co-ops and with environmental groups, practice yoga and study as a yoga teacher.

Gradually, my worlds blended in a way that worked for me, that was true to who I am. I edited a range of fiction and non-fiction, but I built a solid reputation as someone who understands environmental issues and social change. I started editing books in these genres, including This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein’s first major book on the climate crisis. About our work together, Klein wrote:

“I have been very fortunate to benefit from Amanda Lewis’s sharp editorial eye, as well as her political wisdom. Over the years I have been deeply impressed with her fierce dedication to quality publishing, and by the positive attitude she brings to her projects. It is a joy to work with Amanda, and I can’t recommend her highly enough.”

Now that I have launched my own business, I choose to focus on my overlapping interests: art and the environment. I work from home, practice yoga every morning, and walk on the beach every afternoon. No one cares if I drink or not.

All this to say: no matter where you are in your career, question expectations about your role and your industry. Be true to yourself and you really cannot fail.

Yours,
AL

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