Oh, The Things We Are Doing!
English Majors Talk Careers
ANDREA BLATT, VANDERBILT '16
LITERARY ASSISTANT AT WME ENTERTAINMENT
I was fifteen years old when I realized one could read books for a living, so when I was eighteen and heading to college, there was no questioning that I would be an English Lit major.
My time at Vanderbilt was spent reading and studying only the things that interested me – books borne of war, novels about women, novels with disturbingly few women, literature about food (an entire class – thanks, Fannie Flagg), narrative non-fiction about our particular American moment. I wrote my honors thesis on graphic novels and trauma, examining how applied comic theory might help us understand the ways in which the likes of Art Spiegelman, Marjane Satrapi, and Alison Bechdel so effectively tackle war, death, torture, and fear in comics. I spent a month drawing my introduction.
I won’t pretend this academic path came highly reviewed by my STEM family. While my parents knew I was learning, they had a hard time seeing why it mattered that the landscape of A Passage to India mirrored the classist social structure, or why I was awake at four in the morning trying to make my Superman drawing perfect. My schedule wasn’t determined by a list of prerequisites, and I wasn’t prepping for grad school. But I was doing my very favorite thing - learning to think, and think well.
The quality of an English literature education is, as far as I can tell, entirely decided by the quality of brains you get to think alongside. At Vanderbilt, I was surrounded by the very best: Professors I found so brilliant and engaging that I followed them semester to semester, no matter what subject they were teaching; Classmates whose words I found every bit as insightful as the material we were studying; People who empowered me to think in new ways, to problem solve, to clearly articulate complicated opinions. So when I graduated from Vanderbilt and moved to New York, I felt entirely prepared for the three-month publishing course I had enrolled in at Columbia.
While Vanderbilt made me a good reader and communicator, Columbia gave me the vocabulary I needed for publishing interviews (and crucially, the names, emails, and handshakes I needed to get those interviews). I landed my first job, working in foreign rights in the literary department of an entertainment agency, WME. After eight months of helping to sell translation rights for incredible books around the world, I knew I wanted to be a part of finding talented writers and supporting authors during the creation and publishing process. So I did precisely what my Vanderbilt education had taught me to do, and I started reading and analyzing incoming manuscripts for domestic book agents over my weekends, helping them decide which new books to take on and which edits would bring their authors’ books from good to great. Within a few months, I had taken a new position at WME as a literary assistant to Suzanne Gluck, who represents many of the bestselling authors I was obsessed with long before I knew Suzanne (Judy Blume, Simon Winchester, Min Jin Lee, and Meg Wolitzer, to name a few). I get to edit, craft pitch letters, help manage book submissions and auctions, and read aspiring authors’ work. I get to focus on a new topic every week, from the dangers of small-town politics to the history of precision engineering to the thrill of a prep school murder mystery. My life after Vanderbilt, in other words, looks not altogether unlike my undergraduate life - I get to keep reading.