Beginning my sophomore year in college, I thought I would do some new things. I liked the idea of getting involved with the Yale Daily News, but I didn’t have specific ambitions. I wanted to do some photography with “real” cameras, so it made sense to start working as a photographer. And I had written a sports column for The Observer, my high school newspaper, so I figured I would try the same in college.
Getting involved was easy enough. I contacted some people at the paper, was introduced to the photography editors, and was handed a camera the first time I entered the newspaper’s building. To start writing, I emailed the sports editors. They told me to write a sample column; if it was good, the paper would run it.
I worked hard on that column. After all, it was my one shot, I thought, to start writing for the paper. I spent a day or two on it, and sent it to the sports editors. They called me into the building that night to edit it. It would run the next day.
Everything went from there. I made staff as a photographer, wrote a weekly sports column for the rest of the year, and found myself unexpectedly the paper’s opinion editor a year later. By the time I became an editor, I didn’t look back at my old columns or even think about them often.
So an email I received last January came out of deep left field:
Bedford/St. Martin’s, a textbook publisher in Boston, Mass., is hoping to reprint your piece, “Even More Than the Game, Drugs Destroy Athletes,” (Yale Daily News 9/25/2007) in our new edition of The Bedford Reader. The Bedford Reader is a collection of excellent writing by both student and well-known writers and includes such names as Maya Angelou, David Sedaris, and John Updike. “Even More Than the Game” would go in the argument and persuasion chapter of this book.
We’ll send you an official permissions request to use this piece soon, but assuming you’d be willing to grant us permission to use the piece, I was wondering if I could bother you for a couple of things:
1) Some biographical information for the headnote (nothing fancy, just where you were born, where you grew up, what you do/study at Yale, any writing accomplishments)
2) A paragraph or two for our “writers on writing” feature. These run the gamut, but basically we’re looking for something about your writing process, what inspired you to write this particular piece, what frustrates you about writing, anything. I can send you some example pieces by other authors if you’d like. We’re looking for probably 200-600 words.
Let me know if you’d be willing to do those for us! And feel free to e-mail or call if you have any questions at all. My contact info is below.
Of course, more than anything, I was flattered and excited. But I was also confused. Not only was this entirely unsolicited; I also didn’t remember the column they asked about. It took a quick search back through my YDN author page to remind me which column they wanted to include: my very first, my “sample” column.
Permission wasn’t mine to give, but I knew who to ask. The editor-in-chief at the time sent me the YDN’s permission form. In exchange for $75, the YDN would happily let Bedford-St. Martin reprint the column. It was a go.
The Bedford Reader is a composition textbook used in college writing classes, and in many high schools. I was excited to be published, sure, but I was doubly excited because of a coincidence: The Bedford Reader was the textbook I used in my Advanced Placement Logic and Composition class in high school, which I took my senior year with the incomparable Dr. Herbert. Along with the possibility that a piece of mine would be published in that book came visions of future generations of Hunter students flipping through their Bedford Readers to the piece written by the alum—and prefaced with an author bio prominently mentioning Hunter College High School.
Allie and I exchanged emails over a few months. (I never found out whether she was an intern or a senior editor.) I wrote that author bio, she edited it down, I approved it. I also wrote my “writers on writing” essay, which she returned comments on. She asked to change the title of the piece, shortening the eight-word headline to a one-word title: “Destroyed.” It was a bit dramatic for my taste, but I didn’t mind. Who was I to complain?
Then eight months went by. I hadn’t been in a hurry, since I knew that publishing a book takes time. But I remembered The Bedford Reader this January, a year after Allie first contacted me, and I thought it made sense to get in touch again. So I shot her a quick email asking about the status of the book and, as politely as I could, requesting a free “author’s” copy when the book came out. Two days later she wrote back to say the book should be released that month, and that of course she’s send me a copy.
The book arrived at my parents’ apartment in March. I didn’t get to see the physical product until my mom came to visit me last month. But to let me enjoy it before then, my dad scanned some pages and sent them to me.
I’m happy now to share those with everyone (at risk of violating Bedford-St. Martin’s copyright; I hope they won’t mind my reproducing my contribution to “friends and family”). By clicking here, you can download a medium-quality PDF of my piece, including the column, my bio, my “writers on writing” essay, and the endlessly amusing response questions the Bedford-St. Martin’s editors wrote about the column. And by clicking here, you can see the book’s table of contents, which proves what I still can’t believe: I’ve now been published in a collection with such giants of journalism, literature, and history as David Sedaris, Joan Didion, John Updike, Maya Angelou, David Foster Wallace, Dave Barry, Joyce Carol Oates, Amy Tan, Annie Dillard, Anna Quindlen, Michael Pollan, Barbara Ehrenreich, Francine Prose, Barbara Kingsolver, Katha Pollitt, Shirley Jackson, George Orwell, Edward Said, Martin Luther King, E.B. White, and Jonathan Swift.
To all my past writing teachers (including friends and family members), to all the authors I have read, to my editors at the YDN and the Globalist and elsewhere, and to Allie at Bedford-St. Martin, thanks for making this small pleasure a reality. It truly is small, but it is still a delightful first step on the road to, I hope, more such pleasures.