University of Minnesota
Department of English

Department of English

Five X Friday

Past Alumni News Stories
Angela Smith (PhD), professor
Jerr Boschee (BA), social entrepreneur
Reina del Cid (BA), bandleader
Arthur Schuhart (BA), CC professor
Amanda Coplin (MFA), novelist
David Wojahn (BA), poet
Sarah Wadsworth (PhD), professor
Mark Baumgarten (BA), writer/editor
Andrew Nath (BA), banker
Esther Porter (BA), editor
Gerald Jay Goldberg (PhD), writer
Peter Geye (BA), novelist
Sam Kean (BA), nonfiction writer
Joyce Sutphen (BA, MA, PhD), poet
Susan Taylor (MFA), CC professor
Sheila O'Connor (BA), novelist
Susan Niz (BA), novelist
Scott Burns (BA), screenwriter/director
Swati Avasthi (MFA), novelist
Marilyn Nelson (PhD), poet
Garrison Keillor (BA), radio host
Carol Mason (PhD), professor
Amy Shearn (MFA), novelist
Virginia McDavid (BA, MA, PhD), prof
Tim Nolan (BA), poet
Kevin Reilly (PhD), administrator

Michael Tisserand (BA), writer

Eat Sleep Read

BA alumna Esther Porter edits literature for profit and pleasure

Esther PorterEsther Porter (BA summa cum laude 2005) worked as a publicist at Coffee House Press for five years before leaping off into the unknown of freelance editing and writing. She's since edited a variety of literary and commercial work, including Karen Tei Yamashita's novel I Hotel, which was a 2010 National Book Award Finalist. In the summer of 2011, she joined up with six other literature fiends and began the process of creating a literary magazine. Revolver’s September 2012 launch party must represent the first literary event to feature boxing (in the ring, that is). Since then, the online magazine has featured work from a mix of newbies and established writers (such as novelist Laird Hunt), including a couple of Creative Writing MFA alums, poets Alex Lemon and Lightsey Darst. Starting in November, Porter will write an “Ask Esther” column for the Loft Literary Center, about editing and writing.

1. What book(s) are you reading?

I just read House of Coats by Brad Zellar, and it broke my heart. The wonderful thing about being an editor now is that I can contact the author, let him know the impact his writing had on me, and ask if he has anything he would like to submit for publication in Revolver. That is such a good feeling. I’m also reading George Saunders’ The Brain-Dead Megaphone and Yukio Mishima’s Death in Midsummer. My husband and I are also expecting our first child in March 2013, so I’m reading far too many pregnancy books for my own good.

2. BA alums have started at least four other literary magazines that we know of (Paper Darts, Whole Beast Rag, Spout, and the late Pikelet us know if there are more!). Competitive or collaborative?

While I was still working at Coffee House Press, the Paper Darts gals interned there just as they were starting their magazine. Their fearlessness was startling and inspiring. Of course we may have friendly competition trying to get our hands on work from the same great writers, but there is no shortage of incredible work out there. Revolver feels bolstered by Paper Darts, and we’ll do everything in our power to bolster Paper Darts right back. We’re all good pals, and we’re much richer in our community because of it.

3. What did you do at Coffee House Press and why did you leave?

I left Coffee House Press because I knew I would need the flexibility to work from anywhere. My husband is a PhD candidate in Clinical Psychology at the U of MN, and his internship ended up taking us to Des Moines, Iowa, of all places. I gave Coffee House six months' notice, and they were all amazingly supportive, providing helpful advice and assigning me editorial projects. Chris Fischbach, Anitra Budd, and Allan Kornblum are definitely my mentors.

As a publicist, I worked with the Coffee House Press authors very closely to plan their tours, book reviews, award submissions, etc. For the most part it was a dream job, because I was able to read amazing literature, then collaborate with the authors to spread the word about their books. Now I work with writers of all sorts, at all skill levels, and it’s just as rewarding. I’m also a contract copy editor for It’s turned out to be wonderful for me. There’s a nice balance to editing literature and editing commercial marketing copy. The two types of work are actually relieving of each other, because I seem to use a slightly different part of my brain for each.

4. What would you say to an English major who seeks a career in the publishing industry?

My advice would be to work harder than you think you can without turning yourself into a martyr. Internships are a great way to get your foot in the door, or at least meet people in the literary/ publishing community. Stay in touch with fellow interns, go to readings, inform yourself of as many presses as you can. Buy and read their books. Understand their mission statements. Write book reviews if that’s your thing. Many of the publishing jobs out there aren’t even posted publicly, but are made available to individuals who the publisher already knows and trusts. If you can become one of those people, you’re in the right position.

5. What professors or classes were particularly significant while you were studying English at the U?

Michael Dennis Browne was my adviser, and my summa thesis was a book-length poetry manuscript. I always knew I wanted to work with Michael; I decided to attend the U of MN when he gave a poetry reading in my hometown (Fargo, ND). So it was a dream to work with him so closely on my thesis. His guidance broke open a world of possibilities for me.

Alex Lemon was my poetry instructor while he was working toward his MFA, and the students in his class turned into my first serious writers group. Alex was so generous with his knowledge, suggesting new poets for us to read and challenging us to articulate ourselves as accurately as possible. Alex absolutely helped shape me as a reader, writer, and editor.

G.E. Patterson and Maria Damon were also hugely influential, as were my fellow English students and my writing group. I was also inspired by the science classes I took, Geology in particular. The sciences provide an incredible vocabulary and a fascinating perspective on the world. The relentless curiosity of a poet can be so similar to that of a scientist.

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