From the Deep South to the Big Apple, a Love of Literature Endures
A Jackson, Mississippi native, Alexandra Franklin graduated from The University of Alabama in 2014 with a BA in English and a minor in Creative Writing. Prior to her arrival at the capstone, Franklin earned the Presidential Scholarship and the Portfolio Gold Award from Scholastic’s Art & Writing Competition. In September of 2011, her essay “Revelations of a Feminist” appeared in The New York Times. While at UA, Franklin interned with the University’s Slash Pine Press. Franklin recently earned her MFA in poetry The New School and works as a literary agent in New York City.
How did you discover your passion for writing and literature?
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t passionate about these things; even as a child, I was an obsessive reader who turned into an obsessive writer, and the impulse has never gone away. In some ways, I think I was very lucky. It almost feels like literature chose me, rather than the other way around. I don’t even know who I would be without that aspect of my personality. As I got older, it became a matter of figuring out how to turn this passion into a career. I was the editor of my high school literary magazine, Earthwinds, which was my first foray into “publishing,” and I immediately fell in love with this type of work. There’s so much creativity involved in editing and curating other people’s work. As a freshman in college, I was invited to edit Scholastic’s Best Teen Writing anthology, and at that point, I think I knew for sure that I wanted to work in publishing.
Your essay, “Part of a Whole, But Still Me” was published in The New York Times in 2011. Did that experience help drive you to pursue a career in publishing?
Ah, yes. The publication was definitely encouraging, and a huge rush to see my work in print. I went to the Barnes and Noble in Tuscaloosa and bought every Sunday edition of the NYTimes they had in stock. It cost something like $50 altogether, and I was so excited. The editing and revising process for that essay was so interesting. I went back and forth with my editor at the NYTimes, exchanging long emails about stylistic choices and very tiny but very important punctuation decisions. I learned so much about what it feels like to be on the author side of that equation, and how important it is to stand up for the elements of your writing that really make it your own.
What is the most valuable skill you acquired from the UA Department of English?
I remember so clearly how going into Morgan Hall for the first time felt and knowing that the whole building was full of people who loved to discuss books. It sounds so simple, but it was the first time I had ever felt anything like that. Morgan was a sanctuary to me. I learned that I’m happiest when I’m surrounded by people who are passionate about their work and who love to get tangled up in conversations about literature and ideas. That experience gave me such a clear idea of the direction I wanted to go.
How did your time with Slash Pine Press prepare you for a literary career in New York City?
Slash Pine was a life-changing experience. Patti White and Brian Oliu handled that internship so beautifully: they allowed interns to assume responsibility for so much of the operations of the Press. My fellow interns were an amazing community of bright, passionate, ambitious students who loved the manuscripts we were publishing as much as the process of turning those manuscripts into gorgeous art objects. We were also responsible for organizing reading and community art events across Tuscaloosa, a process which taught me so much about logistics, communication, and attention to detail—skill sets I use every day in my career. More importantly, SPP gave me a new awareness of an artist’s responsibility to engage and give back to the community. I think about that idea all the time, even here in New York. Maybe especially here.
What is the most challenging part of your job? What is the most rewarding?
I wasn’t initially aware that there would be so much math involved. Actually, I think the most challenging parts are also the most rewarding: reading through piles of submissions, communicating with frantic or anxious authors, figuring out creative fixes for manuscripts that just need a little boost. Every day is different, and I love that. It’s never dull.
Having spent your early life in the South, was it difficult to adjust to New York City? How has your southern background informed your city identity?
It wasn’t particularly difficult for me to adjust, although I do find myself talking about the South a lot. I miss the region in ways I couldn’t have predicted, and I feel protective of it. I took from the South is a genuine interest in people; my friends always laugh at me for jumping headfirst into conversation with strangers, but I really want to know how people are doing, what brought them here. I’m never in such a hurry that I can’t engage with people and find out what their stories are.
Are you working on new projects?
Yes, I was recently accepted to the Ashbery Home School Residency, and I’m also serving as Associate Editor of the forthcoming literary journal Poet’s Country. You can find out more about us at our website: http://www.poetscountry.com/journal/ or on Twitter at @poetscountry.