Sunday, August 2, 2020

#SCBWISummerSpec Editors Panel: Neal Porter

Editor and publisher Neal Porter with author illustrator Yuyi Morales, holding a copy of DREAMERS
Neal Porter, founder and publisher of Neal Porter Books, with Yuyi Morales, author/illustrator of the award-winning picture book DREAMERS

Neal Porter is VP and publisher of Neal Porter Books, an imprint at Holiday House, and is also the founder of Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan. His books have won a plethora of awards, including the Caldecott Medal, four Caldecott Honors, Geisel Honors, Sibert Honors, the Coretta Scott King Award and Honor for illustration, Pura Belpré Awards, and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, and in 2015 he himself was awarded an Eric Carle Honor in the category of Mentor.

I had the pleasure of meeting and having more than one conversation with Neal at an SCBWI conference at Asilomar a few years ago, and I made a point of introducing myself and expressing my respect because ye gods, the man is having a CAREER, you know what I’m saying? He’s been in the children’s publishing industry for 43 years, with positions at too many publishing houses to even try to list, and works with some of the most heralded authors and illustrators in the field, including my personal choice for The Best Picture Book Author/Illustrator On the Planet Earth Right Now, Yuyi Morales.

A photo of Neal Porter, standing with arms folded in front of a bookshelf
The man himself, Neal Porter.

Neal exclusively publishes picture books - 24 picture books spread across 3 seasons per year, to be exact - and some of the books he’s especially proud of are DREAMERS by Yuyi Morales, NINE MONTHS by Miranda Paul and Jason Chin, HEY WATER! by Antoinette Portis, and A PLACE TO LAND by Barry Wittenstein. In fact, he met Miranda, Antoinette, and Barry at SCBWI events, so, you know, SCBWI has served up a few bottles of that particular flavor of lightning.

Neal’s also done the publishing equivalent of finding a movie star working at the local soda fountain - in his case, the soda fountain being an indie bookstore, and the movie star being future Caldecott medalist Erin Stead - but he mostly hears about new talent from agents. He entertainingly describes the three-person staff of Neal Porter as a “vast empire,” but one which doesn’t accept unsolicited material because, you know, three people. Dude is good with irony.

He was not shy about acknowledging the changes and challenges forced upon the publishing industry by the Covid-19 pandemic. He misses the easy spontaneity of strolling down the hall to chat with colleagues, which is a more formal and ritualized process via Zoom. His list is full through 2022, and looking to 2023 means looking toward a reality we can’t yet predict the shape of. At the end of the day the publishing industry is still a personal, intuitive, and selfish (in the sense of only publishing books he truly loves) one for him, but he second guesses his choices more these days because of pandemic-induced uncertainty.

Neal acknowledges that as a 66 year old white guy, he carries an immense amount of privilege that he sometimes struggles to check at the door, but he finds much inspiration and learning from the examples set by his younger colleagues, and is eager to keep finding new work that prioritizes underrepresented voices, confronts racism, and empowers individuals and communities to rise up. Publishing has proven infinitely adaptable, and he believes a good book will always find its audience, no matter the circumstances.

A screen capture of the #SCBWISummerSpec editor panel on Zoom, with Lin Oliver, Neal Porter, Arthur Levine, Namrata Tripathi, Stacey Barney, Julia Strauss-Gabel, and Jill Santopolo
Lin Oliver, Neal Porter, Arthur Levine, Namrata Tripathi, Julia Strauss-Gabel, Stacey Barney, Jill Santopolo, and Brian Truitt during the #SCBWISummerSpec editor panel.

1 comment:

  1. Mike,loved reading this post. Your unique voice shines through! Thank you.