November 8, 2010

and almost a decade later.

photo credit: william gordon
"ms. hamrick, as a future teacher, what teacher have you had that had the greatest impact on you?" this was not a difficult question to answer. as i was sitting in the office of the dean of my graduate program i was immediately transported back to the office i frequented most commonly in high school, the office of my 9th grade english teacher, ms. gordon. i then began to explain how ms. gordon had a passion that was contagious, and how as an insecure and impressionable freshmen in high school i would cling to her every word. this was not something she took for granted, as evidenced by the genuine concern she had for every one of her students. i then explained, to the dean, how as a teacher it is my hope that i encourage students to take ownership and find value in their writing as they find value in themselves. this is precisely what ms. gordon did for me. i was fortunate enough to have had a plethora of fantastic and highly qualified teachers growing up, but it is ms. gordon that stands out above the rest. a decade later it seems as though i am following in some pretty big footsteps figuratively. however, quite literally, these footsteps would take the shape of really stylish and beautiful shoes {i know well enough...}.
ms. gordon, whom i have now been asked to call ashley, has moved on from the classroom. she made her own dreams come true with the birth of mockingbird publishing. i will now let her tell the rest... after all, it was ashley gordon who taught me to tell stories and sing as the mockingbird does.

q: tell me the story. how was mockingbird conceptualized?
a: A book is beauty and art and anger and power and humor and comfort. The best books are limitless. I couldn’t conceive of any better way to spend my life than helping to make them. The specific idea of a publishing company started in college where I majored in theater but one day realized I had only taken English classes. Since then books have been at the forefront of everything I’ve done.  I wanted to learn as much as I could about every aspect of the business before I starting one. But I also wanted my company to give back. In my years in the publishing industry, I have seen many people who desired to use their talents to help others, but couldn't find the time or the right outlet. So it was imperative that I build giving back into the business model. 
The name “Mockingbird” represents what the company is meant to do in two ways. From a literal perspective, the mockingbird is a vessel. It carries with it and shares the songs of other birds. That’s what our books do. They tell the stories of others that need to be told. In a literary sense, the name refers back to a passage in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, a moral guidebook for those of us from Alabama. Atticus is explaining to Jem that you can’t understand and therefore shouldn’t judge another person until you’ve spent time in his shoes, until you fully consider his circumstances and perspective. Literature gives a reader the opportunity to view life as someone else. It’s a means of stepping outside ourselves to deeply understand what it means to live another life. The aim of Mockingbird is to publish books that widen our horizons, even if it that horizon only reaches to the person next door. So often it is the people right in front of us that we fail to see. I hope that reading Mockingbird books will help people to see.
What makes Mockingbird different from most independent trade publishers is our emphasis on working with not-for-profit organizations. By partnering with nonprofits on every project, we accomplish a few things. We contribute a portion of the proceeds of every sale to the partner nonprofit, so we are helping them in an obvious way. But we also tap into stories that might be missed by a traditional house. By approaching the creation of a list from “what story does this tell and what life or social challenge does this illuminate?” we inherently create a body of work that could serve to enlighten people to the cause. At the very least, we’ve made the reader more aware of the humanity in others.
q:What inspires you most?

a:Making people happy. And it's not quite the selfless, Pollyanna-ish answer that it sounds like. I can be as selfish as the next person (shoes being a particular weakness). But the moments in my life that are most vivid, aside from my wedding to Jake and the births of my boys, are the times when I actually made another person's life better. To provide joy or solace, understanding or acceptance, the instances when I've been privileged enough to do that and realize it are when I was content to be in my skin, a place I'm not always comfortable. In a metaphysical way, it's as if that boundary of skin disappears and their joy is my joy, their peace is my peace. Those are the moments I look for in life; my inspiration then is to go out and make more of them. 
q:Fill in the blank {please}. I love ________________.
a:Almost as much as anything in the world, I love to be lost in a good book {and if it happens by the water, so much the better}. Earlier in the summer I broke down and read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I tend to shy away from bestsellers on principle. In this case, I was captivated by the writing, the plot, and particularly the characters. I finished the book in a day, and proceeded to read the other two in the trilogy over the next two days. For that little moment, I was a skinny, freakishly intelligent young woman who lived in Sweden, successfully executed a killer kick, and dealt with her enemies in the most deliberate fashion. It was like going on a three-day bender. I was totally submerged and felt like I was coming up for air at the end of it. What other addiction has so few downsides? I'm also partial to sitting in the sun {I have definite lizard tendencies}, Coca-Cola, flowers delivered by a florist {not picked up from the grocery on the way home}, handwritten notes in the mail from old friends, and going to foreign films at the Capri Theatre all by myself. 
q:what is your dream/vision/goal for what is to come for mockingbird publishing?
a:In my most grounded moments {like when I'm lying awake at 2:00 a.m. worrying about bills}, I hope that Mockingbird Publishing begins to make money, or at least will pay for itself. If it does, then my belief that people are hungry for books that remind us of basic goodness is the right one. It means that we can publish more books that touch people and share their stories. It means we are making more donations to more non-profits. It means the aim of making a difference as part of the business model is realized. But there are other sleepless nights when I lie awake at 2:00 a.m. and my imagination soars. Then I allow myself to dream of nothing short of a revolution where the books are just the beginning of a profound shift in how we live our lives. Mockingbird, then, is just one of many publishers and media companies who inspire people to reach out and connect, accept, and learn. I've purposefully avoided the word love in my descriptions of what I hope for Mockingbird. But at the end that is the only word that seems to fit. I dream that Mockingbird books will help us to love one another. 

learn more about mockingbird publishing by visiting the website. also, be sure to check out Year of Our Lord. after all, morgan freeman and john grisham did. 
{in publishing} where there is love {of one another}, 
there is art.