Meet an Alum- Jenny Gavacs (MA ’05)


What was your favorite thing about your MAPH year?

Although Jay’s eyebrows and Candace’s cats are up there, I think my favorite times were when I was sitting in Third World Cafe writing and other MAPHers would end up coming by to share their work or talk over the Core readings.


What were your goals going into your MAPH year? How did those goals change throughout the year?

On my application to MAPH I wrote that I wanted to get one year of intense literary education and then become a book editor. I feel lucky that things worked out that way . . . eventually.I’d been a journalist with a few months experience in book publishing before MAPH, and after MAPH I took a two-year detour teaching English in France, but then I came back to Chicago and landed a spot at Northwestern University Press. My MAPH experience definitely helped me get that job.



What are you currently doing, for work or for fun?

As of July 2014 I became the acquisitions editor for Sociology and Asian Studies at Stanford University Press. So I no longer have any hobbies! Seriously, though, my job keeps me busy but I do try to keep up my creative writing here and there, and since I’m in beautiful California I get out on weekends to see San Francisco, the mountains, the ocean, Napa/Sonoma, etc.


What experiences and/or choices led you to where you are now? (In other words, what would a brief sketch of your career trajectory look like?)

I took the long and winding road to my current job. As I mentioned above, I was originally a journalist; this was my parents’ idea of a practical thing for a literature lover to. Still, it never hurts to know how to write well. And journalism did get me four years in New York, three of which I spent working at a glossy magazine in the same building as GQ, Vogue, and The New Yorker. But all that glamour was a bit much for me – I felt like Andy Sachs in The Devil Wears Prada. What I really wanted was to curl up with a musty old book and talk about abstract ideas. Happily, MAPH started me on that path.

There have been bumps, though; upon graduation the type of editor jobs I wanted weren’t available in Chicago. So I took a serendipitous opportunity to teach in France – which was fun, but I did start to question what I wanted to/could do. When the dream of being an editor came back in full force I had to become a bit of a bulldog about doing everything I could to get a job in that area. I was living with my parents in Ohio and taking a bus to Chicago every other week to sleep on friends’ couches and interview. I networked like a madwoman and sent my resume everywhere. Then I finally got the job at Northwestern! Another lucky day I moved over to the University of Chicago Press. Now I’m on the West Coast. Moral of the story: let yourself play around but when you figure out what’s important, go after it with all you’ve got.


pid_23967What do you find most rewarding about your work?

Well, I’m a true geek and I love to talk about ideas all day. What’s causing inequality? How does commerce manipulate culture? Were nineteenth-century Chinese civil service exams fair? How is subjectivity a function of ethnography in India? Every day I’m stretched to consider new points of view. Shaping words and argument structures is another geeky thing I like. It’s a very good feeling to know you’ve helped an author take an important thought and express it in a way that will inspire others.


Do you see any continuity between the kind of work you do now and the work you did in MAPH?  Has anything surprised you about the work you’ve ended up doing since leaving MAPH?

The biggest surprise is that I’ve gone from humanities to social science! I never thought my MAPH work would prep me for editing sociology. But there actually is a lot of continuity; following the thread of theory through a presentation of evidence is a similar process, whether the evidence is a literary text or a demographic narrative. And reading both humanities and social science, I have to be able to think simultaneously on the levels of theoretical logic and subjective experience. I also can’t get away from Foucault.


Do you have any general advice for current MAPH students, including those interested in a career in academic publishing?


Advice? Yes: don’t worry about being practical until you’re 30 and/or you have a child. Geek out whenever you can. And if you want to go into editing, make sure you can read complicated writing quickly and still take in the structure behind the words. Scholarly publishing is going through a sea change right now and needs intelligent people to find new ways of getting others to think about scholarly ideas.

It’s a place for people who are up for a challenge in a meaningful environment, not an escape from “publish or perish.” If you know you’ll be curious your whole life and you care deeply about getting scholarly ideas heard, the university press world would welcome you.







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