Intern at desk

Graywolf Press

“The publishing industry is very white, and there is a prevalence of unpaid internships, so [the Citizen Literary Fellowship] is a direct response. In addition to paying fellows over 10 months, we give them comprehensive opportunities to see every aspect of the organization and to work on a meaningful project.”

Leslie Johnson
Graywolf Press Managing Director

A couple years ago, Graywolf Press made a small change that has had a profound impact: it instituted professional growth conversations with all staff outside the formal performance review. “The idea was to create a forum where all staff could talk one-to-one with our executive director,” says managing director Leslie Johnson. “We wanted people to talk about how they wanted to grow, what they needed. It can be hard to speak up like this at a performance review. But these conversations are so important if we want more equity in our organization.”

Johnson says that the conversations yielded important discoveries. “People wanted flexibility with their schedule and opportunities to do something different, like attend an editorial meeting even though they don’t work in that arena.”

Graywolf also launched a major new program—the Citizen Literary Fellowship—focused on people of color starting out in the publishing industry. “The publishing industry is very white, and there is a prevalence of unpaid internships, so this is a direct response,” Johnson says. “We think of it as an internship on steroids. In addition to paying fellows over 10 months, we give them comprehensive opportunities to see every aspect of the organization and to work on a meaningful project.”

Johnson notes that the program has been transformative for the organization. “We have hired two of the last three fellows but beyond that, the program has brought new ideas and ways of working to us. It has opened up all corners of the organization by asking us how we can best share knowledge with our fellows and how we can learn from them.”