Hudson Warm, Contributing Photographer

Long-time editor Ann Kjellberg ’84 shared insights with Yale students this Monday afternoon about her experience in the publishing industry and how the industry has evolved and adapted in a changing technological world.

The talk, titled “New Models for Serious Books and Cultural Coverage in a Digital Age,” was sponsored by the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

In Linsly-Chittenden Hall, Professor and Director of Creative Writing Richard Deming introduced Kjellberg, calling her a “publishing entrepreneur.” Kjellberg worked as an editor of the New York Review of Books for 30 years, is the founding editor of the literary magazine “Little Star” and the book review newsletter “Book Post.” She also acts as the literary executor of Joseph Brodsy, whose archives are held at the Beinecke.

Kjellberg began the talk by detailing her career path. She said that when she was a junior at Yale, she started to brainstorm career prospects for an English major.

The idea of working in publishing, she said, didn’t initially cross her mind.

“But I knew that books exist and some people made them, so there had to be a way of doing that as a job,” she said.

After college, she worked at a bookstore, where she said she was able to collaborate with an eclectic group of readers from different educational backgrounds.

Working at the bookstore, she said she was able to better understand the publishing process, seeing how people interacted with newly-released books.

“I loved hearing about her experience working in a bookstore, interacting firsthand with readers, and how it influenced her approach when she became a publisher,” Reese Weiden ’27 told the News after the event.

Kjellberg then worked at the small publishing house Farrar, Straus and Giroux. She said that the personality-driven nature of the work at the company sparked a certain creative chaos — filled with “fights, alliances and peeves.”

Kjellberg said that her experience working for Farrar, Straus and Giroux gave her enlightening, stimulating intellectual work, but not a clear career path.

“The more you go in the direction of freedom of thought and creativity and participation, the less you’re going in the direction of money and security and career advancement,” Kjllberg said.

Kjellberg’s editorial work

Kjellberg began at the New York Review of Books in 1988. On the editorial staff, she said she emphasized the importance of clear language, minimizing complex jargon that made works only readable to people educated in a certain field.

This push for clarity was propelled, she said, by a larger movement in the country towards literary accessibility. At the time, the affordable paperback and the growth of book reviewers and publishers are examples of developments that promoted reading for a wide, not solely academic audience, she added.

“We were always trying to get the physicist to write in a way that the English teacher would understand,” Kjellberg said. “Or to get the art historian to write in a way that the physicist would understand.”

In 2009, she established her own literary magazine, “Little Star.” Her goal, she said, was to produce a product that matched the value and editorial seriousness of a print magazine, but with the wide-ranging appeal and advantages of a digital publication, distributing the magazine on Substack.

Kjellberg discussed her process creating the magazine, which she said began with desperate pleas for writers to contribute. Soon enough, however, she said she began to receive unsolicited submissions.

“I would get stuff on the backs of envelopes, and things that had been typed up on weird thousand-year-old machines,” Kjellberg said.

Her favorite part of the process was printing out all of the pieces, spreading them out on the floor and watching the order of the magazine come together, she said.

John Nguyen ’24, an English major, told the News that he is interested in creative writing and editing after Yale and is torn between pursuing journalism and book publishing, so he found it helpful to gain an understanding of the publishing industry.

“I think being here has been useful,” he said. “Learning about the different sides of editorial,” he said.”

“Threats to serious thinking”

Kjellberg also spoke about her fear of the country’s resistance and politicization of education, particularly around the time of former President Donald Trump’s election.

“The idea that the country was turning away from learning things was profoundly frightening to me,” she said.

Kjellberg said that with these concerns, she started Book Post in 2018, a newsletter-based book review, as an effort to make high-quality literary reviews widely accessible.

She said that there is also an economic problem in literary fields driving people away, mainly stemming from a lack of stability and abundance of jobs for people who thrive on creativity and intellectual labor.

“There are many threats to serious thinking,” she said. “So I’m kind of trying to counteract them with my little book review.”

She highlighted the importance of imagination and innovation in adult life, especially in times of despair or hopelessness.

Kjellberg said she likes to think about books not as discrete objects but as breathing indicators and expressions of a culture unfolding in real time.

“I came to understand literature not as this thing that was embalmed in a museum, but that lives, lives, lives in the world,” she said.

Toward the end of the event, Kjellberg also spoke on the overall changes in the publishing industry throughout her career and gave advice to students.

Over the course of her time in publishing, Kjellberg said that the industry has evolved along with technology. She said that writing has become more accessible with, for example, open Twitter pitch contests and the ability to self-publish. But, she said, the industry has also developed a reductive “clickbait energy” due to social media.

Kjellberg added that there is more “vitality” in small, boutique publishing, but unfortunately less money. She encouraged students to maintain originality while acknowledging the difficulty of following this advice given the financial difficulties and creative restrictions working in publishing. She also said that often, in the publishing industry, the larger the company, the more limited creativity one has.

“The further up you get in the food chain, the more resistant the institutions are,” Kjellberg said.

After the talk, several students said they found the talk helpful and inspiring. Leela Mukherjee-Sze ’27 called Kjellberg an “insightful and generous speaker.”

Ann Kjellberg graduated from Yale with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.

Hudson Warm covers Faculty and Academics. She is a first-year in Morse College studying English.