Editor for Life: Shirarose Wilensky (she/her), Editor, House of Anansi Press

Interview conducted by Alicja Minda.

A career as an editor is often a solo adventure, especially if you’re a freelancer. So we thought one way to better connect with fellow editors was to ask them the Five Ws: who, what, where, when, and why. Read on for some thought-provoking, enlightening tidbits from those of us who choose to work with words to earn our keep.

Portrait of Shirarose Wilensky, editor at House of Anansi Press

Please tell us a little about yourself, the kind of work you do (and where you live), and how long you’ve been an editor.

I live in Port Moody, a charming little seaside suburb of Vancouver. My editorial tastes reflect what I love to read—writing that is decidedly literary, poetic, also unusual, even weird, and informed by social justice. I started freelance editing for self-published authors around 2004, took some editing and publishing courses at Simon Fraser University (SFU), including its summer publishing intensive, and did an editorial internship at Vancouver’s Arsenal Pulp Press. I completed the SFU Master of Publishing program in 2009, with an internship at Tightrope Books, a small literary press in Toronto.

In 2011 I returned to the West Coast and edited in-house for Douglas & McIntyre Publishers Inc. (DMPI) and then Greystone Books, after DMPI went bankrupt. For a few years, I freelanced again until going back in-house at Arsenal Pulp Press, where I was the editor for three years and very fortunate to work on such books as Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi, Rebent Sinner by Ivan Coyote, Shut Up You’re Pretty by Téa Mutonji, and The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family by Lindsay Wong. Since April 2021, I’ve been an editor at Toronto’s House of Anansi Press, where I acquire and edit literary fiction and narrative non-fiction. The first book I acquired there will be published in fall 2022: Her First Palestinian by the CBC Short Story Prize–shortlisted Saeed Teebi.

Who: If you could edit one famous author, living or dead, who would it be?

These days, I’m focused on finding that next famous author. 😉

There is a thrilling abundance of storytelling talent in Canada. I have found many gems in the slush pile, including Butter Honey Pig Bread and Dear Scarlet, a groundbreaking graphic memoir about postpartum depression by Teresa Wong. So I scour the unsolicited submissions at Anansi when our online portal opens twice a year. From the August 2021 batch, I’ve acquired a short story collection and a novel that will both be published in 2023.

I look for promising authors on the awards list, like the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers and the CBC prizes. I also find authors via recommendations and referrals from within my networks. And finally, I review agented manuscripts, making offers and negotiating to acquire books that excite me in a nail-biting process that is both exhilarating when my bid is successful and heartbreaking when it isn’t. I recently signed for spring 2023 the debut novel River Meets the Sea by Rachael Moorthy, represented by Chelene Knight.

What: Do you have a favourite punctuation mark and/or a favourite word?

I can’t resist a well-placed em dash. And I confess to the millennial habit of using (too many?) exclamation marks in emails and editorial notes, so the recipient doesn’t think I hate them.

Where: If you could work anywhere in the world as an editor, where would that be?

I’m living the dream—seriously!

(If I could wish for anything more, it would be the resources to be able to offer authors all the money in the world.)

When: Was there ever a time in your life when you seriously questioned your career choice?

Often! In the early days, when it felt like it was taking too long to get where I wanted to be, or when I felt like I was working really hard for not a lot of money. These days, I feel disheartened when I put everything into a book only to see it sell fewer copies or make less of an impact than I would like. Or when I offer on a coveted book but lose to another press. But truly, I feel tremendously lucky to be able to do the work I do.

Why: Why did you choose to become an editor? Or, should we ask: Why did editing choose you?

When I learned the job of editor existed, I knew that was the career for me. Get paid to read—what could be better?

And, of course, we just had to ask the inevitable how: How would you sum up your motto?

Edit with love.

Alicja Minda is a freelance editor and journalist based in Toronto. She is the editor-in-chief of BoldFace.

This article was copy edited by Jennifer D. Foster (she/her), a Toronto-based freelance editor, writer, and mentor, and owner of Planet Word.

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