Mentor Monday ~ Emma Dryden

Anyone who’s been seriously writing for children knows the name, Emma Dryden. She’s been in publishing 25 years and shows no signs of slowing down. During a nineteen year career with S&S, she earned the titles of Vice President and Publisher of both Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Emma has edited nearly 500 books and has worked with children’s literary stars such as Ellen Hopkins, Karma Wilson, Alan Katz, Kathi Appelt, Holly Black, Louise Borden, Lorie Ann Grover, Chris Demarest, and Shelia Moses. The list of major awards her books have garnered is staggering. A shock wave went through the children’s publishing world when she was laid off as part of a cost-cutting maneuver by S&S. I still remember thinking the person who’d told me the news had the wrong name.Emma Dryden still continues to give the children’s publishing industry her very best. Enter…Drydenbks, a multi-platform venture through which she will provide editorial and creative services to children’s book authors, illustrators, publishers, and agents. She will also conduct workshops and act as consultant to those seeking to break into or expand their presence in the children’s publishing arena. Emma also does some writing (mostly poetry), and keeps a blog.

I first met Emma Dryden as a wide-eyed newbie at Whispering Pines Writer’s Retreat about 8 years ago. I remember her as being kind, quick to laugh, and having some darn cool sweaters. I also remember that during a first pages activity, she made some comments (along with author, Nancy Hope Wilson) about my work that changed the direction of my writing. I’ll be forever grateful for that, as that “direction” is now under contract.

Below, Emma writes about her blessing of having multiple professional mentors. Following the first piece, she writes a short piece about luminary, Margaret McElderry, and a humorous, fateful day twenty years ago. It seems that both Emma and Margaret were blessed on this frenzied August day….

Thanks, Emma, for your generosity in sharing these pieces with me.

Without further ado…

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Emma Dryden:

I have been blessed to have had several mentors in my professional life. I have been blessed by some people older than myself who by example instilled in me a regard for and understanding of not only the business of a business, but the humanity of a business; people who by example inspired me to learn from my mistakes, care about my reputation, conduct myself with honesty and passion, and strive to become a decent citizen of the world. By example, these people taught me, helped me, challenged me, and expected the best from me as they expected the best from themselves. They made me cry because they were tough. They made me laugh because they were playful. They made me think because they were thoughtful. They made me care because they were careful. And in the process, as I grew from being an assistant to a colleague to a peer, we became friends because we shared a deep mutual respect for our business, for one another, and for the future.

As I walk along the paths of my life and my work, I don’t always take the time to think of and thank these people who themselves never thought they were remarkable in any way, just doing their job, just doing what came naturally, just doing what was right. I stop now to think of them and thank them, for they were most remarkable indeed. Remarkable for inviting me into their offices and homes to witness them doing their jobs, doing what came naturally, doing what was right. To witness. And to embrace all that would become essential to my own growth into someone of whom I can be proud. A businesswoman, a colleague, a person of whom I sincerely hope they would be and are proud.

It is a wonder how deeply one person can touch another simply by being present. By listening. By suggesting. By living fully. And by laughing. Oh, the laughing! Would that everyone be as lucky as I’ve been to enjoy but one older person in their life by whose example they can be inspired in their work and their life.

In honor of Dilys Evans, Linda Hayward, Richard Jackson, Margaret K. McElderry, Ole Risom.

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My mentor and friend, Margaret K. McElderry, passed away at the age of 98 on February 14, 2011. Valentine’s Day. A day on which we celebrate and express love. And a day somehow wholly appropriate on which to say farewell to a woman who was full to overflowing with a passion for imagination, story, a beautifully crafted book, laughter, friends, fine wine and delicious food, blue skies over sparkling oceans, the quiet revelatory conversation and the raucous celebratory gathering—a woman so full of love and enthusiasm for all life has to offer professionally and personally.

Where our work ended and our friendship began, where our friendship ended and our work began, it’s hard to say. I suppose though, the working friendship and friendly working began the day in early August 1990 when I tried to reach Margaret to tell her I was accepting her job offer. Margaret was leaving that day at Noon for her annual vacation on Nantucket and we’d agreed I’d call her at home with my “Yes” or “No.” I made my decision. It was going to be “Yes.” That morning at eight o’clock, I called. No answer. I called again. No answer. I waited a half-hour and called again. No answer. I called over to Margaret’s office at Macmillan to confirm I had the right number. No one was in yet and I left a message to say I was doing all I could to reach Margaret to tell her I wanted the job and would they please let the HR folks know. I called Margaret again. No answer. I was getting on the subway to go to Random House where I was working at the time. I found a payphone to call my partner and my mother to ask them to please keep trying Margaret McElderry’s phone number while I was on the subway. They did. No answer. I got to Random House, called again. No answer. I left another message with Margaret’s assistant. I decided to come clean and tell Margaret’s friend, Knopf editor, Frances Foster what was going so she could confirm I was dialing the right number. I was.

Now I’d not only essentially given notice to Random House without actually accepting the job offer from Margaret, but it was getting on towards 11:00 and I was frantic. I knew darn well you don’t promise Margaret McElderry you’ll call her and not call her. I called Macmillan again and was told my messages had started to set off great concern. Publisher Judy Wilson was putting McElderry Books’ art director Barbara Fitzsimmons into a taxi at that very moment to send her down to Margaret’s house on Washington Square to see if everything was alright. Oh, and by the way, Judy Wilson was delighted, I was told, that I wanted the job. I called again. No answer. And then, just before Noon, my phone rang. Judy Wilson was on the line to tell me it seems Barbara got to Margaret’s house in a progressively nervous state, and was pounding on the door and holding her finger on the doorbell – only to have a rather put-out Margaret McElderry open the door, take one look at Barbara’s pale face, and say something to the effect of…”What are you doing here? Did you all think I was dead?” Well, in fact, yes we did. And, in fact, while Margaret McElderry was clearly very much alive, her telephone line was completely done for. It seems not three minutes before Barbara arrived, she’d just figured out what was happening when she’d quite irately picked up the receiver to call Macmillan’s HR department to tell them QUOTE “If that Emma Dryden doesn’t have the common decency and courtesy to call me at the time we arranged for her to call me, I don’t want her working for me anyway.” UNQUOTE.

Margaret and I never did speak that day, but I started as her associate editor on September 19, 1990, a week or so before she returned to the office, tan and energized, from Nantucket. And when we saw each other, we hugged and laughed and had some rather choice things to say about AT&T. The rest is history and we told and retold that story over and over again because it said something about our partnership and it made us laugh. Such a remarkably unexpected beginning to a remarkably unexpected friendship and collaboration. I’d give anything to call you right now, Margaret, to tell you how much it all meant to me—professionally and personally—to accept that job offer, to accept that gift. And this time, we’d use our cell phones.

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Publishers Weekly has a wonderful tribute, written by several kid lit professionals (including Emma Dryden) who knew and loved Margaret McElderry. Reading their pieces makes me wish that I’d been able to meet this one-in-a-billion woman! Her loss is a loss for everyone that loves children’s literature.

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6 thoughts on “Mentor Monday ~ Emma Dryden

  1. Such a beautiful story. I'm sitting in my bathrobe crying right now! Thanks to Lynda for Mentor Monday and to Emma for sharing her wonderful story.

  2. Inspiring! This reminds me of why I decided to write for children.

  3. What a wonderful tribute. And what an inspiring piece on the appreciation of the mentor's in one's life.

  4. Hi Kristine! Thanks so much for cming by! I agree-Emma did a fantastic job on this post. A memorable one for sure!

  5. HI, Linda! I agree–a wonderful reminder for why we write for kids. I've read a few different interviews from children's authors about how they write for kids because kids listen. I think that's true.

  6. Thanks, Mary! WE know about mentors, don't we, as we've mentored each other for years now! ;-)

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