Ashley Gilliam ’07 follows college-inspired interests to publishing job

As an editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, one of the world's longest-established publishing houses, Ashley Gilliam has scrutinized the text of numerous publications. She has the distinct claim to fame of taking part in creating the Fifth Edition of the American Heritage Dictionary, even making an appearance at the entry for "shrug."

She found her passion for editorial work at Roanoke College. Here, she said she discovered a love for digging in and analyzing text in writing classes with Dr. Robert Schultz and Dr. Paul Hanstedt and senior seminar classes with Dr. Martha Kuchar, and in "working with students in groups where we would peer review and critique, and discuss favorite reads and what people found in the books that were closest to their hearts."  

But it was during her senior year, working with Dr. Hanstedt as a Summer Scholar, that Gilliam had a career epiphany. Hanstedt offered her the managing editor job with the Roanoke Review, an annual national journal that publishes poems and short fiction every spring.  

"Working on the Review sparked an idea: all of those things I enjoyed doing could actually be part of a career," she said. "Going through readers' packets with the Review group, talking through the pros and cons of various pieces, assembling the Review for print - all signs pointed to publishing."  

Gilliam began researching graduate programs. She entered the Publishing and Writing program at Emerson College in Boston, graduating in December 2008 with a Master of Arts degree in editing and writing. An internship with Nicholas Brealey Publishing and Intercultural Press led to a publishing assistant job there.  

In January 2011, Gilliam moved to the Adult Trade Editorial group at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to work with two non-fiction editors as an editorial assistant. Today, as an editor, she works "on a lot of great books, from [baseball manager] Terry Francona's autobiography, to a history of [New York City's landmark] Chelsea Hotel, to Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir 'Are you My Mother?,' to the lovely 'Christmas at Eagle Pond' from Donald Hall."  

Gilliam said it would have been hard to make the leap to the Emerson program without the confidence that Roanoke College gave her.  

"A lot of schools teach you how to think, how to engage with the world, and Roanoke College certainly did those things for me," she said. "But it also helped me to find a way to follow my interests post-college in a very concrete way."  

"Thankfully, Roanoke is a place where staff and faculty get to know you and really help you find the opportunities that can lead to those sparks, to those moment where you say to yourself, 'You know, I could do that'."

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