Donna Seaman, 1980s Alum

Year of Graduation:
MA in English, 1980s

Current Position:
Editor of Adult Book Section at Booklist Magazine

Describe a typical day at work.

“A mix of things happen every long day.”

As an editor of the adult book section at Booklist, Donna is responsible for overseeing the coverage of adult books, but spends a lot of time looking through some of the new mail and assigns fifty or more new books to freelance reviewers. Booklist receives many advanced copies of books for their reviewers to read. With freelance reviewers all over the country, Donna sends out and replies to dozens and sometimes hundreds of emails a day while pairing books with reviewers. Donna also edits and looks over reviews before they are published. She assigns features, chooses covers for the magazine, and reads page proofs. Throughout the day, Donna might also talk to different staff members and have multiple meetings. While she loves all aspects of her role, Donna admits that one of her favorite parts of her job is reading books and having the chance to write about them.

What is one of your favorite books that you have worked on this year while at Booklist?

Donna thought about this question for a bit before clarifying that she has read and loved many books. Nonetheless, she was impressed with a nonfiction book tilted Silver, Sword, and Stone: Three Crucibles in the Latin American Story by Marie Arana. Silver, Sword, and Stone is a very unusual history of Latin and South America and has been on Donna’s mind since she read it.

How did you find your first job after graduation and/or your current position?

“I have always worked. I worked throughout school. And because I am so in love with books and I need to read, I have always worked in libraries or in book stores.”

When Donna first moved to Chicago, she worked in the Newberry Library. She quickly realized she wanted a more literary education in addition to her fine arts degree. She decided to attend DePaul. At the time, full-time employees were given tuition benefits and she quickly secured a job at DePaul’s law library. This allowed her to take courses and work towards achieving her MA in English. Donna cannot relay her gratitude enough. She expresses her gratitude for DePaul’s generosity and the impact it has had on her career and life.
After completing her MA, Donna began to think about careers that would combine her interest in art and design with her love for books, writing, and editing. In that moment, publishing seemed to be the right fit for her. Donna gradually made her way to the American Library Association and its large publishing department. She first started with an entry level job in their book department and began writing freelance reviews for Booklist. Eventually, she was able to get a position as an assistant editor at Booklist and has several promotions since then that have led her to her current position.

How important has networking been in your employment searches? How did you find or build contacts in your desired field? How important is networking in your field?

“Knowing people is super important for many reasons, for one it’s inspiring.”

Donna states that work can be very demanding and sometimes feel isolating. Meeting people that share your passion, whatever it may be, is incredibly important. Donna has served in award committees and boards in addition to attending library events. At said events, she has had the opportunity to meet several writers, editors, and other professionals within the publishing realm. She has even connected with book sellers and librarians.
Donna praises Chicago’s fantastic literary world and implores students to do their best at their jobs, but to also look beyond the work place and see what else is going on in their fields. She explains that it is important to be involved because different groups and communities provide students with support beyond their fields.

How does your English major help you in your current position?

“I had tremendous professors that taught me how to read actively, critically, and curiously.”

At DePaul, Donna close read and analyzed. The papers she wrote for her classes were held to very high standards. Because of this experience, she says she felt very confident stepping into an editorial position. She can write critical works and reviews because of the education she received. Her professors taught her to pay close attention to every aspect of writing and reading placed in front of her.

Describe your experience at DePaul. What did you like best/value most about DePaul’s English major?

“I loved all of the libraries — the downtown library and the Lincoln Park library. They have only gotten better over the years.”

Donna says that many of her DePaul professors understood that their students were adults with other responsibilities or jobs to attend to before or after classes. In other words, professors understand that students are each individuals with unique life experiences. That level of respect enabled her personal education.
Another aspect of DePaul that Donna enjoyed was its location in the city. Her experience was very inclusive and there was a diversity of students as well as staff. As a transplant, Donna felt like she was at the heart of Chicago learning about DePaul’s role in the city. It is one of the many reasons she loved her time at DePaul.

What advice would you give to graduating students as they move into the job market?

“You need to look creatively for opportunities, and really express and explain your skills in a very open way.”

Donna explains that graduating students must try to portray their skills in a flexible way. This way, graduates can showcase how their skills can be applied to many different situations depending on what they employer is looking for. Donna also encourages English majors to be proud of their degrees. Some may laugh at those with English degrees, but students should be confident about their choice to study English. Donna adds the importance of internships and encourages those who haven’t had an internship during school to find a post-grad internship to help with the job search. Donna recommends that students be very specific about their interests when applying for jobs, including interests beyond writing and reading. For instance, mentioning if you have a music or art background or you are interested in film or gardening can really strike a chord with an interviewer.

Donna additionally hints at the hidden publishing world that might be an interest for many graduating students. She explains that there are all kinds of trading and association publications in Chicago. Here she draws attention to the journalism world and literary journalism. What she does is a form of literary journalism, but there is also work in industries such as medical and legal publishing. Not everyone will be able to work with literary materials, but there are plenty of other areas that are perfect for the skills of an English major. Studying English is a great way to learn how to communicate, read, and write, all of which prepares students for a variety of jobs and careers.

What advice would you give first year students?

“Find enjoyment in what you are doing and never compromise.”

Donna’s advice to first year students is to take advantage of everything they can learn, even in classes they think they might not love. She understands that students must take required courses that are not about things they are passionate about and suggests trying to work at the highest level possible. Do not want to waste any time or miss any opportunities. College years go by surprisingly fast and will have a huge impact on your life. Donna realizes this may sound obvious or old fashioned to many eighteen-year-old first-year students, but it is the truth. She finds herself thinking about this all the time when facing a new challenge at work. She was frustrated with school during her undergraduate years, yet remained devoted to her studies even when the work was difficult. Looking back, Donna says that the time she spent pursuing her passion and living the life of the mind was one of the best times of her life.

Profile by Sara Shahein,
Contributor to The Underground