When I was in tenth grade, I was going to be a doctor. Doctors and surgeons played crucial roles in my life—I would not have live past childhood without them—and I was going to return the favor by doing the same for others. When I first visited Calvin long, long ago, I declared myself as a bio major-to-be.

Then I had to dissect a fetal pig.

I couldn’t touch it for days, even with gloves on. I let my partners poke around with scalpels and forceps while I diligently took notes and turned up my nose at the heavy smell of formaldehyde.

So I ruled out a career as a doctor, as doctors probably—definitely—had to smell worse things than formaldehyde and poke at much gorier situations than the internal organs of a sterilized fetal pig.

No problem. Chemistry would save me. I could work in a lab and develop medicines that would save lives.

One day, about two-thirds of the way through the school year, I woke up and realized that I had absolutely no idea what was going on in chemistry class. While doing my homework on a Saturday morning, the words in my textbook turned to gibberish. They remained incomprehensible no matter how many times I read them or how many notes I took.

Computer science and anything mathematical hadn’t been options since…well, forever…so my hopes of being a STEM girl who ruled the world were completely crushed by the time I was sixteen. (On the bright side, they were crushed early enough to avoid spending thousands extra on tuition payments.)

Fast forward to now. I’m trying to break into children’s and young adult publishing: a world now dominated by white women. I’m not breaking any glass ceilings; I’m in the majority. If I were a guy in children’s and YA publishing, I could serve as a modern throwback to the editorial icons of old, someone who could party with Fitzgeraldian types late into the night and rise early for yoga.

But no, I’m not a guy, and additionally, I’m as white as they come. Sometimes I feel like the publishing equivalent of a Harvard legacy kid who’s now an investment banker on Wall Street.

What can I say, though? I was not cut out for a STEM career, and I have always loved stories. As C. S. Lewis once said, “I am the product of endless books.” My childhood is rife with memories of being read to and reading. Nancy Drew and the Boxcar Children and Turtle Wexler and Bilbo and Betsy-Tacy-Tib and the Applewhites and Crispin were my friends, siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles. And sometimes, they were me.

If I can work on books with characters[1] that will become secondary families and alter-egos for kids, then I think I can say I’ve ended up exactly where I should be.

As for my dreams of saving lives, I can always donate blood.


[1] Of course, characters in YA novels need to come from a diversity of backgrounds, religious traditions, family situations, orientations, and countries. YA authors, too. But that’s a whole different blog post…or rather, it’s worth an entire blog. Check out the Diversity in YA blog and this article if you’re interested.

Libby Stille

Libby Stille (’13) lives in St. Paul and works in the marketing department of a children’s publishing company in downtown Minneapolis. She recommends that everyone visit the Twin Cities, but only between June and October, unless you enjoy subzero windchills and slipping on ice.

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