Speaking from a sidewalk in San Francisco (judging from honks and feedback through the phone), Erica Mena-Landry reflected on the undergrad experience that catapulted her into the publishing industry.
“I was the kind of person that took classes with the same professors over and over again, and everything that I took was great. I actually can’t think of a class that I took at UMass that I didn’t like.”
The two professors that she took the most classes with were Askold Melnyczuk in the English Department, and Kathleen Sands in the Study of Religion Department.
“One of the things about Kathleen’s classes, there was a group of six of us that took all of her classes. Any class that she offered we were in it, and the six of us have stayed friends. In fact I live two blocks away from one of them and see her every week, so that was another really meaningful group that I was involved with that formed essentially because we were all groupies of this professor. We were originally a study group for her class because it was really hard, and we stayed friends for the entirety of our experience at UMass. My experience at UMass was incredible. There’s nothing bad that I have to say about it. Everything was good.”
Asked what she learned, Mena-Landry says, “How to multitask,” and thinks for a moment.
“I learned a lot about who I am and the kinds of things I’m good at, and how to find people that would mentor and encourage me. That’s the kind of thing I learned outside of the classroom, through student groups and activities, on the Senate, and in my job. That’s probably the most important thing I learned, who I am.”
Active on campus, Mena-Landry worked in the admissions office, edited the Watermark, worked at WUMB, and served in the Student Senate.
“All of those experiences and the community available to me outside of the classes were really important to my experience there. It shaped my time there, and has shaped everything I’ve done since leaving.”
After graduating from UMass Boston in 2008 Mena-Landry created Anomalous Press, which recently published a portion of UMB professor Askold Melnyczuk’s forthcoming novel, “Smedley’s Secret Guide to World Literature.”
Emblematic of marketing challenges in the publishing industry in general, at the 2013 AWP conference in Boston Mena-Landry set up a booth for Anomalous Press and sold out on promo shirts and mugs, screen printed with the phrase “I Prefer to Remain Anomalous,” but left with unsold books. Online the press has branches into new forms of literary expression, with a mission of “publishing literary text, advancing audio forms and creation, and supporting all sorts of alternative realities of the near future.” It’s an amalgamation of old and new technology. Mena-Landry designs the books in unique detail, and in print they are a pleasure to hold. Each of the nine chapbooks available for sale on the website (anomalouspress.org) has an intimate feel, specially made.
Working in San Francisco as the Managing Director of American Literary Translators Association, Mena-Landry is making a life out of literature. She is also the Managing Editor of Drunken Boat (drunkenboat.com), an online arts journal.
On the phone from the other side of America, she reminisces about the experiences that got her started.
“Two things that impacted my life more than anything else: one was the work that I did for the Watermark, which got me started in book design and publishing, and those are two of the skills that I have built a career on; the other was the Student Senate, which in addition to building a lot of skills in terms of administration, and organization, and running meetings, those really practical skills, I met my husband on the Student Senate, so that was really important.”
Mena-Landry went to an alternative high school that didn’t have classes or grades.
“When I was beginning to apply for college I realized that my options were a little bit limited, so I started taking a summer class at UMass, a poetry class with Pam Annas from the English department, just to prove that I could do college level work. I loved the campus, and I loved the feel of the English class so much that I decided to apply to UMass and only to UMass, and luckily I got in.”
As a student she took on a host of responsibilities.
“I don’t imagine that there’s that much autonomy at other universities, and that was a huge benefit in my education, being thrown into a situation where I had to learn how to do everything. The trust placed in students in leadership roles is absolutely unique to UMass in my experience.”
Now Mena-Landry follows the changes on campus from afar.
“I did hear about dorms in the alumni newsletter. Dorms were sort of a hot button issue when I was there. It was an entirely commuter campus. I’m not sure if that’s true anymore. It’s definitely something that we spent a lot of time talking about on the Senate.”
“At the time when I was there I was extremely against it. I didn’t think that it was something that we needed. My fear was that it would change the dynamic of the campus in such a way that it would no longer be the place that I loved it for
being. And one of the reasons that I applied to UMass Boston, and not any of the other UMass-es was that it was a commuter campus. That was very important to me. I didn’t want to be on a campus where commuters where a minority. So those were my feelings as a student. Having moved out into the world and having been at four different universities since with dorms, I think I would have slightly different questions and concerns. Perhaps my thinking has become more nuanced, but I don’t know if I can weigh in. All I know are rumors.”
Whatever ends up happening, UMB continues to hold a special place in Mena-Landry’s heart.
“UMass Boston has the most exceptional student body of any campus that I’ve been on. I wish for the professors that that continues to be true, and I wish for the students that they realize how amazing of an experience that they have access to.”