Agents and Not Agents, The Hard Way

My difficult ride in book publishing since 1999

Donald Earl Collins

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Agents from The Matrix (1999) screenshot (cropped), August 8, 2021. (https://matrix.fandom.com)

This is the second of several posts I’ve put together about my journeys as a writer. Please laugh when and where appropriate.

“You always gotta do things the hard way, don’t you?” my one-time professor Barbara Sizemore said with some sighed frustration. It was in response to me telling her I had decided to stay at Pitt, to pursue my history doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh and possibly transfer to Carnegie Mellon to complete it. It was April 1992. We were standing in the main corridor of the third floor of Wesley Posvar Hall (née Forbes Quadrangle), I was on my way back to my grad student cubicle in the History Department. Sizemore was heading back to her office in the adjacent Africana Studies Department. If I had known this would be my last conversation with the prickly educator, her of squinty eyes and well-manicured afro, before she return to Chicago, took a position at DePaul, and passed away in 2004, I would have done more than given Sizemore a blank stare. As the tall, lanky, and sarcastic 23-year-old I was, I probably would’ve said, “Why yes, professor, I really do!”

I knew what Sizemore was really saying. It was about attending a lily-white university, where there were only four tenured Black professors out of 800 total faculty. My advisor Joe William Trotter, Jr. was one of them. Sizemore assumed that going to Ohio State or Temple to earn a doctorate in Black studies would have been my best move. But even though Sizemore was incorrect about my education decision, she was definitely correct about me taking “always doing things the hard way” paths toward so many of my goals.

Claudia Menza became my first (and so far, only) literary agent in July 1999. The idea of finding a literary agent to help me publish my first book was something I had played with as an idea for nearly a year. At least once I had begun to emerge from my state of rage, depression, and sheer burnout from my years finishing my doctorate at Carnegie Mellon and having Professor “running interference” Trotter as my advisor. I made the decision to turn my doctoral thesis into a book that would straddle the fence between the scholarly and the general. I wanted to publish what would become Fear of a “Black” America for a larger…

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Donald Earl Collins

Freelancer via @washingtonpost | @TheAtlantic |@AJEnglish | @Guardian; American Univ. & UMUC history prof. Invite me to write/speak: donaldearlcollins@gmail.com