NeWest Press Marketing and Production Coordinator Claire Kelly gives us a glimpse at how the team has been weathering the pandemic—carving workspace out from home libraries, overtaking dining room tables and learning to share space with pets and partners alike, all in an effort to continue getting books into the hands of readers during these challenging times.
My name is Claire Kelly, you might know me from my poetry books and chapbooks. I also am the Marketing and Production Coordinator at NeWest Press, an independent publisher located in Edmonton, Alberta. For over forty years, NeWest Press has been putting out fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and plays that focus on Western Canadian stories and authors for Western Canadian readers.
Needless to say, things have been a bit different this year, especially near the beginning, but also lately, with Edmonton being a Coronavirus hotspot. Our three current employees, including myself, are all working from home. My computer informed me this morning that it has been 258 days since we realized this was not going to be over soon, and brought our computers home.
Matt Bowes (General Manager)
Each of us has carved out workspace from our homes. Matt Bowes, our General Manager, is working in his home office, often sharing the space with his partner, Erin, in a room Matt used to call “The Library,” which held their books and comic books, as well as some stellar Sailor Moon figurines that I get to look at during office meetings. Christine Kohler, our Office Administrator, is in her basement office, often with a kitty, sometimes with her son or dogs.
Christine Kohler (Office Administrator) and Ash
Both are showing such focus with added challenges of shared space, and a kid, and pets. I feel like a whiner about working at my partner’s Great-Grandmother’s dining room table, but we finally found a reason to put all the table slats in it to make it as large a workspace/eating-space as possible, so that’s something. My partner, Rob, has been working at a desk in the bedroom. Our largest challenge is sharing WIFI and needing a longer cord for the landline. On breaks, he plays guitar, which no one has complained about during my office meetings (he’s talented, but also he’s as far away as possible from me.) At the beginning, I was working on the couch, but it was no fun to be constantly reminded of work in our relaxation space. So we shifted. The set-up is not ideal, but it is workable. This is the pandemic goal: to keep things workable.
Me loving being in a photo
I am the outlier in the office: I like working from home. Being a bookish-homebody without kids, I don’t know if I’ll ever return to working from the office full-time. The convenience of brewing tea properly, and if I am having a bad pain day, of simply taking a bath for my back, has been helpful to me. Even my partner reminding me to eat lunch when I’m hyper-focussing is working (let alone the freedom to do laundry on a weekday mid-morning). My coworkers are missing the office more, missing having a space to go to that is separate from the home. I miss the office jokes and being able to quickly talk something through without video or email. I’m sure Christine misses not having the office mail delivered to her house, and Matt not having to go across the river to pick up book deliveries as often as he’s had to do recently.
Of course, we’ve faced some challenges, between bookstores being closed at first, our office being closed for a while, shipping times, deciding how many copies of the book to print, online events taking more time to plan (though we have found them to be rewarding and will continue the practice even when in-person events resume), Zoom Bombers and Zoom Fatigue, and the stress of not knowing when we can start to take what we used to do and add it to what we’ve learned from these challenges. When should we re-plan the in-person events we had to cancel or never got to plan in the first place? is a question that I keep thinking about. The stress is a big factor. It feels like everyone-I-know’s brain is running a background program called Pandemic Worry Version 1.9. And the program sucks up a lot of the bandwidth we all have to get done what we need to each day. On the other side of the stress is that in general people have been very, very understanding that this type of upheaval is hard and that we all have to be kind to one another. For us, at least, our upheaval has not led to lost jobs, or working in unsafe environments. Basically, right now I spend my days bouncing from feeling stressed to lucky to thankful. Riding the emotional pandemic wave while trying to support our authors and get our books into the hands of readers who could probably use the written word to pull them away from riding their own pandemic waves.
So here’s to getting books out into the world, and bookstores for shifting to delivery and curbside pickup, and here’s to readers for making that possible by supporting small indie presses. You all make riding that emotional pandemic wave workable.
All Lit Up is produced by the Literary Press Group and LitDistCo. LPG and LitDistCo acknowledge the financial support of the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Ontario Arts Council.
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