Columbus author Hanif Abdurraqib eager to get started as new editor for Tin House Publishing

Earl Hopkins
The Columbus Dispatch
Author and poet Hanif Abdurraqib was recently named editor-at-large for Portland-based publisher Tin House where he will develop and edit three books a year.

Having garnered widespread acclaim for his soul-stirring projects, Columbus author, poet and cultural critic Hanif Abdurraqib has long made his mark as a literary influencer.

With titles such as "The Crown Ain't Worth Much" (2016) to this year's "A Little Devil in America,"  Abdurraqib's work has shined a light on his unique artistic impulses and vivid descriptions of Black culture.

Through his work, Abdurraqib, 37, has inspired others to burrow deeper into the root of today's issues, past triumphs and transcendent influences of Black entertainment.

Now, as editor-at-large at publishing company Tin House, the award-winning writer will work alongside other authors to help develop their projects. But for the Columbus native, this role isn't a point of leadership; it's an opportunity to empower the talents of underrepresented voices in the editorial space. 

"It's more of a role that is steeped in following," Abdurraqib said. "Following impulses and following the work that's already been laid out by writers I just don't know about yet. I'm hoping to unite with them on a collaborative journey that they're already on. There are incredible writers doing great work right now, and that's incredibly exciting to me."

Developing books, impacting the company's direction

In this role, Abdurraqib will help develop and edit three nonfiction book titles a year for the Portland-based publishing house. The first line of acquisitions under his direction will hit store bookshelves in late 2022 or early 2023.

But beyond his contributions on the editing side, Tin House Editorial Director Masie Cochran said Abdurraqib's experience and creative intuition will have an immeasurable impact on the company's direction.

Author and poet Hanif Abdurraqib

"Abdurraqib will be invaluable as a thinker and voice in that space when we're considering an acquisition, (developing) edits and when we think about where the book sits out in the world when it's finished," she said. 

For over a year, Tin House Publisher Craig Popelars said the publishing house has been keen on bringing Abdurraqib on as editor-at-large.

After working with him on several projects, including the publication of his poetry book "A Fortune for Your Disaster" (2019), which received the 2020 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, Popelars said Abdurraqib's sensitivity to the craft and passion for fostering other writers' careers made him an obvious choice for the role.

On June 21, Abdurraqib agreed to take on the position, a move Popelars expects will draw in a wider spectrum of talent and expand the brand's nonfiction program.

"He's committed to edit and develop writers with purposeful intention," Popelars said. "That's important to us, and I know it's important to him as well."

Abdurraqib is eager to help emerging writers.

In helping craft these projects, Abdurraqib said his goal is to magnify the literary work of those commonly overlooked, particularly writers of color. And given how intimate an act such as editing can be, Abdurraqib's approach will be similar to the methods used by some of his favorite collaborators. 

Instead of engaging in a creative tug of war or be clouded by his own artistic vision, Abdurraqib wants each writer to guide the direction of his or her project. 

"There's pleasure in (collaboration)," he said. "It should be a pleasureful experience, right? It shouldn't be this thing where it's like, 'OK, we got to edit. We got to really get down to it and pick this apart.'

"It feels really generous to say I don't know something and to surrender to a higher form of knowing, which is the artist themselves. That feels vital, too."

Throughout his career, Abdurraqib has been eager to share the images, sounds or moments that have defined his life or triggered a new creative purpose. But with this role, Abdurraqib said the biggest challenge is knowing he can't publish everything that inspires him.

"Sometimes I have to say, 'Somebody else should publish that book,'" he said. "And I'm not the best editor for every book, so there's a humility part that I think will come easy to me, but the letting go part might be a little more challenging."

In the weeks since starting the new role, Abdurraqib has already begun scouting out writers whose work has caught his eye. But for now, he's focused on doing what all good editors do — reading and seeing who's writing interesting things.