A Push Into Teen Fiction

DAVID LEVITHAN began his publishing career at the age of 19 as an intern for Scholastic. Now editorial director of the company’s Scholastic Press imprint, he’s also the founding editor of PUSH, an imprint that publishes cutting-edge teen fiction by first-time authors. PUSH celebrated its fifth anniversary in February 2007, with the publication of the anthology This Is PUSH: New Stories From the Edge. An acclaimed author of teen novels in his own right, Levithan’s most recent book is Wide Awake (Knopf).

What’s your primary mission as editorial director of PUSH?

To discover, publish and promote new voices in teen literature.

You’ve been working for Scholastic since you were an intern. How has the children’s book publishing industry changed in that time?

I think the role of sales and marketing has become even more crucial, and the field of possibility has expanded (thanks to J.K. Rowling and others). For teen publishing, it’s been an astonishing change—we’ve entered what Michael Cart correctly calls a “second Golden Age,” with a large and devoted readership that’s completely unlike what it was a decade ago.

What’s the difference between a teen novel and a novel for adults? Is any topic off-limits?

Any effective teen novel can be read and appreciated by adults. But not every effective adult novel can be read and appreciated by teens. Because of this, I actually think our range can be greater. No topic is off-limits as long as it’s dealt with responsibly—there has to be a context and a certain level of understanding that an adult novel isn’t necessarily going to possess.

What would you say to a teenager who thinks books just aren’t for him or her?

That he just hasn’t found the right book yet. And he’s no doubt judging all books by the often-times archaic books being assigned in class. Literature is much more than that.

A large part of your career has been devoted to fostering the talents of first-time novelists. What tips can you offer new writers?

Nothing that hasn’t been said before: Write what you want to write; don’t worry about being published, worry about the story being good; don’t give up easily; revise, revise, revise.

You’re an acclaimed author of novels for teens, too. Does your writing inform your career as an editor, or vice versa? How?

They’re not necessarily separable—it’s just different parts of the same brain. When I edit, I’m trying to put myself into the mind-set of that author and to bring out the book he wants to write. When I write, I do that for myself.

What’s been your proudest moment as an editor?

PUSH’s launch, five years ago. Everyone had worked really hard to make PUSH possible, and suddenly it was. I’ve been proud of it ever since—we’ve done amazing books and discovered amazing authors. But that moment was the real start of it, and it came at just the right time.

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