Find Your Passion: Bringing Southern Literary Influence to ‘Big City’ Publishing Houses

By Kristi Payne

Alexandra FranklinAs a child, Franklin says she first wrote about her cat and its “little cat catastrophes and indulgences and concerns” (Matthew Wood).

Alexandra Franklin has been enchanted by the written word for as long as she remembers.

Growing up in Eudora Welty’s hometown of Jackson, Miss., the University of Alabama Honors College junior recalls becoming happily immersed, at an early age, in the rich, Southern literary culture upon which the town prides itself.   

“I wanted to write.  I HAD to be around books, and I've never considered anything else,” says Franklin.

Franklin says she learned to read when she was 3, and, by age 6, was typing and printing her first stories and books — complete with accompanying clip art — via her mother’s Gateway desktop computer.

“My first stories were mostly about my cat Meg: the way she saw the world, her little cat catastrophes and indulgences and concerns,” says Franklin, who now enjoys typing her stories on the antique typewriters she collects and restores in her spare time.

Alexandra FranklinA writing portfolio of Franklin’s won the Portfolio Gold award in the national Scholastic Art and Writing Competition (Matthew Wood).

She says she can’t resist bringing at least one of her antiques with her to campus each time she returns for classes. Her favorite is a 1915 Underwood No. 5, which she describes as “not particularly rare, but hefty and reliable.”

Franklin’s stories are now most often inspired by her fascination with the subtle intricacies of the human experience.

“I find the richest inspiration in interaction, especially failed interaction -- subtext, implication, and the things that go unsaid. I also find myself frequently using the things that I personally enjoy and know well. I write a lot about birds and typewriters and tea, particularly in very personal narrative poetry,” she said.

“I find that motifs work best in my writing when I'm incorporating some element that seems to factor largely into my own life.”

This has worked well for her.

When she was a junior in high school, Scholastic's Alliance for Young Artists & Writers honored one of Franklin’s short stories with the 2009 Gold Medal, as well as the American Voices award. They also published her submission in the 2009 edition of their yearly anthology, Best Teen Writing.

“I remember how much it meant to me to get that call,” Franklin says. “Publication is very validating for so many young writers, and it's an intoxicating feeling.”

Alexandra FranklinThe front office lobby of Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents, where Franklin has interned.  “I loved going to work in that office,” Franklin says, “because, literally, every single wall was a bookshelf.” (Photo contributed by Alexandra Franklin).

The following year, the Eudora Welty Foundation selected Franklin’s general portfolio, which included short fiction, essays and poetry, as a regional winner and submitted it to the national Scholastic Art and Writing Competition. It won the Portfolio Gold award, and she was again published in Best Teen Writing of 2010.

Additionally, Franklin and 15 other nationwide recipients each received a $10,000 scholarship, a trip to New York City for the awards ceremony at Carnegie Hall and an appearance on “Good Morning America.”

That trip, Franklin says, further solidified her desire to pursue an editing career. Finding a college that would nurture her passion and talent for writing, as well as equip her for a cut-throat publishing industry was essential. She says she also wanted to be far enough from home to fully experience the independence of college life, yet close enough that visits to her family and hometown friends would be convenient.

The University of Alabama, she says, was a perfect match.

“It was important to me that I didn't go to college where everyone from my high school went- Ole Miss or Mississippi State,” she says. “My years at Alabama have been an entirely new experience with entirely new people, and that's exactly what I wanted.”

Franklin says receiving the Presidential Scholarship as a National Merit Finalist was a deciding factor, but the exclusive literary opportunities offered at the Capstone, such as an internship with the Slash Pine Press, were what ultimately sold her on the school.

Alexandra FranklinA collector and restorer of antique typewriters, including this one, Franklin says she enjoys typing stories on the vintage machines (Matthew Wood).

Franklin, now in her third year at UA, is among very distinguished company as a Gold Medal winner in the Scholastic competition. Former recipients of this award include Sylvia Plath, Truman Capote and Robert Redford, among hundreds of other now-famous authors.

While she was in New York receiving her awards, she began gunning for the job as editor of the 2011 Best Teen Writing anthology. Scholastic offered her the position.

That role took her back to Manhattan, N.Y., where she spent the summer of 2011 talking to young writers from all over the country, reading their submissions, selecting the best of the best and curating them into the published 2011 anthology.

“It was such an exciting and difficult job, because it was the first time I had that kind of creative control over a really big literary project,” she says.

She says her favorite part of the experience was calling the writers to inform them their work had been selected for the anthology.

“I truly believe that these writers are among the strongest voices of the next literary generation,” Franklin says. “I was really proud to be able to help give those voices the platform they deserved.”

While in New York, Franklin continued writing. She also began rubbing shoulders with major literary agents. That networking resulted in Franklin being published in the New York Times. Her article, “Revelations of a Feminist,” appeared in the Times on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011.

Alexandra FranklinFranklin lived in one of these apartment style rooms in Greenwich Village while interning in New York City (Photo contributed by Alexandra Franklin).

Franklin returned to UA for the following academic year, but says she couldn’t get New York off of her mind.

“I stayed in contact with the editors, agents and writers that I met in NYC during the summer of 2011, and, in the spring, I began applying for jobs in the publishing field. I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew I had to be around books, in some capacity,” said Franklin.

She accepted two internships with Manhattan agencies for summer 2012. Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents is an aged, established and successful agency that represents a huge range of well-known authors from varying genres, she says, while Hannigan Salky Getzler Agency is a fledgling, but very prolific, agency that represents a powerful up-and-coming client list.

“It was important to me to work at two very different agencies--one established, one growing--because I wasn't sure what type of environment I would prefer, and I wanted to see the industry at all stages of development,” Franklin says.

She credits her experience with UA’s Slash Pine Press for her preparedness for intense editorial work.

“Essentially, (Slash Pine Press) oversees the production of a poetry or short fiction collection from manuscript to finished product,” Franklin says. “I think that experience gave me a unique edge when editing and evaluating manuscripts in Manhattan--I knew what to look for, what to correct, and what is going on in the poetry and short fiction markets right now.”

Alexandra FranklinA aerial view of Manhattan that Franklin snapped as the plane she was aboard descended (Photo contributed by Alexandra Franklin).

She says her Southern upbringing benefits her in such a metropolitan environment, equipping her with an insightful viewpoint on the subtleties of character-driven prose.

“My opinions didn't tend to deviate radically from those of my coworkers, which indicated to me that I was, indeed, as capable of reading and analyzing as my Ivy League counterparts,” Franklin says.  “I (contributed) a unique perspective about language, dialects, cultural shifts, and interpersonal dynamics … that could only be informed by spending 21 years in the South,” she says.

As for her future, Franklin says she’s keeping her options open.  

“I'm fairly certain that I'll be in Manhattan again next summer working in the publishing field,” Franklin says. “Ideally, I will have graduated by summer 2013 and will be making plans to move to New York City and work there in a permanent capacity, most likely as an editorial assistant.”

For her, this goal has been clearly defined for as long as she remembers.

“I feel very lucky that the trajectory of my career seems to have been laid out clearly for me from the beginning, although it's taking a lot of hard work to get there,” she says.

“At least it's hard work that I love.”

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Kristi Payne is a junior from Pinson majoring in interdisciplinary studies with New College Life Track. She is a student writer for UA Media Relations.

This story is part of the Find Your Passion feature section of the UA home page. For more stories, please visit Find Your Passion or Crimson Spotlight. To learn more about how you can find your passion at The University of Alabama, please visit UA Undergraduate Admissions.