The LARB End-of-Year Editor Interviews: Sarah Mesle

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth interview of several we’ll be publishing this month, all with our section editors. They’re an eclectic bunch, each with their own projects and day jobs. Like the rest of the LARB ecosystem, they rely on the donations of our readership, and we hope you’ll consider giving this month. This one is with Sarah Mesle, our Senior Humanities Editor. 

Give us some background – how did you end up working at LARB? What do you do for LARB? What do you do when you’re not working for LARB?

I snuck into LARB through the Young Adult door.  In the fall of 2012 I pitched Cecil Castellucci, LARB’s YA editor, an essay about boyhood in young adult books.  I remember agonizing over the pitch — I was SO anxious — and being very relieved by Cecil’s enthusiastic and immediate welcome. So I wrote a few YA things, and through that met Evan Kindley, LARB’s previous humanities editor.  I started helping him out with editing a few academic book reviews, and then stepped into his position when he decided to move on.

I still write for LARB, most typically for the Dear Television column. But my main role is to solicit and edit Humanities pieces, which can be really wide ranging — this year, I’ve done pieces on academic titles like Raul Coronado’s A World Not to Come, on the golden age of television, on wanting sailor tattoos.  I’m really grateful for the freedom I’m given to cover a wide range of topics. Less officially, I spend a decent amount of time nattering at Jonathan for working too hard (he works too hard) and arguing with Walter about commas (spoiler: Walter is always right).

When I’m not at LARB, I teach in the Writing Program at USC.  Students there are pretty amazing because they all have skate boards and, at 18, know more about sound design than I probably ever will.

Could you talk about one of the pieces you submitted for the 2014 LARB Digital Anthology? What was it, what was the editing process, and why did you submit it? (The 2014 LARB Digital Anthology is available as a thank-you to donors of $50 or above during our fund drive.)

First of all, let me just say that it was really hard to pick — and it would have been much harder if I hadn’t just had the opportunity in September to compile an entire Humanities ePub.  But I was happy to pick these two!  One, Ariana Kelly’s Going Up, was such an elegant history and essay; Ariana is wonderful at bringing forgotten histories to life. And Jacquelyn Ardam and Jeremy Schmidt’s essay on Susan Sontag’s digital archive — well, this one was almost a no brainer. Jackie and Jeremy were so on the ball in anticipating how fascinating the opportunity to search Sontag’s hard drive would be, and so intellectually supple in their account of what that kind of research can and can’t offer.  Their piece got picked up everywhere — who doesn’t want to think about Sontag being on Sephora’s email list?

While I’m at it, let me also give a pitch for the Anthology’s YA pieces — those are both wonderful too. Robin Wasserman’s especially is one of the pieces LARB ran this year that is most emotionally moving to me.  But I will let Cecil talk about those!

Talk about a book you read this year you’d recommend – could be recent or old, well-known or unknown. As long as you read it this year and you think it’s worth reading. 

YA! Two friends published novels that I would recommend: Leigh Bardugo’s conclusion to the Grisha trilogy was glorious, and Marie Rutkoski’s Winner’s Crime — it’s actually not officially out until next spring — is both seductive and knife-to-the-heart devastating.

Beyond that, I’ve been writing lately about an intensely crazy 19c novel that I would recommend to anyone: Mary Denison’s Old Hepsy (1858). It will totally upset your understanding of midcentury antislavery fiction, if that is something that interests you (it should!) and also features incest, a curse, a horse that may or may not be possessed by a demon, and a happy ending (kind of) involving a newspaper press. Something for everyone!

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