Wendy Lamb has announced her decision to step down, at year’s end, from her position as v-p and publishing director of the eponymous imprint she established at Random House Children’s Books in 2001. After 23 years at the company, first serving as executive editor of Delacorte Press, Lamb will become a freelance editor and creative consultant and an ongoing contributor to Wendy Lamb Books, which will remain an imprint of RHCB. Lamb will continue to edit the work of some of her longtime authors, including Christopher Paul Curtis and Rebecca Stead.
Children’s books have been at the heart of Lamb’s publishing career since, as a recent college graduate fresh out of the Radcliffe Publishing Course, she landed her first job at Harper Junior Books, which was followed by a stint working at Viking Junior Books. Interested in devoting more time to her own writing, she became a freelance editor and worked as a consulting editor for Delacorte Press for eight years before joining the company full-time in 1996. “That was a very fruitful period for me,” Lamb said of her years as a consulting editor. “I found some wonderful authors during those years, some of whom I still work with.”
Fruitful indeed. As a consulting editor, Lamb acquired for Delacorte such highly acclaimed novels as I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This by Jacqueline Woodson, Graham Salisbury’s Under the Blood-Red Sun, and the Newbery Honor-winning The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis.
After spending six years on staff at Delacorte, in 2002 Lamb began publishing books under her own imprint, building a list that includes Newbery Medal winners Bud, Not Buddy by Curtis and When You Reach Me by Stead; How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, which received the Michael L. Printz Award and the Guardian Prize; and The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book and winner of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction.
Lamb, who is looking forward to focusing on the editorial rather than the publishing aspects of children’s books in the future, noted that the often serendipitous discovery of books she loves has been a highlight of her career to date. “There’s always that high you get from a book you loved with all your heart from your very first reading that went all the way to a Newbery,” she said. “This happened with Bud, Not Buddy and When You Reach Me, and I found both authors’ first books in unconventional ways—not through agents.”
The editor encountered Curtis’s work when he entered The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 in the Delacorte Press Prize for a First YA Novel contest for which she, as a consulting editor, was screening the entries. “The novel was middle grade rather than YA, so it didn’t win the prize,” Lamb recalled. “But the Delacorte team was thrilled to publish it.”
In “another very happy story,” Lamb also discovered Stead’s talent by chance, when she met the aspiring author at a writing workshop at the 92nd Street Y in 1997. “It was a workshop focused on writing short stories for adults—and had nothing to do with writing for children,” Lamb recalled. “A few years later, Rebecca shared with me her manuscript for what would become First Light, which I eventually published in 2007.”
Inevitably, with the highs come the lows. “This is a very humbling and unpredictable business, day in and day out,” Lamb observed. “There have been books that I’ve cared about deeply that not many people noticed, though I never stop loving them. But of course, sometimes the opposite happens, and dreams come true.”
Envisioning her life after moving her editorial work from her office at Random House to her home desk, Lamb predicted some reprioritization ahead. A motivating factor in cutting back on her schedule is having more opportunity to support the work of her husband, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec, whose opera, The Shining, based on the Stephen King novel, premiered in 2016 at the Minnesota Opera and has additional performances scheduled for 2020. Moravec’s Sanctuary Road, based on the writings of William Still, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, was premiered by the Oratorio Society of New York at Carnegie Hall in May 2018, and next May that same society will premiere A Nation of Others, which showcases voices from one day on Ellis Island in 1921.
“Paul is involved with some huge undertakings, and as a freelancer I will be able to accompany him on his travels, which I’ve often missed doing in the past,” Lamb explained. “As a composer, he puts so much time and effort into a work that is performed in the moment. It’s ephemeral—it’s not like a book that you can go back to and read again and again. If you’re not there to hear it at that moment, you miss out, and I don’t want to miss another note.”
Also on Lamb’s 2020 wish list is to “become a regular reader.” With more time and freedom to hand pick what she reads, Lamb said, “I want to read all the great books from other publishers that I’ve missed along the way, since I haven’t been able to keep up with them. I want to read children’s books for the pure pleasure of reading a wonderful book. You get so much out of that—it just wakes you up!”
Other aspirations Lamb ticked off are studying languages (“I want to bend my brain muscle in a new direction”) and working in the 2020 election. And the editor noted she also intends to spend time leisurely visiting local museums, where she looks forward to “getting all kinds of new ideas.” After more than four decades residing and working in her adoptive hometown, the Connecticut native noted, “What I really want to do is be a tourist in New York City!”