Ed Park stands in stark contrast to the image some have of Amazon in the book publishing industry—a demonic force gobbling up the little guy. The soft-spoken senior editor of Amazon Publishing’s literary imprint, Little A, is representative of a culture that Amazon at once seems to be crushing and courting. Park, who comes from a world of M.F.A.s (he has one) and literary magazines (he cofounded one), might initially seem out of place in the Amazon ecosystem. Then again, he makes perfect sense at Little A, an imprint that, although it happens to be owned by a multibillion-dollar company, could just as easily be a niche indie in a Brooklyn basement.
Park has extensive experience as both an editor and writer. (His debut novel, Personal Days, was published by Random House in 2008; it’s a satirical take on the American workplace and its culture of anxiety, set in a company going through a merciless round of layoffs.) However, when he was hired by Amazon in 2011, he had no direct experience as a book editor.
While Park’s resume was in line with what you might expect from someone in his role—he had worked for the Poetry Foundation; launched the literary magazine the Believer; taught creative writing at Columbia; and edited the Village Voice’s literary supplement—it took a clandestine pitch from an old friend to connect him with the job. As Park recalls, he’d finished his novel and had been teaching, but was thinking about what to do next, professionally, when his old editor from Random House, Julia Cheiffetz, called. She had just been hired by Amazon to help oversee its publishing program.
Park recalls her telling him, “I just had this idea: you should edit books.” The two met, and after they discussed the job, he started becoming “more and more” interested in it. He said he was “one of the first” to join Amazon’s publishing program, which made the experience both exciting and unnerving. “It was really [about] hitting the ground running,” he noted. “I had to learn a lot of ropes... very quickly.” Mostly, since Park already knew so many writers, the early hustling was devoted to introducing himself to agents.
Park focuses largely on fiction, though he does dabble in nonfiction. He oversees Amazon’s Icon series—short biographies of notable figures—that is edited by James Atlas. Park also has input on Amazon’s literary journal, Day One, which is handled by Carmen Johnson (the only other editorial staffer at Little A).
Park is loathe to sum up his list, or his editorial taste, in a single sentence. On a simple level, he admitted, he publishes “whatever gives me pleasure”—books that are “brilliant with so many things going on, yet also readable.” A self-described voracious reader, Park likes work that is “complicated” on some level; his list, to date, is a collection of books that all “just grabbed me and made me want to live in that world.”
Little A publishes roughly 12 titles a year and, for the most part, its output speaks to Park’s varied tastes. Examples include titles like Godforsaken Idaho. He described the 2013 short story collection by Shawn Vestal as something that “moves into solid, almost gut-wrenching, territory, like Denis Johnson.” Another already-published book that Park is particularly proud of—with the caveat that making him choose one of his books over another is like making him choose his “favorite child”—is Dan Kennedy’s American Spirit (2013), which PW starred. Park said one review referred to Kennedy’s writing as “Woolfe-ian” and that, when he read the critique, he realized, “It’s so much what I was responding to.” Looking ahead, Park is particularly high on James Browning’s comic novel, The Fracking King, which comes out in June. It’s a book that Park described as “a lot of fun” and “very funny,” while maintaining a sense of importance.
But for Park, the language itself may be the driving factor in his overlapping life as writer and editor. Reading, he recalled, offered a way to fit in when he was growing up as the son of South Korean immigrants in Buffalo, N.Y.—a place that was “not very diverse.” He explained: “It was this feeling that if you could master the language, if you could read every book, you belonged here as much as anyone.” Although Park said he doesn’t think this way now, it still takes more than just a story to draw him in. Talking about his approach with manuscripts, he circles back to the words themselves, “Could someone pick this up and read it and enjoy it—just go with it—on the strength of the language and the characters alone?”
Current title: Senior editor at Amazon Publishing’s Little A imprint
Almost became: Park always wanted to be a writer and/or editor. As he puts it: “Sometimes all I think about is fiction, either writing it, or reading it.”
Higher education: B.A., Yale; M.F.A., Columbia
Favorite books: The Dog of the South by Charles Portis; Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban; Speedboat by Renata Adler