Meet Jillian Manning, the New Executive Director at the National Writers Series

The longer I walk in the world, the more I begin to believe that everything really does come full circle. When I left Traverse City for my freshman year of college, I would never have been able to predict the series of events that led me here, to this amazing job in this beautiful town.

In fairness, the National Writers Series didn’t yet exist when I set off to pursue an English major. If it had, I might have been better prepared for the journey. At that time, I thought there were only three careers for an English grad—lawyer, teacher, or starving artist—and none of them appealed. I navigated my first two years at school with a growing dread of where I would turn after graduation.

It wasn’t until my junior year I realized I could go into book publishing. I’d always imagined editors as these elusive, red-pen hoarding, coffee-drinking New Yorkers who wore black turtlenecks and lived in glorious but tiny apartments crammed with books. For a girl who doesn’t drink coffee and certainly wasn’t made for the big city, the dream seemed unattainable. You can imagine how astounded I was to discover I could edit children’s books from the not-so-distant land of Chicago, Illinois.

This magical land was actually called Naperville, the home of Sourcebooks, Inc., where I started fresh out of college. One of the leading independent publishers, Sourcebooks was run with the energy of a start-up, which meant I got a ton of experience very, very quickly. My time there laid the groundwork for a move back to Michigan several years later, where I worked my way up to become a young adult and middle grade acquisitions editor for a division of HarperCollins.

I loved my work, but I never felt truly at home as I bopped around the Midwest. Eventually, my husband and I decided to move north and return to Traverse City, where I set aside my editing hat and began a whole new career in public relations. (Luckily, there are lots of books on PR!)

Three delightful years passed as I promoted the endless charms of Traverse City. I missed working with books, but I had wonderful bookstores to keep my shelves stocked, an incredible library system, and this metropolitan-worthy book festival called the National Writers Series in my backyard.

When Anne Stanton, my predecessor and one of the founders of NWS, called me to say she was stepping down to return to writing, I couldn’t believe this perfect new door was opening. I was living in the place I loved. The job at NWS would offer me a chance to work with authors and publishers again, and I would get to make a difference with kids in the region who loved to read and write as much as I did when I was their age.

Now, here I am, ready to lead the National Writers Series into its second decade. Every step of the journey led me to where I am today, and the circle I have made is beautiful, filled with experiences and people I wouldn’t trade for the world.

I’m thrilled to see where this new road leads, and I hope you’ll walk it with me.