by Katie Bond
HarperCollins Christian Publishing
Over the next two months, in Colorado, Florida, and New York, three memorial services will be held for one very special woman who passed away October 8, 2012. The Denver Post called Elizabeth Geiser an “industry legend” and a “dynamo whose life revolved around books.” It’s true: her contributions to publishing are undeniable. But the Elizabeth I’ll most remember is the one described in the article’s next paragraph: “She had a gift for making each person she met feel like the most fascinating individual on Earth.”
Elizabeth held multiple executive roles in publishing houses but is perhaps most well-known for founding the Publishing Institute at the University of Denver in 1976, the nation’s oldest such program dedicated exclusively to books. For the 33 years that she directed the Institute, Elizabeth spent time creating flash cards prior to the new class’s arrival, familiarizing herself with each of the 100 students’ names, photos, and interests so that she could greet each by name and offer an encouraging word as a gift for the grueling but life-shaping month ahead.
I’ll always remember our first encounter. Elizabeth, in her trademark powder blue pantsuit, grinned upon recognizing me, reached to take my hand and pointed to my college ring. “I’m a sister, too!” she beamed, flashing her own women’s college ring.
Later that summer, I caught Elizabeth after class and asked for reading recommendations to flesh out the program’s offerings on children’s publishing. She scribbled a note on the corner of my syllabus and sent me off to the college library to check out a copy of Dear Genius, the pages where I eavesdropped on private correspondence between legendary editor Ursula Nordstrom and the authors she’d begun to shape: E.B. White and Maurice Sendak.
And at the end of the program, Elizabeth offered another piece of advice, encouraging me to overcome my hesitation and take an interview with a marketing director representing the Christian publishing house that would move me across the country and provide the vision for my career.
A few months ago, author Jennifer Weiner delivered a keynote speech at Book Expo America, and through her Twitter feed sent shout-outs to the other authors who’d helped land her on that podium: “Love to @jodipicoult. To @judyblume. To every woman writer who reaches out a hand to help, instead of yanking the ladder up behind her.”
That’s how I’ll remember Elizabeth, and if the scheduling of three memorial services is any indication, that’s how many others will remember her as well. In the midst of our to-do lists, meetings, and wordcounts, may we never be unwilling or too busy to look for the opportunities to encourage the contributors who’ll next fill our chairs and our shoes in this life-changing industry. The books are critical, but the people matter even more.
Katie Bond is Director of Marketing and Publicity for the Fiction team at HarperCollins Christian Publishing. Her team promotes titles for the Thomas Nelson and Zondervan fiction lines. Katie lives in Nashville with her husband, Bryce, and their book-loving cat, Lois.