Photo by Netmartin Photography
When I last spoke with Jaya Chatterjee ’08, she had just returned from an academic conference in Maryland, where she was promoting the latest batch of books she had edited for Yale University Press, and she was already preparing for a trip to Peru in search of ideas for new projects on Latin American studies. One doesn’t usually think of the editor of an academic press as part of the “jet set,” but Jaya’s work has an unusually broad scope that takes in most of the world. “I’m acquiring on everything except America and Britain,” she says.
As an associate editor for world history, geopolitics, and international relations—a job that was carved out specifically for her many interests—Jaya acquires up to 18 books a year and manages another 61 books under contract. The books she acquires and edits run the gamut from a 500-year history of Iran—which has been in the works “since before I was born,” she laughs—to a survey of international organizations from the Red Cross to the International Olympic Committee, a project she dreamed up and commissioned.
The 31-year-old editor, named last year by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the handful of publishers “who are making a big splash early in their careers,” has been making waves this year with her latest release, North Korea’s Hidden Revolution: How the Information Underground is Transforming a Closed Society by Jieun Baek. “It’s about this whole network of illicit media”—mainly DVDs and USB drives full of video—“that is flowing into the country and being circulated there secretly and inspiring people, especially young people, to leave in search of a better life,” explains Jaya. If you think this sounds like a real-life version of the hit show The Man in the High Castle, you’re right.
Baek’s book has garnered reviews in the New Yorker and the LA Review of Books and given Jaya chance to flex her editing muscles by helping Baek prepare an op-ed for the New York Times and a speech before the British Parliament. “That’s the best part,” she says, of her work. “Reaching out to scholars at an early stage in their work”—such as Baek, who is just 29—“and encouraging them, supporting them, helping them develop ideas.”
Her love of ideas in their wide variety led her to Wellesley and ultimately into publishing. “I knew I wanted to study literature, and I chose Wellesley because I wanted a school that had a strong program in foreign languages as well as music,” says Jaya, who studied French, Spanish, and Arabic at Wellesley and sang with the Wellesley College Choir and Chamber Singers. (She is still a very active musician and consummate student: singing soprano with a 70-person Greater Middletown Chorale, founded by Joyce Johnson Kirkpatrick ’60, and performing with a string trio in New Haven, having added the cello to her repertoire at the age of 25.)
A summer internship during her junior year with W.W. Norton in New York gave her the inkling that publishing would be a good fit, and after earning a master’s degree in English and comparative literature from Columbia in 2009, she got her big break, landing a job as an editorial assistant at Yale, where she has been ever since.
“I love working here. It has been a wonderful fit for the wide range of interests I came here with,” says Jaya, who is brushing up on her Spanish in advance of her scouting trip to South America, a new domain both for her and the press. “The main reason I chose this career was because I always wanted to be learning.”