Red Pencil Conference 2019: Welcome Keynote Speaker Viniyanka Prasad

June 1, 2019

By Erica Akiko Howard

The 2017 Red Pencil conference, which I attended as I was transitioning into full-time freelancing, was my introduction to the Northwest Editors Guild. In that one day, I learned an enormous amount from both the presenters and other participants, and I remember being particularly inspired by the keynote speech given by Karen Yin, creator of Conscious Style Guide. When guild member Kyra Freestar asked me to join the 2019 conference committee, I wasn’t sure what my role would be, but I knew I would gain a lot from the collective knowledge and perspectives of the other members.

And indeed, we’ve had several long and stimulating conversations about the conference theme and programming, including about what we would be excited to hear in a keynote. The Red Pencil conference is about sharing knowledge and building skills as professionals, yes. But other fundamental purposes are to bring together a diverse group of people who are passionate about the written word, to spark conversation, to grow community, and to offer opportunities to learn from each other’s unique viewpoints.

With our theme, Voice & Voices, we particularly wanted to foster conversations about how we as editors can better serve diverse authors and audiences and amplify a greater range of voices. One of the challenges is that the demographics of those who work in the publishing industry do not match those of the general population. And even in a time when, theoretically, anyone can be published, studies show that certain voices and perspectives continue to be better represented than others.

So we are delighted to announce the keynote speaker for the Northwest Editors Guild Red Pencil Conference 2019: Viniyanka Prasad, founder and executive director of The Word, A Storytelling Sanctuary. Viniyanka’s keynote, “The Power to Hear Another’s Truth,” will address “recognizing the central and essential in stories told from another’s perspective and embracing our capacity to provide structure without redefining.”

The Word is a nonprofit organization that promotes diversity in literature and, in its own words, is “working to build a publishing community that will fight for inclusivity.” Its programs aim to remove blockages in the publishing pipeline by opening new doors into the publishing industry, linking writers from marginalized backgrounds with needed resources and community, and connecting readers with titles from a variety of perspectives.

For example, with its Editor-Writer Mentorship Program for Diverse Writers, the organization pairs emerging writers from underrepresented backgrounds with experienced editors, such as Andrea Davis Pinkney (vice president, Scholastic) and Alvina Ling (vice president, Little, Brown), who help writers develop manuscripts with insights available only through a publisher’s lens.

Keynote Speaker Viniyanka Prasad

Viniyanka tells us that “my insistence on authenticity and dignity in storytelling started with my work as an attorney. As a former litigation attorney and chief appellate attorney for a federal public defender organization, and now as a civil rights attorney, I have been entrusted with sharing clients’ stories. While my work requires me to listen and narrate, I have long been aware of the great power in standing aside so that people may tell their own truths.”

Viniyanka is a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School and the Denver Publishing Institute.

In my own experience as a former college teacher, I have seen firsthand how the right kinds of support can help timid first-year students blossom as writers. I have also seen how important it is for students of different backgrounds to be present, speak in their own voices, share their unique stories, and question each other’s assumptions—and how important it is to make space for this to happen. When this happened in my classroom, our discussions were richer for it. Sadly, like most colleges, mine lost students every semester for numerous reasons. Recruiting and retaining students from marginalized populations—especially students of color and students with disabilities—was a particular struggle.

I see a lot of parallels between how these issues play out in the world of education and in the publishing industry. The challenges are many. I’m excited about coming together in September with fellow editors to continue learning and expanding our skills in supporting diverse voices, and thereby enriching all our conversations.

One last thing. As one of a relatively small number of editors of color in the Guild’s membership, I’d also like to put out a call for other editors of color—whether you’re a member or not—to contact me. I’d love to host an in-person or online meeting this summer to talk about some of these issues—or about any topics of interest to you as an editor who is also a person of color. Please drop me a line at editor@ericaakikohoward.com.


The seventh biennial Red Pencil conference is on Saturday, September 21, 2019, on the campus of Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington, northeast of Seattle. Check the Guild’s website, Facebook page, LinkedIn page, or Twitter feed for updates, including early-bird registration dates.

To feature your company or organization at the conference, contact the committee at sponsorship@edsguild.org. For all other inquiries, email conference@edsguild.org. The 2019 Red Pencil conference committee is Kyra Freestar, Lea Galanter, Erica Akiko Howard, Tina Loucks-Jaret, Barbara Mulvey Little, Tori Smith, Ivonne Ward, and Polly Zetterberg.

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Erica Akiko Howard

Erica Akiko Howard is a freelance editor and graduate of the University of Washington Editing Certificate Program whose specialties include environmental science and science education. She enjoys working with people of diverse backgrounds, including people for whom English is a foreign language. She has studied abroad in Australia, Canada, Brazil, and Russia, and she has traveled to Japan to visit family. Outside of editing, she has also worked as a college science instructor, a dance artist, a pianist, and a cricket caretaker. She also enjoys experimenting with food, though no one has ever paid her for it. You can view her LinkedIn profile here.