Putnam SVP & Publisher Sally Kim Receives Poets & Writers ’22 Editor’s Award


Photo Credit: Margarita Corporan

Sally Kim, Senior Vice President and Publisher of Putnam, was honored by Poets & Writers with its 2022 “The Editor’s Award” at the P&W Gala on Tuesday, March 29 in Manhattan. The annual prize “recognizes a book editor who has made an outstanding contribution to the publication of poetry or literary prose over a sustained period of time.”

That definitely describes Sally Kim, who, In her acceptance remarks, said, in part, “Usually when I’m asked to speak, it’s to celebrate an author and an incredible book. It’s much harder, it turns out, to try to encapsulate the last 27 years of my life as an editor. Every time I sat down to write this speech, my thoughts kept going back to a conversation I once had with my dad, many years ago.

“I was having a particularly tough time at work, so I was complaining to him—and I’d better be careful here, as some of my former publishers are in the room! He listened and then he chuckled in that quiet way of his, and said, ‘Sally, you’re not supposed to like your job. You have to keep going.’

“Here’s a little bit about my dad: He grew up during war and occupation in Korea, and as soon as the US opened up its immigration doors, he arrived as a student at the University of Kansas in 1969 with $60 in his pocket. He never told us directly about the hardships and racism he experienced—those things I gleaned in the in-between spaces of his funny stories about 13 foreign students sharing a one-bedroom apartment, sleeping and eating in shifts because there wasn’t enough space. Because why dwell on those things? He felt lucky, so lucky to be here at all. After studying architecture he moved to LA, and to search for a job, my dad rode the public bus around the city, armed only with a map and the newspaper want ads. He landed a job at a firm called Orbit Industries, but only because he showed up three days in a row even after they kept sending him away. They finally let him take a draftsman test, which he aced, and they hired him on the spot. To celebrate, he walked down the block to a local diner and finally treated himself to a precious Coca-Cola.This is all to say that to my dad, work was something to be endured.

“My path to publishing was anything but charmed—and those are stories for another speech—but suffice it to say I had my own version of my dad’s bus rides around the city. There was no one really like me in the industry back then, especially in editorial—my background and perspective were not exactly assets.

“I felt lucky just to be here, so I took it upon myself to quiet my voice. I concentrated on those dualities of being an editor so that no one could question my right to be one: being introverted enough to wrestle with a manuscript for hours on end; extroverted enough to be that manuscript’s ultimate champion. But now I know you need more than those things to be a good editor.

“I don’t need to underline what an upside-down time it’s been for all of us these past two years. But particularly as the national conversation opened up deeper wounds and much-needed reconciliations, so many of us didn’t know what our roles were, how we could affect change. We donated, we marched, we reached out, we listened.

“Then I realized, maybe for the first time, that the work we do, our day-to-day work, is our way of affecting change. We work through these challenges by doing what we are best skilled to do: find new voices and amplify them. Publish books that reflect a part of ourselves and so many others back into the world.

“Luck is success or failure based on chance, and not as a result of your own actions. By saying I’m just lucky to have a seat at the table frees me from any responsibility for what to do with that seat.

“To amplify the voice of others, I have to amplify my own. Otherwise, it would be a disservice to all the wonderful books and writers I’ve been fortunate to work with. And it would be a disservice to my father (whom we lost exactly a year ago) and his bus rides with the want ads, to his enduring all of that so that his daughter, too, could endure, could keep going…and have a job that she not only likes, but loves. Slowly, bird by bird, book by book, it turns out that I didn’t quiet my voice at all.

“I know this is called the Editor’s Award, but everyone knows editors are only as good as the publishing teams who sweat all the details with her: art, production, publicity, marketing, sales, subrights—everyone.

“Thank you to the Putnam team, especially Alexis Welby, Ashley McClay, Ivan Held, Allison Dobson—and to my mentors Susan Moldow (from whom I learned something new every day) and most certainly Madeline McIntosh.

“And of course, my brilliant authors…some of whom are here tonight, who came from as far away as London!

“Thank you, all.”

To watch a video of Sally Kim’s speech at the 2022 Poets & Writers Gala, click here.

Kim, to whom the Putnam editorial, marketing, and publicity departments report, was appointed Publisher in 2020, having joined Putnam from Touchstone/Simon & Schuster in 2015 as Vice President, Editorial Director. She is also the acquiring and working editor for such critically admired and bestselling fiction authors as Robert Jones, Jr. (The Prophets, a 2021 NBA Fiction finalist), Kiley Reid (Such a Fun Age), Chloe Benjamin (The Immortalists), Megan Abbott (The Turnout), and Cristina Alger (Girls Like Us), as well as early-career work by Jami Attenberg, Lisa Unger, and Gillian Flynn.

“Over the course of her career,” says Poets & Writers, “Sally Kim has demonstrated an uncanny nose for writers whose prose shimmers with specifics and intelligence, and whose themes and plots resonate with millions of readers.”

Ivan Held, President, Putnam, Dutton, and Berkley, cheered, “We are thrilled for Sally. With this career honor, Poets & Writers has underscored what we at Putnam and Penguin Random House have long known: With her amazing eye for singular storytelling and her exceptional skill for nurturing and developing authors, Sally is an editor colleagues, writers and readers treasure.”

Previous Penguin Random House winners of The Editor’s Award are Rebecca Saletan (Riverhead, 2018), Paul Slovak (Viking, 2016), Kate Medina (Random House, 2014) and Kathryn Court (Penguin Books, 2012).

Posted: March 31, 2022