Editorial Director, Rodale Inc., Leigh Haber
Leigh Haber began her career in book publishing as a news aide for The Washington Post's Book World. After moving to NYC, she became a publicity director for Harcourt Brace and other publishers, but her first love was editing. Since becoming an editor nearly fifteen years ago, she has worked with such writers as Alice Walker, Gloria Naylor, Laurie Garrett, Steve Martin, Terry Gross, Peter Jennings, Lou Reed, Patricia Bosworth, and many others. Three years ago she joined Rodale, and is in the process of launching a book imprint for the company, called Modern Times. There, she has worked on books by Al Gore, Bill Maher, The Kitchen Sisters, Senator Chuck Schumer, to name a few. Next year, under the imprint, she will publish new books by Rosalynn Carter, William Greider, Mary Tillman, Philip Moffitt, and any investigative biography of Karl Rove, as well as the third in the bestselling Intellectual Devotional series, and a memoir entitled HARD TIME WITH PETER RABBIT..
She just turned fifty, and is the mother of two great sons, Sam and Geoff. She lives in Maplewood, NJ.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone that you wanted to keep interrupting because, so much of what they were saying is exactly what you are always thinking yourself? That is what it was like for me when I sat down to interview Leigh Haber. I felt represented in her answers to my questions and I appreciated her candor and her freedom to simply –
“tell it like it is”.
DR: Tell me about your life and your work.
LH: I have been a single mother of two boys. That's how I have defined myself for a long time. That has informed my work. I was divorced fifteen years ago and we have been a tight trio ever since.
Publishing has been an amazing industry to watch morph and change and transform itself from an elitist mom and pop orientation, to something that has become a true gargantuan entertainment business. So, those of us who have watched it grow up and seen it become subject to takeovers and conglomeratization have tried really hard to hold on to its originality and freshness, while still trying to be good corporate soldiers.
I came up through the ranks of publicity.
I started as a publicist years ago after working at The Washington Post while during college. I really loved publicity. It gave me a chance to view publishing from the inside out and to really get to know authors in a different way. But, it made me realize how much I wanted to be an editor and how much I thought I had to bring to that process. Part of it was loving the books that I was working on and also thinking
"Why doesn't this editor pursue this person or that project?"
I would read books and think that if I had been the editor, I might have approached it very differently. Then I had the privilege a few years before I turned forty, of being able to make the transition to editor after having been a publicity and advertising director for some years.
I was kind of an apprentice but in a senior editor position....
BOOKS EDITED BY LEIGH HABER AND PUBLISHED BY RODALE
An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It
"Our climate crisis may at times appear to be happening slowly, but in fact it is happening very quickly-and has become a true planetary emergency. The Chinese expression for crisis consists of two characters. The first is a symbol for danger; the second is a symbol for opportunity. In order to face down the danger that is stalking us and move through it, we first have to recognize that we are facing a crisis. So why is it that our leaders seem not to hear such clarion warnings? Are they resisting the truth because they know that the moment they acknowledge it, they will face a moral imperative to act? Is it simply more convenient to ignore the warnings? Perhaps, but inconvenient truths do not go away just because they are not seen. Indeed, when they are responded to, their significance doesnt diminish; it grows."
-- Al Gore
New Rules: Polite Musings from a Timid Observer
Bill Maher is on the forefront of the new wave of comedians who have begun to influence and shape political debate through their comedy. He is best known not just for being funny, but for advocating truth over sensitivity and taking on the political establishment. Maher first came to national attention as the host of the hit ABC-TV program Politically Incorrect, where he offered a combustible mixture of irreverence and acerbic humor that helped him to garner a loyal following, as well as a reputation for being a controversial bad boy.
New Rules collects some of the best of the rules derived from previously written material and contains substantial new material, including some longer form "editorials"--of course with a twist and bite that only Bill Maher can deliver.
The Intellectual Devotional: Revive Your Mind, Complete Your Education, and Roam Confidently with the Cultured Class
Millions of Americans keep bedside books of prayer and meditative reflection collections of daily passages to stimulate spiritual thought and advancement. The Intellectual Devotional is a secular version of the same, a collection of 365 short lessons that will inspire and invigorate the reader every day of the year. Each daily digest of wisdom is drawn from one of seven fields of knowledge: history, literature, philosophy, mathematics and science, religion, fine arts, and music. Impress your friends by explaining Plato's Cave Allegory, pepper your cocktail party conversation with opera terms, and unlock the mystery of how batteries work. Daily readings range from important passages in literature to basic principles of physics, from pivotal events in history to images of famous paintings with accompanying analysis. The books goal is to refresh knowledge weve forgotten, make new discoveries, and exercise modes of thinking that are ordinarily neglected once our school days are behind us. Offering an escape from the daily grind to contemplate higher things, The Intellectual Devotional is a great way to awaken in the morning or to revitalize ones mind before retiring in the evening.
DR: So this was a unique situation then?
LH: That kind of lateral move rarely takes place. In fact, one of the few colleagues that I can think of, who made the very same transition, is Paul Slovak who is now the publisher at Viking. He was the publicity director at Viking and we were very involved in the various publicity committees. Both of us were known to have had an editorial sensibility and so we were both able to make that transition.
That became a whole new venture and it has been an amazing ride.
Publishing is a tough business. You watch a lot of people come and go. You watch people as they age and sometimes start to seem irrelevant because people are always looking for knew ideas and they think that the new blood is going to deliver those ideas. Staying with your ear to the ground and staying relevant is a real challenge in our business.
As much as I enjoyed working on books by Steve Martin, for example, or Alice Walker or Gloria Naylor or Peter Jennings or Lori Garrett, who is now on the council of foreign relations and is one of the leading proponents of public health in the country, as much as I enjoyed working on a variety of books, book publishing started to feel a little bit -- not relevant enough and not activist enough in the context of what started to happen politically. I started to wonder about being part of the literary community and spending a lot of time going to various functions that are very industry oriented, and really being so consumed by our business. Had it become something, for me that was looking too inward like naval gazing? I started thinking back to right after college when my dream had been to be in The Peace Corp but you just kind of get swept up as your career unfolds, and you are a mother and you just become propelled by hard work and momentum...
Right around that time one of my sons was going through a really tough time and that required that I spend a lot more time at home. He was just entering high school and that really made me kind of sit back further and really look at what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. At the time I wasn't sure that my plan would or could include book publishing.
DR: This was just a few years ago?
I was still working at Hyperion, a division of ABC, at the time - they do a certain kind of book really well -- and I had started to think a little bit more politically, and about the social relevance of the books that I was working on.
So I took a year to be an editor at large, to really step back and think about what the rest of my career should be about. It was one of those cross roads that could have gone in many different directions. I had known Steve Murphy who is the CEO at Rodale, when he was at Disney and the boss of my boss at Hyperion. He had moved to Rodale to reestablish the book trade business and also to handle the many magazines that Rodale publishes, from Men's Health to Women's Health to Prevention to Runner's World to Bicycling and Rodale's mission is about inspiring people and helping them lead better lives. Most of that mission was sort of focused on practical health and wellness. Steve gave me an opportunity to come in as an editor-at-large for the magazines and as an editor-at-large for the book division to try and figure out how to reinterpret that mission so that it was broader and applied more to political, social and educational goals, as well as purely health and wellness.
That is how I got to where I am now.
DR: You know, there was something that happened to me one day in November 2004, when everything suddenly became different. The conversations that I was willing to have and the kind of conversations that I was willing to tolerate, changed. I got a lot less casual about talking about "nothing". It seems like that may have been happening for a lot of people.
LH: The whole idea of knowing how important that it is to speak truth to power is something that really became vivid for me after the 2004 elections because it did seem to me that we were witnessing a real shift in the way our democracy was operating, or not operating....
There has been this truism over the years that issue books don't sell. What was exciting to me was to have the opportunity, not to define and publish books as "issue books" but to really try to find authors and topics whose relevance was crucial.
DR: What do you know most to be true?
LH: That honesty is everything and that being yourself is one of the hardest things to do in this world but, the most important.
It has been interesting to think about that because we are in a world and in a business where it would really be easy to be sycophantic or to think that you need to tell people what they want to hear especially when you are sometimes interacting with people who are used to being told "yes", or would prefer to remain in people's good graces by not being candid when being candid requires telling the truth. It was interesting to go from publicity to editorial because as a publicist you are often in a position of being a cheerleader, although a strategic and tactical cheerleader with a lot of skills, and it took me a little while to understand the profound shift between being a publicist and being an editor. You can't just toss off words to a writer whose words mean everything to them. Every word you say has to be thoughtful. That was a profound shift because I had gone through a lot of my life not understanding how important my truth or my perspective might be to someone else. Learning to value that and learning to express it in a way that is direct and strong, but also helpful and not insulting or intimidating, is something that has been a huge learning curve.
DR: What is the quality that you value most about yourself and how has that helped you so far?
LH: I think passion is so important.
Passion can also steer you down the wrong path and it is something that I have struggled with. I have struggled with how to express my passion in a way that doesn't send me off into hysteria or defensiveness and that still enables me to be an effective business woman. Balancing passion and business...
DR: Is not a very easy thing to do...
LH: It hasn't been easy for me and I admire people for whom it comes easily.
When you are an editor you are as much an advocate as anything else and you are really working off of your own instinct and your own passion. But, when you are sitting there talking about books as business propositions, you also have to have that balance and a sort of equanimity that necessitates that your passion be a little bit toned down and that you approach the project with a little more straight objectivity.
DR: What do you value most in other people?
LH: What I really value most is a kind of intelligence that is linked with compassion and kindness and the ability to connect that intelligence in a way that makes the world a better place.
When I think of someone like Al Gore -- I can't think of a better role model. He is a great husband, so Tipper says, and he is funny. He is a great dad and he has always stayed true to his intelligence in a way that always translates back to his personal passion. He is someone who, to me, has figured out how to harness it all.
People who are really able to be themselves; who are really true to who they are, are the kind of people I admire.
DR: I am hungry for that.
There seems to be so much less of it lately that whenever I see it I just want to be around it. We have trained a society of people who are not willing to say "what is so" for them, out of fear...
LH: We have also trained a society of people who don't do their homework.
They are getting a little tidbit of news somewhere or gossip somewhere and running with it. The most tragic example of that is believing that Saddam Hussein and Iraq had anything to do with 9/11. That kind of willful ignorance is repeated again and again and is the mark of an uninformed public; people being all to ready to take something that they read on one website or read in a magazine or...
DR: Their pastor said it at church...
LH: Right. That kind of willful ignorance is really creeping into every corner of our culture so that its not just people who are in the mid-sections of the country, from our point of view, it is really the most educated people and the people with the most access to information and to media, who seem to be falling into that trap to.
DR: And the people trusted with the responsibility of providing information...If I hear one more Britney Spears story...But that is a whole other topic...
What is it that keeps you up at night and what is it that inspires you to get up in the morning and do it all again?
LH: One of the things that really keeps me up at night in terms of the larger picture is that our world really is in trouble.
I think about my kids and how, when I was growing up, I really did have heroes and heroines all around me. Whether it was Woodward and Bernstein or Margaret Mead or Robert Kennedy or John F. Kennedy...I am concerned that there is a kind of cynicism that is easily and naturally adopted very early on and is very hard to shake. I shouldn't have said adopted because I think that it is something intrinsic to who they are. I worry. Life is hard and if you are not optimistic, and if you don't really believe that it is possible to do good and to change the world in a better way, then it is hard for me to imagine what there is to believe in. That is one of the things that keeps me up at night.
What keeps me up at night is the kind of skepticism and insularity that stops optimism in its tracks.
DR: And so what is it that inspires you to get up in the morning?
Editing books is all about the people I get to meet and whose views I am blessed to be able to help mid-wife. Every day is a discovery and my view is
"If you don't grow, you die".
That is something that I first started thinking about in yoga, which also gets me up in the morning.
The growth that comes with interacting with people and learning from them and being lucky enough to help them "get it out there", that gets me up in the morning.
DR: Is there a difference for you between happiness and success?
LH: My definition for success is constantly changing.
I spent a lot of my time being consumed by work. But I have an understanding that in order for me to be good at my life, I have got to give myself time to do yoga, to travel, to have dinner with my kids, to be a good daughter, to go see a play, to have a balanced life. Success for me is more about finding a way of being authentic in every area of my life and I think that is a constant struggle because it is so easy, in a fast paced life and industry, to just keep going, letting the momentum carry you so that you stop making choices and decisions and just allow yourself to be swept away.
Quality of life for me and helping to bring a higher quality of life to other people is my definition of success. Happiness is another matter.
Happiness is - some days there is joy and some days there is sadness. Some days there is contentment and some days there is the feeling that you are making a contribution; you have completed the task and you haven't done anything stupid for that day...
DR: Which is almost never - for me...
LH: I am setting my sights a little bit lower and trying to just be a little bit gentler with myself and just do the best I can.
DR: A hundred years from now what do you want to be remembered for?
LH: To be honest, the thing that is most important to me is to be a good person. I have been trying to fine tune the way I express myself and to really be more thoughtful and to listen more and to really be loving to the people I love and to try and deserve the kind of friendship and admiration and support that have given me.
Truly the thing that I would like to be remembered for is -
for my family and friends to say that I was a good person.
I also hope that in terms of the work that I do that my authors thought I was a great advocate for them and that their work made a difference....
And I want to be remembered for -
RODALE INSPIRES EVERYDAY LIFE.
We believe that the journey toward a more complete, more fulfilled, healthier and whole life is its own reward, and is possible every day. That's why our books and magazines aren't all about goals and results; they're about trying something new, taking a chance, exploring, and playing. In other words: the joy of being on the journey. If you read between the lines and between the pictures, what we're always really saying is, "You can do it."
Rodale publishes some of the best-known magazines in health and wellness, including Men's Health, Prevention, Runner's World, Women's Health, Best Life, Bicycling, Mountain Bike, Organic Gardening and Running Times. Rodale has extended these brands into various media formats, including books, videos, and the Internet. The largest independent book publisher in the U.S., Rodale has published numerous best-selling books, including The South Beach Diet, which has become its own brand, and Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, which has topped the New York Times bestseller list.
Millions of people have discovered the ideas and practices that Rodale has been passionate about for more than six decades. But that doesn't mean our work is done. With a mission to inspire and enable people to improve their lives and the world around them we are more committed than ever to sharing our vision with all who will listen.