A Visit to Random House

I grew up the second oldest of six siblings, and when you grow up in a home so packed with children and pets and family, there is nothing that is yours and yours alone. My little brother, for example, was notorious for stealing my favorite stuffed animal, an orangutan I lovingly named Macaroni. My sisters often stole my clothes, shoes, hairbrushes, anything. And I also stole theirs. This wasn’t a one-sided crime ring. But the one thing that was always mine and mine alone was reading, which I did often, under my bed, belly down, with a flashlight. No one else was allowed in that world, and so, from early on, books became my sanctuary.

In ninth grade, only a few years before I dropped out of high school, the school librarian became my lunchtime savior. As a way to avoid the humiliation of lunch table politics, I opted to spend that hour reading. The librarian would pull books by Kurt Vonnegut and Sandra Cisneros and have them waiting for me on a back table.

And when I was sixteen, I was arrested with a carful of underage drinkers. We were driving from party to party across Boulder. I didn’t even want to be there; it just seemed like something to do. At the police station, an officer asked what I had been reading in school lately, and I told him One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. As a way to calm my nerves before my father arrived, I kept the officers talking about Chief Bromden and Nurse Ratched. Later, on the car ride home, I thought that was pretty cool, a whole room of cops talking about books.

Throughout my life, writing helped keep my sadness contained, and reading helped me feel less lonely. I always wanted to be a writer, and I knew from my many years bookselling at West Side Books in North Denver that there were certain publishing houses, the icons, that supported my favorite authors.

“I want to be on Random House someday,” I remember telling my parents in college. They believed I could do it, even when the world seemed to be saying that a short story writer like me couldn’t ever enter that tower in New York City. And even after I wrote a novel, I still felt the doubt that a major publisher would want my sad and funny tales of Denver Chicanas.

But it happened. And last weekend, I took a flight to New York City, and for the first time, I visited my editor at the One World imprint, right there on the 11th floor of the Random House Tower. The building’s lobby was unlike anything I’ve seen before. The walls were lined in lighted shelves with Penguin Random House books illuminating the faces of all who walk by. It was everyone. All those authors who kept me company as a lonely little girl and well into adulthood. It’s happened, I thought. I did it. I teared up before I made it to the security desk and proudly announced, “My name is Kali Fajardo-Anstine, and I’m a writer here to meet my editor.”

Lighthouse instructor Kali Fajardo-Anstine is teaching Writing Place: Colorado and Beyond, starting March 21.