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Mentor Corner: Mary Claire Cruz (they/them)

Art Director, Penguin Young Readers / Penguin Workshop

What was your first job in publishing?

I was a Designer in the 1/c group at Scholastic. I worked on UK pickups, chapter books, middle grade, and YA for Scholastic Press, Arthur A Levine, and David Fickling Books imprints.

What was your career path like getting to your current role?

A little chaotic, honestly! I spent 3 years at Scholastic as a Designer, then to get a different experience in publishing I moved over as a Designer to Disney Hyperion. I don’t recommend lateral moves, looking back. At Disney, I got experience with picture books and worked on my first graphic novel project. After about a year and a half I moved on to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt as a Senior Designer where I worked on various formats for kidlit, helped build the workflow for their new graphic novel imprint, and got my first experience with managing 2 reports and an in-house freelancer. After HMH, I finally joined the Penguin team as an Associate Art Director, overseeing PYR licensing and designing for Penguin Workshop books. Now, I’m an Art Director with the added responsibility of overseeing Penguin Workshop’s novels and graphic novels! Looking back, each job expanded my experiences with working on different kinds of projects and introduced new ways in how I work with others. It was always stressful to figure out my next step, but it helped to have a network of friends and bosses across the industry to help advise and support me.

What advice would you give to those who are either just starting out or are in their first few years in publishing?

Get to know the people you are working with and know those relationships can help build you toward your future. Every job and opportunity I got was a result of people I’ve worked with recommending me, supporting me, and providing helpful advice. While I like to think the work I do shows what I am capable of, it’s the people around me who helped me get my foot in the door.

What are some recent projects that you’re proud of?

I think I am most proud of my picture books and graphic novels done at Workshop such as My Fade is Fresh, Finding My Dance, and Danger and Other Unknown Risks. I really love art directing and getting to work with illustrators. Even more exciting things are in development now.

What are your current favorite reads?

I loved This Thing Between Us by Gus Moreno (I can’t stop thinking about that one!) and the graphic novel Thieves by Lucie Bryon. Right now, I’m reading Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia as an audiobook and I’m really enjoying it!

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