Summer Centered: Mary Kearney-Brown ’19 Sees California's "City Lights" Up Close
This summer, the famous San Francisco publishing house is temporarily adding a Ford to its task force.
San Francisco native Mary Kearney-Brown ’19 has been a lifelong customer of local business City Lights Booksellers and Publishers. This summer, she spent a lot of time in the store—but this tie, she was getting paid to do so. A John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities-funded intern, she was responsible for posting reviews and news clips on the company’s website, editing podcasts for its podcast series, and shelving new titles.
And she’s enjoyed all of it.
“I’m really [liking] being immersed in the atmosphere,” Kearney-Brown says. “Working at City Lights is a really great opportunity to be exposed to literature in the real world. It's been super amazing to see all of the new kinds of poetry and novels that are being published.”
Though the English major is considering a career in the publishing industry, she admits that the appeal of working at City Lights stemmed from nothing more than nostalgia at first.
“I grew up visiting City Lights Bookstore, and it was my favorite,” she says. “It's a really big tourist spot in San Francisco, and I really loved wandering around the store, [so] I was really drawn to it from that perspective originally.”
As she researched the company further, however, she found that its modern mission aligned with her own literary values. City Lights has been a staple of the West Coast literary scene for generations, making a name for itself as one of the first publishing houses to publish Beat poetry (and to defy contemporary California obscenity law in the process). While Kearney-Brown knew about its past history with the Beats, she hadn’t realized that its “commitment to resisting the forces of conservatism and censorship” had remained intact in the intervening decades. Until she got a good look at one of their more recent catalogues of publications, that is.
“I got so excited by the authors they'd published more recently, like Noam Chomsky and Angela Davis,” she says. “I really love how the fact that they're independent allows them to publish more radical and non-normative novels and poetry.”
Regardless of what career path she decides to take, Kearney-Brown knows that literature will always be an important part of her life.
“I love being surrounded by the books and getting to talk to people who are instrumental in getting such cool books published,” she says, “and it's been a really amazing experience to observe passionate people be immersed in their work.”
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ Center-funded summer work.