The Importance Of Telling Your Story: A Conversation with Barbara Jones

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There is power in your voice. There is meaning in your story.

This is something that Barbara Jones understands. As Executive Editor at Henry Holt Publishers in New York and a decades-long friend and mentor to Lynne Golodner, Barbara has infused her professional career with meaning and purpose by sharing one story at a time.

This line of work is “inherently meaningful,” Barbara said, as a guest on the second ever episode of the Make Meaning Podcast.

A Story Can Change The World

Stories can transcend time, space and emotion. They can help us learn fundamental truths about ourselves and sympathize with people who are nothing like us.

As a young girl battling a bout of illness, Barbara devoured a stack of New Yorker magazines. That was where she discovered her love for reading.

It was that moment that solidified her love for literature. As she flipped through the pages, Barbara became transfixed by what she was reading. She loved that through a main character who was male and adulterous, she could relate – even as a teenage girl – because of how well the writer created the character, and the scene. 

She realized that universal subject matter – the fundamental human truths of “inner conflict, the complicated relationships of family, holding love and loss together in one moment” – are stories for her, and so many others.

Helping Others Share Their Story

Barbara has built a professional life by bringing voices to the public sphere, creating impact and giving outlets for marginalized voices. She creates platforms for authors to share truths. She makes space at the collective table.

“This is a really rich time of language by previously marginalized voices,” she  said on the Make Meaning podcast. “It’s not just telling a story; it’s telling a story with an enriched vocabulary. It’s thrilling.”

Communities that once had a ‘private language’ are now part of the mainstream. Says Barbara, “the private language and the language of literature are flowing together into a great and exciting sea of language.”

Reading Is An Act Of Empathy

Barbara Diversity Quote

There is no shortage of talented new queer, BIPOC and native authors starting important conversations, discussing perspectives, encouraging empathy. By publishing their stories, authors invite readers into their lives, to see through their eyes, and to find similarities where once we thought lived only differences.

Barbara believes that reading is fundamentally an act of empathy.

By searching for the next great story, she makes meaning and impacts the lives of many. People are finally seeing a reflection of their lives and their experiences. All people.

“It’s an exciting time,” Barbara says. New groups of people are entering the literary world. The more voices and the more stories we have to share, the better we become as a society.

Over the course of nearly a dozen years in book publishing, Barbara has edited such authors as civil rights leader, and the wife of Martin Luther King Jr, Coretta Scott King, Paul Auster, Pulitzer Prize finalist Susan Choi, Sebastian Faulks and NPR Best Book winner Lillian Li.