Chris Richman '04
"As an English major, I learned how to delve deeply into literature, learned to write for a wide variety of audiences..."Memorable characters. Colorful pictures. Exciting stories. What was your favorite children's book?
The next big classic kid's title could very well be discovered by an Elizabethtown College graduate: Chris Richman '04 is a literary agent specializing in children's books. He's also a published playwright and has written for the wildly popular humor magazine, The Onion. And his Elizabethtown education prepared him for all of these creative endeavors as you'll learn in this Q & A:
Elizabethtown College: What led you to Elizabethtown?
Chris Richman: I fell in love with Elizabethtown the first time I went for a visit. I loved the bucolic scenery and the friendly people, and could see myself fitting in much more than at other colleges and universities I was considering. I was intrigued, too, by the professional writing major, since even as a recent high school graduate I knew I wanted to work with words in some capacity.
EC: Tell us how Elizabethtown College prepared you for your career.
CR: While attending Elizabethtown, I dabbled in many different arenas that have helped me succeed. As an English major, I learned how to delve deeply into literature, learned to write for a wide variety of audiences, and even studied children's books for the first time. I give presentations at conferences around the country now, and my classes in Communications and Theatre helped me hone my skills as a public speaker. Even some of the extracurricular activities I was involved with, like writing humor columns and film reviews for The Etownian, performing in plays and with the improv group Mad Cow, and working as a writing consultant in the tutoring center, prepared me in different ways for professional challenges I'd face down the road.
EC: You've had some varied experience in the publishing field – playwright, writing for the wildly popular Onion, and now in publishing. Can you tell us briefly a little about each of these experiences and how you have grown as a writer/literary professional since graduation?
CR: I loved the wide range of creative pursuits available at Elizabethtown, and looked for ways to continue writing and performing after my college days were behind me. I knew getting published outside the rather narrow halls of Elizabethtown would be much more competitive, but was armed with a diploma, writing clips culled from many great classes, and, in some ways, the naiveté of youth. Some pursuits came easily—I thought of an idea for a one act play, wrote it, sent it off, and got it published on my first try. Other things were near impossible—I wrote probably twenty short stories between 2004 and 2007, and the closest I came to publication was a nice letter from the editors of Glimmer Train magazine informing me that although I'd finished outside the top 25 stories in a contest they ran for new writers, they'd liked what I wrote and encouraged me to try again. I definitely became well versed in rejection, that's for sure.
Contributing to The Onion, however, took my ability to handle rejection to new heights. I'd long considered The Onion to be one the absolute best publications for humor writers, and dreamt of contributing to them since first discovering the paper back in 1998 or so. I tried for years to break in. After about four years of trying, I landed a position contributing to The Onion News Network, the video component of the website that went on to spawn Comedy Central's The Onion Sportsdome and a show on IFC... But that's how creative pursuits go! You have successes and failures, and need to learn to have thick skin and not give up. You learn from both the acceptances and the rejections, and if you're truly passionate about your craft, you'll eventually see improvement. The key is to not give up. This attitude has helped me immensely in my current career in publishing. I work in children's books, and for every project I've helped to publish, there have been literally thousands that I've either turned down or were turned down by publishers. Rejections are certainly part of the game, and if you don't let the first, the fiftieth, or the five hundredth paralyze you, you, too, can find success.
EC: What was your most memorable co/extracurricular achievement at Elizabethtown?
CR: I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in a wide range of activities while at Elizabethtown. I had a great time writing for the school paper, hosting radio shows for WWEC, and appearing in plays with the theatre department, but what sticks out to me the most was my time performing in the improv troupe Mad Cow. During my first year, Mad Cow performed for crowds of about 30 to 40 people in the Brinser Lecture Room. Together, with the help of many talented and dedicated individuals who came before and after me, we turned the group from something tiny and casual to a serious presence on campus, and my last performance in the group took place in Leffler Chapel for a crowd of around four hundred. I know Mad Cow's success has continued over the years, and I'm very happy I was able to help contribute to that in a small way.
EC: Tell us about the day to day of your career – and, in what ways do you feel you are carrying on the mission of Elizabethtown – where learning is most noble when used to help others?
CR: My job actually varies wildly from day to day: some days are spent searching for authors who have written books for children I believe can eventually find a place on bookshelves; other days are devoted to maintaining the clients I already work with; and still others are spent attending conferences where I work with unproven writers on how to improve their craft. I do think I'm carrying on the mission of Elizabethtown, since, when broken down, my job is really to serve the needs of others and help them improve their work.
EC: Anything else you'd like to add about your time at Elizabethtown?
CR: I really look back fondly on my time spent at Elizabethtown. To current students, I recommend making the most of your time there and doing as many activities as you can handle. It's a cliché, for certain, but your college years will pass you by before you know it. To anyone from Elizabethtown pursuing a creative career, keep at it! Don't let a few roadblocks along the way stop you from chasing your dreams.
--interview by Donna Talarico