Kendra Levin is a children's book editor, certified life coach for writers, and author of The Hero Is You, a grounded self-help guide to a healthier writing process. She is an associate editorial director at Penguin, where she helps manage a team of editors, and the books she's edited include New York Times bestsellers and national award winners. A regular contributor to Psychology Today, Kendra also helps writers all over the world meet their goals and connect more deeply with their work and themselves through her coaching. She has taught classes for a range of populations from media professionals to prison inmates and has spoken at writers’ conferences and retreats in over twenty states and multiple countries.
What do I do best?
Sometimes I think my blessing and my curse is empathy. It’s a blessing because I can put myself in most people’s shoes, at least to the extent that I have the knowledge to do so, and feel for whatever they are going through. It can feel like a curse sometimes because it can be hard to come out strong on one side of an issue if I hear both sides making a compelling case. And it can be hard to put myself first in some situations when I need to, because I’m too busy worrying about how everybody else feels.
What makes me the best version of myself?
When I think about what’s led me to where I am today, my first thoughts are about opportunities I was given and people who helped me—and I often feel that the people in my life are what make me the best version of myself, because of the many ways they motivate and inspire me. But if I push myself to identify a quality in me that has helped me at each step of the way, I’d point to my willingness to listen to my intuition. When I was a kid, adults sometimes called me an “old soul,” and when I’m faced with a challenge or a difficult decision, I try to tap into my inner 85-year-old-self and ask her what I should do. She tends to be spot-on with her advice.
What are my aspirations?
After spending the past decade chasing personal and professional goals, I’m finding myself at a moment in life when I’ve achieved a lot of the benchmarks I’ve been seeking, which is enormously rewarding—and makes my life extremely full and busy all the time. So the aspiration I’m most focused on right now is figuring out how to continue to get deep satisfaction from all my roles in life—editorial director, life coach, author, volunteer—while living a balanced life that also includes time with friends, family, and my partner and reflective, restorative time alone.
My Biggest Success?
To me, my greatest accomplishments are when I see that I’ve helped someone create real, positive change in their life. Whether the person is a writer who’s had a breakthrough in their work or process with the help of my book, The Hero Is You, or through working with me in my capacity as a life coach; whether they’re a young person pursuing a career in publishing whom I’ve had the opportunity to mentor, or an incarcerated individual I’ve volunteered to teach, the creative and smart people I’ve had the honor of helping on their path have given me the greatest sense of purpose and meaning in my life and have kept me motivated and inspired.
My Most Challenging Moment?
I’m not sure I’d call it my most challenging moment, but the first big decision I actively made that really shaped the course of my life was when I chose to transfer colleges after my first year. The school I started at felt like a bad fit from day one, but it was hard to distinguish between the problems I had with the school itself and the mental and emotional state I was in at that moment in my life, regardless of my surroundings. I was afraid that leaving wouldn’t actually help, and was reluctant to move away from the relationship I’d started there. But the part of me that knew I needed a change was stronger than the part of me getting pulled into inertia, and that decision led me to New York, which led me into the worlds of Off-Broadway theater and publishing, and from there, to so many people and experiences that I’m so grateful have contributed to who I am and what I’m doing to this day.
I often come back to a quote that is attributed to Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”
My Favorite People/Role Models?
When I was nineteen years old, I was lucky enough to get an internship at Scholastic and even luckier to be assigned to work for an editor named Joy Peskin, who’s now an editorial director at Macmillan. Joy and I immediately connected, and for the past sixteen years, she’s been my mentor and one of my dearest friends. She helped me get my first editorial job; she connected me with opportunities that changed my life and led me to discover how much I love teaching and working with incarcerated populations; and she has been a cheerleader, voice of wisdom, and north star for many significant moments and decisions in my life. Everyone deserves a mentor like Joy.
My Favorite Places/Destinations?
Because I love to travel and explore the world, it’s hard to pick a favorite, and I love different places for different reasons. Rather than choosing a favorite, I’ll tell you about the most recent place I visited, which was Rwanda, where I had the privilege of co-facilitating a professional development workshop for local publishers and visiting a few writers’ groups. The landscape of rolling hills there is incredibly beautiful, and I was awed by the smart, creative people I met. They were a compelling reminder that no matter what horrific events are part of a country’s history, nothing can stop artists from making art—which is just as relevant to us in the U.S.
My Favorite Products/Objects?
My mother gave me a sous-vide for my birthday last year. I never understood why she was so obsessed with hers, but now I’ve chugged the Kool Aid and would recommend playing with a sous-vide to anyone who loves to cook. The possibilities for what you can make are completely different than any other form of food prep.
Another object that rocked my world in 2017, though I’m not using it as much right now, is my bicycle. I had a bike as a kid, but this year was the first time I had one as an adult—a dear friend gave me her old one when she upgraded, and it completely changed the way I experienced living in, and getting around, Brooklyn. It was a revelation that getting from point A to point B could be one of the fun parts of my day instead of just a means to an end, and I made the most of it all summer. Plus, for the first time in my life, I found a helmet I like wearing because it’s covered with glitter and rhinestones (yeah, it’s intended for ages 5+, but it fits!).
My Current Passions?
Right now, my passion is helping people of color find careers in the publishing industry, which has historically had a lot of barriers to entry that are slow to erode. It’s incredibly important that a broader range of voices get represented in books (and in all media)—a big issue that’s getting a lot of discussion but that can be daunting to tackle in an actionable way, especially as an individual. I’ve been part of a group of editors who started and run the Representation Matters Mentorship Program, a mentoring program for people of color who want to become editors, and it’s been a thrill to see the incredible people who’ve applied to the program and to get to match them with mentors. In the first year, about 20% of our mentees found internships and jobs, and we’re excited about growing the program even more. It has definitely gone from being something I could fit into my workday to a weekend passion project—but totally worth it!
(Headshot photo credit: Allison Stock)