An Interview with Executive Editor Joanie Eppinga

To bring in the New Year, here is an interview with our Executive Editor, Joanie Eppinga, about her life and career.

You have been editing professionally for 17 years. Was there an “aha” moment when you knew you wanted to become an editor?

I remember being 9 years old and riding in the car with my mom; we passed a billboard that had a punctuation error and I said, “When I grow up I want to fix all the apostrophes for a living.” As an adult, I had a career as a therapist; then I read Barbara Winter’s Making a Living Without a Job, which asked, “What is something people are always asking you to do?” For me, that was proofreading. I realized I could make, and enjoy, a career out of that interest and skill. That was when I started Eagle Eye. I continue to exult, “I get to read for a living!”

You were very involved with Gonzaga University Institute for Action Against Hate as a board member and editor for their yearly publication. This is obviously something that is important to you. Can you speak about your involvement with them?

The Institute, now called the Institute for Hate Studies, was begun in 1997 after an African American law student at Gonzaga received threats. I appreciated being a board member and the editor of the Journal of Hate Studies because it meant I got to play a small role in exposing and fighting injustice in many guises and in many areas of the world. It also allowed me to hone my interviewing skills; I got to ask questions of such people as a Holocaust survivor, the lawyer who bankrupted the Aryan Nations, and a teacher fighting to teach tolerance in the classroom. These people were fascinating, and I learned that I love doing interviews, especially with people who fight for social justice.

You won two national press awards for your interview with Rebecca Barrett-Fox, “The Face of Hate,” which appeared in Sojourners magazine. What was your motivation for interviewing her and what did you get out of that experience?

The idea came from the director of the Institute, John Shuford. Originally we were going to publish that interview in the Journal of Hate Studies, but then I realized the ideas it expressed were so important that it deserved a wider audience. Additionally, the subject of the interview, Dr. Barrett-Fox’s work with the Westboro Baptist Church, was something that was of great interest to a lot of people; so I took the interview to Sojourners, which reaches about 2.5 million readers. That’s not to say that the other interviews I’ve done haven’t been just as important or interesting, but this one was topical and explored questions people wrestle with often. The difficulty with that interview was cutting it down to an acceptable size—there was just so much good material! Dr. Barrett-Fox is a brilliant thinker and an articulate speaker with a huge heart. She showed me how important it is to have generosity in your intellectual life, along with integrity.

You’ve also lived abroad in the United Kingdom. Do you feel that experience has shaped you as a person and an editor? How?

Living abroad is always an experience that expands a person, I think. I lived with a family from Pakistan, a culture to which I’d had no previous exposure. And although I was attending school in Oxford, which is of course quite highbrow, I lived in a poor section of the city, so it was a good mix.

I realized there, among all the scholars and libraries, that my dream of being the first person to translate Chaucer’s House of Fame into modern English wasn’t going to come to fruition; I simply wasn’t going to go to school long enough to learn Latin and medieval French and all the other things I’d need to learn to do it justice. But I did get a good grounding in British English, which has served me well as an editor, especially since that’s the form of the language (with some variations) used in Australia and New Zealand and Canada and Zimbabwe. That knowledge has allowed me to be a global editor, which I love.

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