Name: Gary Reddin
College & Majors/Minors: Cameron University, B.A. English
Current Location: Oklahoma
Current Form of Employment: Magazine Editor and Arts/Religion Journalist
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I work for Oklahoma’s third largest newspaper as the editor of their features magazine and I also serve as the senior arts, entertainment, and religion reporter for the paper.
And, though I don’t get paid for it, I am also the co-founder of Reading Down the Plains, which is a nonprofit literary group here in southwest Oklahoma whose mission is to bring creative writing classes, featured readers, and open mic events to rural Oklahoma.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
I’m going to skip past my first few jobs in high school and immediately afterward and get right to my first “English-y” job—working as a writing tutor for my university. I had friends who worked in the school’s writing center, so I applied hoping to get in. As it turns out, they were looking for a writing tutor on the satellite campus about 45 minutes away—which is where I was living at the time. I accepted the position and worked as a writing tutor for my last two years of undergrad.
I actually applied for a part-time job at the newspaper when I was still a student. It was my last semester and I had been on the hunt for jobs when a friend suggested I apply for an open position at the paper. I remember being nervous during the interview, which is unusual for me because I’m typically pretty calm talking to people I don’t know. I think my biggest fear was that they wouldn’t want to hire someone who hadn’t graduate yet. But they did. Things just sort of snowballed from there. I was promoted to full-time after I graduated. Then, when the company that owns the paper decided to launch a magazine, they chose me as the editor. A year after I started I was tasked with building a brand new publication from scratch—which has been a trip.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
When I was in college, I worked as the editor for the school’s literary magazines, The Gold Mine, which is the student lit journal, and The Oklahoma Review, which is the professional lit journal. My experience with those journals is part of the reason I was chosen for the editor’s position when we launched the magazine.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
I had a pretty unique college experience. I took a few classes right out of high school but couldn’t really afford the tuition, so I dropped out and started working. I took a class here, a class there, whatever I could afford. By my mid-20s, a college degree had begun to feel unobtainable. I was working in IT pretty far removed from what I had always dreamt of doing, which was professional writing.
Then the oil and gas industry tanked and the equipment manufacturer I was working for laid me off. This turned out to be transformative for me. Thanks to a government program that is too complex to explain in this interview, I was given a full scholarship for two years. It was a serendipitous stroke of luck. Even though I had a handful of college credits under my belt, it was going to be a struggle to get a four-year degree in two years. I took 18 hours every semester for six semesters straight, but I did it.
I accepted every opportunity. Applied for every scholarship. Submitted to every writing competition. I was a first-generation college student; I had no one telling me what to invest my time in so I went the kitchen sink route and just did everything. It was crazy, hectic and a little overwhelming at times. But honestly, if I had it all to do again, I’d want to do it the same way.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
Don’t shoehorn yourself. Get outside of your comfort zone. Too many English majors find the one type of writing they’re good at (academic, creative, technical etc.) and just stick with it. Don’t. You might not think you can write a short story to save your life, but don’t let that stop you from trying.
I used to feel like my weakest writing was my poetry. I didn’t “get it” and I felt like my fiction and nonfiction were a lot stronger. But I didn’t let that stop me from submitting to the university’s poetry contest. I ended up winning. This year, my first poetry chapbook was published through Rose Rock Press. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can only be good at one kind of writing.