Name: Rhonda Crowder
College & Majors/Minors: Cleveland State University, Bachelor of Arts in English with specialization in creative writing, editing and publishing/minor in psychology
Current Location: Cleveland, Ohio
Current Form of Employment: I work for a newspaper in addition to owning a business.
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I work for the Call & Post newspaper, an African American-owned weekly based in Cleveland, Ohio, as a general assignment reporter. Because I often find myself working outside of my job description, through this position, I learn so much about writing as well as the business of writing. It truly broadened my perspective of what a person with an English degree can do. Although low-paying, this position provides me with a lot of opportunity, connections and freedom to working on other projects. I use my salary as a base and my other work brings up the rear.
Realizing I am in the writing business while remembering my propensity for entrepreneurship from as far back as selling lemonade in my preteens, this position led me to start my own business, a communications firm that now provides content creation, graphic design, sales, and media relations services. My clients range from small publishing companies and media outlets to independent authors and small business owners. I had been freelancing since I graduated college, but started Rhonda Crowder and Associates, LLC in 2011 as a result of needing to report my 1099 earnings. I never thought of my business growing beyond my own freelance work until I took the Partnership for Minority Business Acceleration (PMBA) class at the Akron Urban League. At that point, my eyes opened to how bad the business world needs skilled writers. I remember sitting there and saying to myself, "I can do business with everyone in this room, but everyone in the room can't say that."
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
Trust me. I’ve worked plenty of non career-related jobs. Regardless to how bad they sucked, I learned something from each that I use today. My first paid writing gig was Arts and Entertainment Editor for my college newspaper, if that counts. Being a leadership position, it paid a stipend. I was tunnel vision on writing books, movies and plays. I never considered journalism. However, I tried it, got bit by the bug and became more serious about being a writer. After graduating, I didn’t pursue journalism. I maintained my desire to be an author. The only problem with that, I needed a job.
With my current position, I initially walked in off the street, asked if they were hiring and was told no. I thought no more of it. But by chance, I attended a book club meeting held at the newspaper a few weeks later and met the president. In casual conversation, I told him I was a writer looking for work and had just been declined by his organization. Long story short, I met with the editor and they made me in offer. Knowing I could barely survive off of it and desperately wanting to get paid to write, I took it. That’s one of the best decisions I ever made.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
My work at the Call & Post led to me being offered a contracted position to serve as associate publisher of Who’s Who in Black Cleveland. Who’s Who in Black Cleveland is a product of Who’s Who Publishing/Real Times Media. The organization highlights the successes of African American in our 25 different markets. In this role, I am the organization’s liaison to the Cleveland, Akron and Canton markets. I do everything from help shape the thematic direction of an edition and nominate honorees to producing an annual book unveiling event. This position is important because it puts value on that English degree. It shows organizations that I can do more than the perceived “sitting around playing with words all day.”
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
First and foremost, I focused on the learning the craft. I stayed engaged in projects or with professors. That helps connect you to opportunities or at least obtain a great recommendation letter. I worked on the college newspaper and other literary publications on campus. In hindsight, I should have done more off campus internships early and as often as possible.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
You may realize it or not, but your English degree gives you an advantage. You can do more than what you imagine with an English degree once you understand its value and how to use it. As an English major, you are extremely creative and an analytical thinker. You can solve problems most are unable detect. At the same time, an English degree alone today is not enough. It is an excellent foundation, but you'll need to couple it with something technical or be an out-of-the-box thinker to make yourself more marketable. You can no longer think of yourself as just a writer. You'll need to know how to do other things. You also need to understand, whether you like it or not, you are in business and you must think of what you do as such. You sell words, at the least. Learn how to put a value on what you do and don't be afraid to demand it.