Meet alumnus and author John Kalogerakos
Meet Wayne State alumnus and soon-to-be-published author, John Kalogerakos. After earning his bachelor’s in English from Wayne State in 2014, John went on to study in Paris where he earned his masters in English through NYU’s study abroad program. He currently works as a senior project manager at Media Genesis, a digital marketing firm in Troy, Michigan. In November of 2018, John learned the exciting news that his book of personal essays had been accepted for publication by the independent literary publisher 11:11 Press. Now in the editing process, John expects his book of personal essays, tentatively titled The Return of the St. Germain Gang, to be published by the first quarter of next year.
When John met the publisher from 11:11 Press at a party, he already had a sense of what his collection of personal essays would look like. “Basically what happened was I had conceived this collection, and then I sat down and had started to work on it,” he said. “Writing a book is like, a really scary thing. It’s really easy to get bored and get sidetracked for me when it comes to writing. I have dozens and dozens of short stories and a couple of novellas in different places, and I just kind of needed to start a project and be done with the project. That was really the goal. I had been reading a lot of personal essays, and it seemed, to me, an approachable, worthwhile goal.” Inspired by two works of personal essays, Sidewalks by Valaria Luselli and Yoga for People Who Can’t be Bothered to Do It by Jeff Dyer, John decided to begin writing a collection of his own. As it happened, the publisher from 11:11 Press loved the idea and asked John to send over the two essays that were already completed. “I submitted two of them and they were like, ‘We love it. Write it.’”
The tentative title of John’s book, The Return of the St. Germain Gang, comes from an essay within the work by the same name. The phrase “St. Germain Gang” refers to John’s close group of friends from grad school in Paris, which was located on St. Germain Street. “We had a very hard time saying good-bye to each other, and the essay is about really the tremendously prolonged good-bye we had that stretched from Paris to New York to the Bay Area, and none of us really wanting to let it go but all knowing we had to.” For John, the experience of writing “The Return of the St. Germain Gang” was especially meaningful. “Wrapped up in just describing that we all had to move away from each other, that we couldn’t just make that break clean, is also the fact that I probably have the hardest time with this,” he said. “It was special to me because it allowed me to reconnect with these people in a way.” Another essay in the collection is called “Reading List,” which, as its title would suggest, recounts a time that John received his reading list for the semester. Consisting mostly of dialogue, the essay focuses on the conversation that ensued between John and his grad school professor outside at a cafe in Paris just days after the Hebdo attack. “It was in that moment that I understood what a mentor is and really what that means: what can be expected from that relationship and what can’t be expected from that relationship,” said John. “That whole story is probably 95% dialogue, and I’m really quite proud of it."
On top of his writing career, John also works full-time as a Senior Project Manager at Media Genesis. As a college student, however, John was not always sure what direction his career would take. “I wasn’t overly concerned with getting a career when I was done with college, which is why I ended up in English with a minor in painting,” he said. “I started thinking about it from a graphic design standpoint: that the two together would be very marketable, in the idea that I could write copy and design copy. I wanted to go into advertising. When I was in college that’s what developed, but it wasn’t what brought me into it.” According to John, the skills and knowledge he gained from his English education played a large role in preparing him for his current job. “Really the biggest skill I learned in my English degree was about taking in and processing information and then reinterpreting that information, and communicating it to others,” he said. “And that’s primarily what I do. I’m taking in information from designers and conveying that to developers. I’m taking in information from developers and trying to convey that to clients. There’s also an organizational aspect to it that I also learned in college.”
When it comes to getting hired after graduation, John emphasizes the importance of being able to market yourself to potential employers. “You have to be able to sell yourself and understand what your skills are,” he said. “I really marketed myself personally as being able to communicate with people. I was a hairdresser for years. When somebody looks at my resume and goes, ‘You were a hairdresser for 10 years. Well, we don’t do blow-dries here. What is the usefulness of this?’ I have to be able to show that, and say, ‘I know how to tell somebody they should never do a center part because they’re going to look ugly without actually telling them that they’re going to look ugly.’ So, those soft skills come in handy.” Prior to landing the role at Media Genesis, John also took advantage of free online resources which he used to develop technical skills that would make him a more desirable job candidate to employers. These efforts ranged from taking free digital marketing courses offered by Google, to publishing his own websites and familiarizing with online tools such as Google Analytics.
From John’s experience, English majors tend to be especially skillful when it comes to creating and editing web content, particularly due to their ability to write succinctly. “On a website, you never really want more than 500 words on a page,” he said. “Oftentimes, I show clients how to whittle it down and tell the same story using a limited amount of words, and that is something that I think I could only achieve because of my English education.” Having an eye for what looks good on a website is also a valuable skill English majors can bring to the table. As John put it, “there’s a level of art that an English major brings to these kinds of things in terms of having an understanding of what’s going to be effective, and what isn’t, from a content standpoint.”
John encourages up-and-coming English majors to be very proud of their degree. “It’s a badge of honor more so than anything else,” he said. “You made a choice to get a true liberal arts degree and not a more profession-based degree. This transitions into the idea that there are things you learn in a liberal arts degree that you don’t learn in a technical degree...When you get into more technical things there is less of a rounding of general skills, like communicating.” For John, an English degree is valuable because it is encompassing of a number of items, including the ability to write persuasively. “What an interesting concept, right? The idea that I’m writing just to influence you,” he said. “That’s a very technical skill wrapped up in the English degree.”
On behalf of the English Department, congratulations to John for having his work accepted for publication. Be sure to look out for Return of the St. Germain Gang in 2020!
By Amelia Mazur