By Elizabeth Labiner
In her final semester before earning her Master of Fine Arts in 2014, Cathy de la Cruz applied for every job she could think of and find. She received two job offers: one for a full-time faculty job at a community college in Arizona and one for a full-time, but summer-only temporary job at an arts summer program for high school students in New York City. One offered stability, while the other was a risk -- and a potential doorway to the dream of living in New York. There was no question for de la Cruz: “Even though I loved Tucson, I left Arizona immediately. I boxed up a bunch of my stuff and shipped it to my parents’ house in Texas. I drove the rest there and left it -- unsure when or if I would be picking it up anytime soon. I actually moved to NYC with one big suitcase of summer clothes. I had no idea I would be moving there indefinitely!”
Though she remained in New York City, her career path was variable and at times difficult. De la Cruz’s first job ended only months after arriving in the city, and at that point she found herself unemployed for about a month and a half, staying on a friend’s couch. The indiscriminate job search started all over again, she says.
I interviewed for jobs ranging from a full-time faculty position at a prestigious art school to jobs that I felt overqualified for at arts education nonprofits. I ended up being offered something full-time at an arts education nonprofit that paid me just enough to pay rent and get by. It was sort of disgusting how little they paid someone in 2014 in New York City, and I'll sort of never forgive that organization for that. I believed in their mission, but not their administration. Anyway, that position ended up being eliminated about a year and a half later, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I received a small severance package and full unemployment benefits, and while it was kind of a blow to my self esteem (I had never lost a job before), it allowed me to explore what I wanted to do next in the best possible city to have time to explore. I took a summer teaching job at an arts summer camp that ended up being one of the most meaningful jobs I've ever had. It inspired and allowed for the writing that became my first published book of poetry. I ended up going to an arts job fair which I previously would have never considered going to, but being unemployed and with the clock of unemployment starting to tick, there I was wearing nice clothes with copies of my resume ready to hand out. I ended up meeting a recruiter from HBO who told me about a recruiting agency HBO worked with. I immediately applied to that agency, as she revealed it was likelier to get my foot in the door to HBO by going through that agency. I ended up instead being sent to Penguin Random House for a temporary assignment, which lasted over 10 months. I fell in love with the company culture, and it turned out I was a good fit just as much as it was a good fit for me. As my temporary project wrapped up, I was encouraged to apply for permanent positions and had zero downtime between my temporary job ending and my permanent position beginning. One ended at 5pm, and the other began at 9am the next day.
Now, as the Publisher Services Department Coordinator for Penguin Random House, de la Cruz has both passion and stability in the dream city. As the Department Coordinator, she works closely with the Executive Team to plan events ranging from quarterly update meetings to communications trainings to “Lunch & Learns” with guest speakers. She also works with the Client Operations Team and Client Development team on projects regarding metadata for backlist and frontlist titles. In addition, de la Cruz is a 2019 Inclusion Partner; she is on a team of around 30 Penguin employees from various divisions who are trained to facilitate conversations about diversity, inclusion, power, and privilege in the workplace. She also serves on the PRH Voices committee, which is a corporate, cross-divisional committee established to support a cultural shift towards increased diversity and inclusiveness through meaningful dialogue.
De la Cruz feels lucky to be working in a career that continues to augment her passions, explaining, “I genuinely love literature, books, writing, and being part of such an amazing cultural institution. I am proud of where I work. I am constantly learning.” She sees continued development and growth in her future at Penguin Random House: “I am interested in audiobooks. I am interested in corporate Learning and Development. I am interested in what diversity and inclusion in publishing really looks like and how powerful it can be. Eventually, I want to write and have my own book published.”
Though getting to this point certainly wasn’t easy for de la Cruz, she has no regrets and encourages other graduate students to take the risk on a dream if they feel they’re able to do so:
I guess you could say that I cast a wide net, took a risk understanding that it was in fact a risk, had a sense of the city I wanted to be in, was willing to grit my teeth through at least two terrible jobs while being absolutely terrified of what did or did not come next. I truly believe that taking risks and actually being propelled by fear allowed me to be vulnerable in a way that allowed for my authentic self to shine by the time that I got to Penguin Random House. I know this is not a job path for everyone, but it worked for me.
The U of A made all this possible, de la Cruz says, not just due to the wonderful education, mentorship, and training she received, but also due to the institutional support given to graduate students: “The fact that UA was free through a teaching scholarship and that Tucson was such an affordable city allowed me the freedom to take some financial risks -- like moving to New York City on a moment’s notice. I wasn't in debt, thanks to UA.”