Editing Her Way Through History

By Julie Block

The Paris Review has a new editor. Her name is Emily Nemens.

The Phi Beta Kappa member is no stranger to editorial work. Since her graduation from Brown University, she has dedicated her professional time to writing and editing. It is not what she expected to pursue when she first stepped foot on Brown’s campus. In fact, she says she wanted to be a fashion designer originally. Then, her focus turned to art history.

“I’ve always written sort of for myself, but I didn’t know any professional writers or know what that looked like,” Nemens said. “I didn’t really have any models for that until got to college, on whether it was a good idea or not. I thought, I can learn how to be an author on my own, but I can’t learn how to be an art historian, so that’s sort of what pushed me into an art history major.”

And while it may seem that art history and writing have nothing in common, Nemens disagrees.

“It gave me this whole other world of things that I find really exciting, and I end up writing about that a lot,” she said. “The attention to detail I learned studying the history of art was just profound. When you think about describing a place and orienting yourself in an image and noticing detail, the way I trained my eye in those lectures and seminars, I think it went very far in terms of being able to describe place and setting…understanding how to write about visual arts gave me an opportunity to write about architecture and that also propelled my understanding of place and describing not just the structures, but the way a city works together.”

Nemens loves writing, and editing. But it is not just the practice of putting thoughts on paper that keep her in the business. She says it is that broader idea of using her art history background to write about how different elements of a city work together to form a community that motivates her to continue publishing important written work.

That focus on community is also what propelled her to excellence at Brown. Nemens took advantage of every professor relationship, every alumni connection, and every course she took at the liberal arts school to give her the best possible leg to stand on when she graduated. That even goes for distribution requirements.

“For me, [those requirements were] self-directed and really following my enthusiasms and giving me a chance to make those connections,” she said.” It wasn’t necessarily strategic, but I was pleased that I was able to make those really dynamic connections across fields at Brown, and I think my career has really followed that trend.”

And all that hard work was recognized when Nemens was invited to join Phi Beta Kappa.

“It was just a real honor for me. I’m a public school kid from Seattle, and grew up in a family that really encouraged and promoted education, but didn’t really have access or we didn’t think a lot about honor societies or these kinds of merit-based awards,” she said. “I loved college, and I was working my tail off, and it was just a huge honor for that work to be recognized.”

Nemens officially started her position with the Paris Review on June 1. She moves to New York from Louisiana, where she worked for the Southern Review. You can get the first copy of the Review under Nemens’ leadership when the autumn issue comes out in mid-September. If you’ve read the Paris Review before, you may notice some changes in content this time around—thanks to its new editor.

“Having lived in the south and in the west and in different parts of Europe as well…I’m really excited to bring more of a national perspective to the magazine. It’s been a little focused on New York,” she said. But most importantly, she says, “I’m just really excited to reinforce and re-engage the collaborative aspect of making a magazine, and really empower my colleagues to do their best work.”

Julie Block graduated Phi Beta Kappa from DePauw University in 2017. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Writing and currently works as an Associate Producer at FOX59 News. DePauw University is home to the Alpha of Indiana Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.