By Will Zimmerman
Anne Tate Pearce (ΦΒΚ, Sewanee: The University of the South) said she wound up in a profession she could have never expected, even if the writing was on the wall—literally—since before she could read. Simon & Schuster’s Deputy Director of Publicity said, “It took a while, but I got here . . . And it’s been great to discover a path that fulfills a lot of what I love.”
Pearce readily admits that path was anything but straight, but she’d walk it all over again if that’s what it took to find her way to where she is today. It was a liberal arts path, through and through, but Pearce’s first steps came well before she set foot on the campus at Sewanee.
Growing up in Atlanta, she remembers books all over their house—stacked to the brim in her father’s home library and squeezed together on the wall-to-wall bookshelves that lined the living room as well as her and her sister’s bedrooms. Pearce said that both of her parents were “big readers, big thinkers,” and muses at the memories of a group her father invited over on the weekends: “men who would get together to present and discuss papers.”
Those papers were less interesting to the young and avid reader than the family’s collection of biographies. “Ulysses Grant, George Eastman Kodak, anything—They were all totally fascinating to me,” she said. Biographies served as entrance points into conversation about bigger topics like the Civil War, American politics, baseball, or jazz, which the family often shared over the dinner table.
“Never the perfect Norman Rockwell version,” Pearce said of those discussions over dinner, “but they were essential to the heartbeat of our family.”
In time, she would trade in the dining room dinners for the cafeterias of a college.
“My dad felt strongly about a school [where I could get] a liberal arts education,” Pearce said. “He felt that studying English and philosophy and history formed a whole person and edified you as a citizen of the world.” Her mother—a non-fiction writer with a home and gardening column and a regular contributor to magazines like Southern Living and Southern Accent—agreed.
Eventually, Pearce landed at The University of the South, Sewanee. In more ways than one, the liberal arts education she received there was a natural progression of the curiosity she had fostered over the years at home. As an undergraduate, she studied English and dabbled in French, took the philosophy and history and political science courses her father had espoused, presented huge papers, and graduated with more honors than could fit on one diploma. “It was all wonderful—genuinely fulfilling for me,” Pearce said. “I wasn’t doing it for high marks, I was doing it because I loved it.”
Pearce paused before venturing: “But then I really didn’t know what to do when I graduated.”
After walking across the stage, Pearce moved to New York City and found work with a documentary film company. She spent several years there before deciding to move on—for what or where, she wasn’t exactly sure. “I was really casting about,” she said. “I thought about law school or going into academia to pursue a doctorate degree in English.” One option among her possible avenues was journalism school, and she ended up at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Pearce still wasn’t certain what she would do once on the other side, but she said that “being informed about the world and trying to inform other people” was the driver behind her decision to pursue a master’s degree in journalism over law or English.
Following her stint at North Carolina, Pearce moved back to New York. It was 2008, “the media bloodbath,” she says, “when every magazine and newspaper was cutting staff.” Pearce continued: “And so I thought to myself, ‘What do I love to do—Read. How can I marry my love of books with my [journalistic] background?’”
The answer Pearce came up with was publishing, and she’s been in the industry ever since.
In more ways than one, Pearce’s role as Simon and Schuster’s Deputy Director of Publicity is the one she’s been training for since she pulled that first biography from the bookshelf in Dad’s library—no matter how big the topic is, she said her upbringing and the foundation of her liberal arts education inspires a degree of confidence. Having worked on everything from literary fiction, to narrative reporting, to policy books, and with authors ranging from John Irving, to Hillary Clinton, to Candice Bergen, that genre- and topic-spanning fluency is essential in everything she does.
Moreover, the opportunity to learn something new with each title that falls onto her desk Pearce cited as “one of the consistent and surprising joys of the job.” That she’s able to introduce those perspectives and worldviews to a wider audience through publicity campaigns is something of the cherry on top.
“We’re publishing our books for a reason,” Pearce said, “whether it’s to add to the cultural conversation or the intellectual conversation or the political conversation.”
In a way, those conversations are a continuation of the ones shared over the dinners of yesteryear. Pearce’s mother has since translated the home and gardening column into a segment for HGTV; her sister, Laura Tate Yellig (ΦΒΚ, University of Georgia), is now a lawyer and runs a book blog on Instagram. As for Pearce’s father—he passed away 23 years ago, just a month after she earned her degree from Sewanee. “He was at my graduation, and he was really proud that I made Phi Beta Kappa,” Pearce remembered. “The organization has so many accomplished people with exceptional stories—it’s wonderful to be a part of.”
Will Zimmerman graduated from Wake Forest University in May 2023 with an Interdisciplinary Degree in Journalism, Film, and Creative Writing. He was inducted into the Delta of North Carolina chapter several weeks before his graduation.