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Good as Their Word

by Scott Banks

Nina (Davis ’03) Gruener loved performing in college, both as an actor and campus news co-anchor. Alissa Jones Nelson ’02 yearned to understand the book of Job. Almost a decade later, both women have parlayed these passions into promising starts in the world of publishing.

Gruener grew up around publishing. Her grandfather, Robert Cameron, founded Cameron and Company, publishers of the Above series. Each book, like the original Above San Francisco, presents an artful portrait of a major city taken from the sky. Gruener proudly recounts how her grandfather took all the photographs himself, dangling from chartered helicopters in a harness. Before Cameron passed away in 2009, he found the perfect pair to continue the family business: Gruener and her husband, fellow APU alumnus Chris ’02, who discovered the joy of literature in his junior year—too late, he felt, to abandon his business major. This succession unfolded naturally. The two began by honoring Cameron’s work when Chris extended the Above series to Portland, hiring a photographer rather than doing it himself. “I don’t have a helicopter,” he deadpanned.

Nina’s love of performance led to her own role in the business. She had been working as a corporate event planner, but soon she developed and published a children’s book with her grandfather’s San Francisco photos. “I really missed the creative collaborations with other people that had been so important to me at APU,” she said. “Creating the children’s book re-established that valuable part of my life.” Her performance background also contributed specific, valuable skills. “A children’s book is read aloud, so it needs cadence and rhythm and story—all things I learned performing.” The Grueners plan to follow up with new children’s books, as well as books depicting regional foods and culture.

A college experience also shaped Jones Nelson’s career. She pinpoints her junior year as a critical moment in her journey, when she studied at Oxford through APU’s Study Abroad program. “I can’t overstate the importance of travel,” she said. “It forced me to face uncomfortable situations and encounter people with different ideas.” The hunger for thought guides her to this day, a characteristic she credits to her father, an attorney who would cross-examine her ideas at the dinner table until she saw all sides of an issue. After graduation, she traveled with her husband, teaching English as a second language in Spain, the Czech Republic, and Japan. Then she earned a Jack Kent Cooke Fellowship to pursue a master’s and a Ph.D. from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Equinox will publish her dissertation as a book in March 2012, completing a circle that began at APU. In a theology class taught by Professor John Hartley, Ph.D., she “fell in love with the book of Job,” which captivated her by asking great human questions about God and suffering and addressing them in dialogues that leave the answers open. Her book presents an interpretive approach to Job meant to facilitate discussion between different faiths.

Impressed with her knowledge of the people and ideas in her field, venerable German publishing house De Gruyter chose Jones Nelson to act as acquisitions editor for religious studies at its new U.S. office in Boston. There, she hopes to employ her zeal for thought and dialogue to catalyze new discussions about religion.

Scott Banks is a public school teacher and writer living in Claremont, California. sbanks@speakeasy.net

Originally published in the Winter '11 issue of APU Life. Download the full issue (PDF).