Seeing Double With the Publishing Twins

One afternoon in August 2020, while staying at her parents’ house in the Hudson Valley, Jean Garnett, an editor at Little, Brown & Company, prepared to meet remotely with the author Chantal V. Johnson, whose novel “Post-traumatic” she wanted to acquire for publication.

She had to find a private place to take the call, not because she needed quiet, but because her identical twin sister Callie Garnett — the editorial director at Bloomsbury, a competing imprint — was also staying at the house and would be taking her own call with Ms. Johnson a few hours later.

Jean ended up working in her father’s office, while Callie hunkered down in a bedroom.

“I went to the bathroom while she was on the call, and I heard her being brilliant,” Jean recalled in an interview this month at a German beer hall in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood. She was sitting on a bar stool next to her sister as a publishing industry holiday party was winding down.

Callie, wearing an olive green trapper hat, smiled as her sister told the story, then delivered the punchline: “But Jean got the book.”

At the event, an annual soiree hosted by the literary agent Soumeya B. Roberts and the Grove Atlantic deputy publisher Peter Blackstock, everyone knew Callie from Jean and vice versa. But at a reading a few hours earlier, Callie said, more than one person had approached her to say, “‘I know you’re one of the twins, but I don’t know which one.’”

“That happens a lot,” Callie added.

Such is occasionally the cost of doing business when you work in the same tight-knit industry as your identical twin. Turns out, Jean said, mix-ups are “really good for networking.”

“Post-traumatic” was not the only project that enticed both Garnetts. Each chased “Enter the Aardvark,” a political satire by Jessica Anthony (Jean won); “Outlawed” by Anna North (Callie won); and “Little Rabbit” by Alyssa Songsiridej (Callie won again, and Ms. Songsiridej later earned a 5 Under 35 award from the National Book Foundation for the novel).

Jean said that when she started reading “Little Rabbit” on submission, “within like five pages, I was like, Callie is going to be all over this.”

“Sometimes we just know,” she added.

Rachel Mannheimer, an editor at The Yale Review, walked over to chat with Jean about a forthcoming essay on midlife crisis. She and Callie had both turned 40 at the beginning of the month.

The sisters are also writers, and Ms. Mannheimer is Jean’s editor at the Review. “I send all of my work to Rachel,” Jean said. She edited “There I Almost Am,” Jean’s Pushcart Prize-winning essay on coping with jealousy and comparison as a twin, published in 2021.

“Writing about the ways I’m envious of my twin was very freeing,” Jean said. “It made me more fully grasp the love and identification side of envy. Which twins are a useful symbol of.”

That same year, Callie’s first poetry collection, “Wings in Time,” appeared on The New York Times’s list of Best Poetry.

In July, Jean wrote about their relationship again in a New Yorker piece called “Giving Away My Twin,” which recounted her experience walking Callie down the aisle at her wedding.

The twins, who both live in the Hudson Valley, grew up in Park Slope. As tweens and teens, Callie said, they “did a lot of thrashing around trying to individuate. But as they got older, she added, they realized that they “didn’t really have to force that.”

“We were enough of our own people that we could really share the things that we loved,” like writing and editing, Callie said. Jean got into publishing first and, in 2014, connected Callie with George Gibson, then the head of Bloomsbury.

“Jean is responsible for me being in publishing,” Callie said. “And for me getting my first job. “I’ve been at Bloomsbury my whole career.”

To create a place where, as Jean put it, they “weren’t in competition as editors,” she started a joint Instagram account under the handle @publishingtwins in 2021. She and Callie have since used it to celebrate each other’s successes and to boost each other’s titles.

In November, Callie published Helena de Bres’s book “How to Be Multiple: The Philosophy of Twins,” which grapples with existential questions related to twinship and society’s perception of it.

Ms. de Bres, a professor at Wellesley and a twin herself, said in an interview that many identical twins end up in the same fields. (For example, the U.S. politicians Julian and Joaquin Castro; the tennis doubles champions Bob and Mike Bryan; The National band members Aaron and Bryce Dessner, and the feuding Danish beer brewers Mikkel Borg Bjergso and Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso.)

When the average person encounters a pair of twins, Ms. de Bres said, it’s easy to start thinking about “free will, or the nature of love, or what it means to be a person, what identity is.”

What Ms. de Bres did, Callie said, is explore questions like “‘which one are you?’”

“‘Who’s the smart one?’” Jean chimed in. “‘Who’s the good one?’”

“‘Are you two in love?’” Callie continued. “I loved that one. Because people really do project a weird romance between twins. I think that’s why identical twins are a little threatening to people. They have a closeness.”

Ms. de Bres’s book, Callie said, was “license to start talking about some of the stuff that we’ve thought about our whole lives.”

“My husband says about Jean, ‘She’s the least “other” other an other can be,’” she said. “There’s a threshold of otherness that we’re really close to.”

“We’re not quite ‘other’ to each other,” Jean said, reaching for a handful of fries on the bar.

“But we are other,” Callie added.

“But we are!” Jean said. “We’re not in the same body.”

“We’re right on the border of that,” Callie said, pouring some beer from their very tall, shared glass into a smaller one, “and it means we have to think about that a lot of the time, which means we end up thinking about individual agency and individuality, free will, I think, maybe more than other people do.”

Before stepping out into the cold night, this reporter asked the sisters to put their editor caps on and pitch each other’s writing.

“She memorizes her poems and performs them,” Jean said. “They are the best surreal stand-up comedy that you’ve ever seen.”

Callie considered this and added, “There’s an element of stand-up comedy to your essays, too.”

“We are both writers, but I think,” Jean said to her sister, “and correct me if I’m wrong — we both think of ourselves like collage artists. We’re interested in putting two things next to each other and seeing what happens.”

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