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by Clair Willcox, Editor-in-Chief, University of Missouri Press
A Books That Matter Essay

Blue Highways Revisited, by Edgar I. Ailor, III; Foreword by William Least Heat-Moon (University of Missouri Press, 2012)

Book Cover: Blue Highways Revisited

Blue Highways Revisited, by Ed Ailor, III (ISBN: 978-0-8262-1969-5)

All acquiring editors of a certain vintage have stories—half-repressed and revealed only under substantial duress or with sufficient libation—about the manuscripts that got away. The hook thrown with a savage twist, the frayed leader snapped during an abrupt leap, the fumbled landing net in the shallows along the bank…a flash of silver, and it’s “Sayonara, sucker! I’m off to Random House or Routledge.” On the other hand, there are those manuscripts that take you completely unaware, those that astonish and gratify with their unforeseen proximity and disguised promise, the ones that nuzzle at your waders while you squint through the glare to survey distant prospects upstream.

Such unexpected catches under the least likely circumstances are among my favorite books. An old college buddy somehow weathers the stultifying jargon of a postgraduate education in anthropology to find his own prose voice in a lively, informative depiction of zoos and their often canny residents. A prosecuting attorney who pens historical novels on the side relates humorous and horrifying experiences he has had with cops, criminals, lawyers, and judges. A professor of jazz at a distinguished music academy reaches back through her family’s clouded history for a narrative of slavery, racial ambiguity, deception, and survival. The widow of a longtime guard at Alcatraz Penitentiary comes forward with his overlooked account of life on the Rock in the era of Machine Gun Kelly and the Birdman.

One such instance followed a chance meeting at the entryway of a local big-box emporium. As I muscled our overloaded cart toward the doors, I saw my wife pause to chat with someone. Dr. Ed Ailor is a soft-spoken man with an accent that reflects his upbringing in Cape Girardeau, a historic Mississippi River town near the Missouri Bootheel at the state’s southeastern extreme. For me, his manner has a certain gentility without the word’s contemporary associations of snobbery, gentilesse as Chaucer used it to convey the natural courtesy and dignity of the gentlefolk. By all accounts, this quality served him well in his medical practice as a specialist in ailments of the ear, nose, and throat. In contrast to the unmuzzled egos of too many surgeons, volatile prima donnas of the operating room, he had a reputation among nurses and surgical technicians for displaying a cool head and a cordial demeanor even when procedures didn’t go well. He was also known for explaining the complexities of his arcane trade to patients and their families in respectful, down-to-earth terms.

My wife and I had witnessed his medical skill firsthand some twenty-five years before. Our only daughter, an undersized toddler barely two years old, suffered from a sore throat accompanied by some swelling. One night a few days into her course of antibiotics, the swelling worsened until it obstructed her airway and severely interfered with her breathing. We hustled her off to the hospital, where we arranged to meet Ed Ailor. He didn’t delay in having our daughter admitted, and she was soon prepped for surgery and under general anesthesia. Operating through a tiny incision, Ed removed liquid from the festering abscess that had formed alongside a lymph node beneath her jaw.  A week’s stay in the hospital, including a day in the Intensive Care Ward, and our energetic youngster was back in action.

My wife, an operating room nurse with more than thirty-five years’ experience, still marvels at Ed’s craftsmanship that night, the way he minimized the size of the scar and hid it cleverly along a contour of skin. That detail, trivial to a two-year-old, would mean everything to a teenaged girl a decade down the road. Today, with a good magnifying glass in the right light, you might be able to find that scar on our adult daughter, who now has a toddler of her own. Oh, and there is the fact that Ed probably saved her life.

Ed had closed his medical practice about six years before our casual encounter at the store, and he had turned to fine art photography in his retirement, a hobby since high school now parlayed into a second career. I knew his work had won some prizes and had seen his landscapes hung prominently in several businesses about town and offered for sale in local galleries and craft fairs. Despite my appreciation for his newfound vocation and gratitude for the results of his former one, my internal reaction to my wife’s announcement that Ed had been working on a photography book was tempered by the expensive realities of producing four-color, oversized art books and the steadily diminishing market for them. We talked a bit about the difficulties of finding a publisher, particularly attracting the interest of a commercial house in New York. After the usual pleasantries about our families, we parted, and I really didn’t expect to hear any more about Ed’s book project.

I should have known better. Within a couple weeks, his manuscript was nestled among others awaiting my review. In the ensuing days, as it made its way ominously toward the front of the queue, I grew increasingly nervous about what I would find. If there is anything worse than rejecting the work of perfect strangers, it’s rejecting manuscripts by people you know and respect. Turning away someone you actually like reaches another level of regret entirely, a situation that the euphemism “awkward” doesn’t begin to register. Of course, I did what any savvy publishing veteran would do—I procrastinated until it was impossible to stall any longer.

When I did steel myself to look at the manuscript, it was immediately obvious that my anxiety was unwarranted. Ed had found a unique and rich topic, a combination of photojournalism, literary exploration, and subtle social commentary. Shortly after launching his photography business, he had approached bestselling author William Least Heat-Moon, one of his neighbors and a fellow fan of the University of Missouri’s athletic teams, to discuss a scheme to retrace the nearly 14,000-mile journey that the author had recounted in his 1982 travel classic, Blue Highways. Along with his son, also a photographer, Ed hoped to visit as many of the places and people that Heat-Moon had written about in his book as it was still possible to see, photographing them in their current conditions and describing their fortunes, good or bad, during the thirty years since the first publication.

Heat-Moon, who had originally intended to pack Blue Highways with his own photographs, decided instead to limit the illustrations mostly to portraits he had made of those he interviewed. Over the years at signings and readings for his books, many people had encouraged him to revisit the byways of his long journey. Although he was more than a little dubious that anyone would again traverse the entire 13,889 miles, he warmed to the proposal as he came to appreciate Ed’s enthusiasm and resolve for the undertaking. Over the course of six years, Ed and his son completed their trip in stages, and Heat-Moon assisted as his schedule permitted, allowing them to photograph objects associated with the creation of his book, giving access to his notes and numerous typed drafts, and offering editorial advice. He also arranged for them to include monochrome images from his original trip beside their own color shots from the present.

Graced with a foreword by Heat-Moon, the manuscript was a clear winner. It created a virtual dialog between aspects of everyday American life in the late 1970s and its legacy just after the turn of the new century. With before-and-after photographs of the folks Heat-Moon had met, as well as the landscape and buildings he had seen, the Ailors created historical resonance and propelled a prototypical American quest forward into the present. Detailed captions and quotations from relevant parts of Blue Highways enhanced the artful photographs, which were worthy of acclaim in their own right. After the manuscript sailed through the review process, it underwent routine copyediting, the careful ministrations of a book designer, and before long it was ready for its debut.

Mild-mannered though he may be, Ed Ailor proved to be a relentless promoter of Blue Highways Revisited. He set up gallery and museum exhibits of his prints, signed copies of the book at every opportunity, presented slide shows, and gave talks about the process of creating the book. He also did interviews whenever he could. One afternoon, I received an urgent call from him. He and Will Heat-Moon were slated for an appearance on a local radio show within the hour, and he was calling from his mobile phone while driving to the studio. It was a terrific promotional opportunity, and between the two of them there would be plenty of discussion about Ed’s book and Heat-Moon’s well-known inspiration for it. In addition to taking calls from listeners, the radio station would be transmitting live internet video with high-definition reproductions of the photographs.

The reason for Ed’s call took me completely by surprise. Not long before air time, the host of the program had phoned to say there would be an additional, unexpected guest. The surprise guest would be given the first fifteen minutes of the program to talk about the shaky future of university presses and the “broken model” of scholarly publishing. Knowing something of his argument, in part that university presses, including our own, had become hidebound relics from the age of Gutenberg, Ed wanted me to provide him with details about the operation of our press, including information such as the number and kind of digital formats we employed for our books. My immediate response was to advise him and Heat-Moon not to participate because the producer had booked them under the false pretense that the show would focus exclusively on Blue Highways Revisited. By throwing them together with a critic of Ed’s publisher, the producer was clearly trying to spice up the discussion with artificial controversy. She wanted to turn the program into a sensational free-for-all.

But Ed and his friend would have none of my protestations that they should avoid a potentially embarrassing fiasco. They not only intended to appear on the show as scheduled, but they wanted to make sure they were armed with as many pertinent facts as I could provide before the confrontation. In the midst of my objections that he shouldn’t have to fight someone else’s battle or sacrifice the chance to pitch his book, Ed interrupted me. He said simply, “There are more important things than my book.”

I can say in all candor that I’ve never heard an author expressing a sentiment remotely resembling Ed’s straightforward declaration. I have serious doubts that I ever will again.

It almost seems anticlimactic to add that the two of them were more than equal to the opposition that day.

by MaryKatherine Callaway, Director, LSU Press
A Books That Matter Essay

A More Noble Cause: A.P. Tureaud and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Louisiana, by Rachel Emanuel and Alexander P. Tureaud, Jr. (Louisiana State University Press, 2011)

Book Cover: A More Noble Cause

A More Noble Cause, by R. Emanuel and A.P. Tureaud, Jr., (ISBN: 9780807137932)

When I arrived at Louisiana State University (LSU) Press in 2003, one of the projects under contract was a biography of Alexander Pierre Tureaud, Sr., written by Rachel Emanuel and A.P. Tureaud, Jr. I had heard of Mr. Tureaud only vaguely, but his intriguing story pulled me in, and working with the two authors turned out to be one of the most affecting author-publisher relationships I’ve known.

To briefly summarize Mr. Tureaud’s complex and full life, he worked at one time as the only regularly practicing black attorney in Louisiana and led the legal fight to end segregation, discrimination, and disfranchisement in the Jim Crow era. Born in New Orleans, he received his law degree from Howard University, then returned to his hometown and worked as a civil rights pioneer, fighting successfully to obtain equal pay for black teachers, to desegregate public accommodations, schools, and buses, and to ensure the voting rights of black residents. Tureaud’s work, along with that of dozens of other African American lawyers, formed part of a larger legal battle that eventually overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 US Supreme Court decision that legalized racial segregation.

But my connection to Mr. Tureaud’s accomplishments came through his son, A.P. Tureaud, Jr., who struggled with intense racism when LSU admitted him in 1953 as its first black undergraduate. What a profound honor it was to meet this amazing man, who never forgot but long ago forgave the white students, professors, and administrators who ostracized and derided him during his time on campus. “I never thought that I would ever want to step on this campus again when I left,” he said. “All of the people that worked with me for years never knew that I had this history because it was just too painful and too anxiety-producing to relive again. It was just something that I wanted to get away from.”

Thanks to the work of Rachel Emanuel, Tureaud, Jr., was persuaded to return to campus and to help Emanuel with her research on his father. She first wrote about the elder Tureaud while earning degrees at LSU and producing two well-regarded documentaries, Journey for Justice: The A.P. Tureaud Story and Taking a Seat for Justice: The 1960 Baton Rouge Sit-Ins. Through her efforts, a new generation understands the injustices that both the Tureauds faced and how many people dedicated their lives to changing an unfair system. Emanuel poured much of the last ten years of her life into capturing this story, so that students, faculty, and staff would know it and understand the very tangible results that civil rights pioneers worked to achieve.

The book’s publication in April of 2011 offered us the opportunity to work with LSU’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Community Outreach and with Academic Affairs to host a symposium on the history of civil rights in Louisiana, featuring  Tureaud, Jr., Emanuel, and others.

Looking out over a packed auditorium of mostly students, many of whom were hearing for the first time gripping personal stories of the resolve, sacrifice, and dedication it took to bring about equal rights in our country, it was apparent how university press publishing can open up the world. By putting these personal stories in a larger historical context, everyone there left with a better understanding of our state and national history—not only the broad concepts, but the direct impact as well.

As Tureaud, Jr., told me, “I left Louisiana in 1960 because I didn’t want to be restricted in anything that I wanted to do as a person of color. Growing up in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, and having to travel and not have a place to stay, having to sit in segregated train cars, having to buy gasoline at the gas station and go into the bushes to use the restroom, and go to back windows to buy food as we went from state to state, those were all demeaning experiences. We were segregated in every aspect of our lives. But, if you educated yourself and you partnered with other people and you used the written constitutional law of this country, you could prevail. And there was no bitterness or anger or the desire to destroy anything. The hope was that we could become a part of this wonderful society and country that we live in.”

I am proud to say that LSU awarded an honorary doctorate to A.P. Tureaud, Jr., in May 2011.

Publishing A.P. Tureaud’s story in A More Noble Cause,which is also his son’s story, was an enormous privilege that allowed us the opportunity to contribute to the community, and allowed me the opportunity to meet two of the most impressive people I will ever know.

by Peter Givler, Executive Director, AAUP
A Books That Matter Essay

Justifiable Homicide: Battered Women, Self Defense, and the Law,by Cynthia K. Gillespie (Ohio State University Press, 1990)

Book Cover: Justifiable Homicide

Justifiable Homicide, by Cynthia Gillespie (ISBN: 978-0814204665)

Before starting to work at AAUP, I was at Ohio State University Press, where we published a book that still stays in my mind. It was 1989 and the book was “Justifiable Homicide,” by Cynthia Gillespie, a lawyer and Executive Director of the Northwest Women’s Law Center, where she had worked extensively with women seeking refuge from abusive relationships. Her thesis in the book was simple and compellingly argued: because of the way the law had developed historically, battered women who killed their abusers were not permitted to plead self-defense, even though they believed they were in immediate danger of serious bodily harm. Deprived of a justifying defense, they were almost always convicted of murder.

Traditional self-defense law, Gillespie explained, assumes two men of roughly equal strength and ability, one of whom credibly threatens to kill the other. Unless he is defending his own home, the law obliges the person threatened to flee. If he kills his antagonist instead, to plead self-defense he would have to show that he was unable to get away—trapped between his assailant and the door, for example—or that he did try to flee, and his assailant pursued and continued to threaten him.

For women it was different. Self defense law did not recognize the right of a woman to defend herself, even in her home. Threatened, she should flee no matter what the circumstances. Courts were also extremely reluctant to allow potentially mitigating testimony by expert witnesses about battered woman’s syndrome, learned helplessness caused by repeated physical abuse at the hands of a spouse or domestic partner.

“The [traditional] law makes sense for what it was designed for—two men in a bar fight,” Gillespie once said, but not “for a woman trying to defend herself from a man who has threatened to kill her before.” In 1981 the Ohio Supreme Court had ruled that the syndrome had not been scientifically validated, and therefore that testimony about it was inadmissible.

Shortly after Justifiable Homicide was published, Dagmar Celeste, wife of then-Governor of Ohio Richard Celeste, gave her husband a copy of the book. He read it. He asked members of his staff to read it. His office then undertook a review of 105 cases of women in Ohio’s women’s prison, the Marysville Women’s Correctional Institute, many of them on death row, who had been convicted of murder in which battered women’s syndrome could have been a factor, if the court had allowed testimony about it.

On December 23, as he was leaving office, Governor Celeste granted clemency to 28 of those women:  24 were released, and the other 4 had to serve up to 2 more years in prison. On December 28, Andy Rooney, America’s lovable curmudgeon, wrote in The Columbus Dispatch that the Governor had just declared open season on Ohio husbands.[1]  The Ohio Attorney General vowed to re-prosecute.  Other responses were more humane.  In June the Ohio legislature passed a bill recognizing battered woman’s syndrome and the belief of imminent danger of harm as an element of self-defense.  Maryland Governor William Schaeffer commuted the sentences of 8 women, citing their inability to introduce evidence of abuse as a mitigating factor.  In the following two years 11 other governors either reduced or commuted sentences or granted clemency to women who had been similarly unable to introduce evidence of abuse at trial.[2]

In Ohio, a few months after the clemencies had been granted and the women released, Gillespie was invited to meet with shelter workers in Columbus, and to give a public talk.  There were 50 or 60 people in the audience: psychologists, social workers, lawyers.  Gillespie’s talk and the Q&A session that followed it were at a fairly high professional level: legal and regulatory considerations, psychological and safety issues, and so forth.  As things were winding down a woman sitting in the back of the room not far from me stood up and waited to be recognized.  “Ms. Gillespie,” she said, “I was one of those women on death row in Marysville.  I just wanted to say thank you.”  Then she left.

One of the persistent fears about allowing battered women to plead self-defense, as Rooney had so bluntly expressed it, was that it would allow them to get away with murder—and, implicitly, encourage them to kill again. The evidence has proved otherwise. A 2003 study of clemency for battered women[3] found that only two of the Ohio women granted clemency had been rearrested, one on property-related offenses and one on a drug charge. Their recidivism rate for violent crimes was zero.

Cynthia Gillespie died, of cancer, in 1993. Justifiable Homicide is now out of print.


[1] Andy Rooney, “Celeste Declares Open Season on Ohio Men,” Columbus Dispatch, Dec. 28, 1990, p. 11A.

[2] Ashcroft (Missouri, later U.S. Attorney General), Brandsted (Iowa), Wilson (California), Weld (Massachusetts), Romer (Colorado), Chiles (Florida), Jones (Kentucky), Merrill (New Hampshire), Pataki (New York), Edgar (Illinois) and Roberts (Oregon).

[3] Linda L. Ammons, “Why Do You Do the Things You Do?  Clemency for Battered Incarcerated Women, A Decade’s Review,” Journal of Gender, Social Policy & The Law, Vol. 11:2, 2003.

An essay series from the members of AAUP

AAUP members publish many thousands of books—and journals, reference collections, shorts, apps—that matter. From documentary editions that are the foundation of further research to local ecological guides, the work published must contribute to scholarship and an informed society. “Mattering” is another way of describing the baseline requirement for publication by one of our member presses.

But in every publisher or editor’s career, there are books that come to mind as the ones that mattered deeply. The books that stand out because of their impact on politics or the economy, on our need for justice and social equality, on our understanding of history and culture, on our knowledge of the regional and national issues of the day—a book that changed a reader or a community or a discipline, and sometimes a book that changed its editor.

Those are the books that lift what we do everyday from a dry talking point on the value of university presses to a vibrant and exciting business that gets us all up in the morning.

In this new essay series, we’ve invited editors and publishers to tell the stories of those books. We begin with three very different books and different ways of mattering: from Peter Givler, we read of publishing an idea that became, quite literally, a matter of life and death in Justifiable Homicide, MaryKatherine Callaway reflects on what it meant to the LSU community to bring to print the story of a Louisiana civil rights leader, and Clair Willcox shares the story of what happened when a press meant as much an author as his book meant to the press.

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll read more such narratives of the books that mattered, and invite all AAUP members to share those tales with us.

Books the Matter
Feng Menglong’s Short Story Collections
Sojourner Truth and The Spitting Image
The Fosse Style
What Comes Naturally
Growing Season
Head Off & Split
Justifiable Homicide
A More Noble Cause
Blue Highways Revisited

Our editorial profile here at the Digital Digest is changing! You may notice the new tag line on the Digital Digest: “news and commentary from the AAUP.” The blog is taking on a new life as a more comprehensive media channel for the association, rather than strictly limited to digital publishing news. And a big reason for that is the reality that digital publishing is itself not strictly limited to any one aspect of university press work (if it ever really was.)

One of the most-read posts on the Digital Digest was Tony Sanfilippo’s “Books Places in the Digital Age.” And, sure, it was a piece about e-books and e-retailing. But it was also about bookstores and readers; print books as well as e-books. It was about marketing, sales, metadata, and digital production. It was about people and processes.

So the editorial interests of the Digital Digest will be de jure and not just de facto opened up to the interests of the entire Association. Why not change the name? Well, it’s still a digital digest, and we wouldn’t want our hungry robot to feel out of place! After several years of discussing just what this blog should encompass, the Digital Publishing Committee is passing primary editorial responsibility to the AAUP Central Office (though the committee will still be important contributors) and we hope to hear more regularly from other AAUP Committees, as well.

As a launch into our new broader set of themes, AAUP will soon publish here a series of personal stories from editors and publishers of “Books that Matter”—their favorite stories of what publishing a book has meant to them or in the world. Stories such as these help make clear that, digital or analog, it is the people of AAUP—and by that, I mean to include the authors and readers and subjects—that make our community and our work so fascinating.

We look forward to publishing those narratives, as well as continuing posts on digital publishing trends and challenges—and much more!

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