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November 11-17 marks University Press Week 2012! All week long, presses around the Web will be hosting special posts as part of a UP Week Blog Tour. The Digital Digest will be following the tour with a daily round up.
Princeton University Press: “A Conversation with the Co-owner of Labyrinth Books”
Local independent bookstore owner Dorothea Von Moltke speaks with Princeton’s Jessica Pellien on what university press books mean for her business: “our focus throughout the store and nowhere more than with university Press books is to give books a long life … they just need to still seem relevant to a deeper understanding of our past, present, or future.”
Indiana University Press: “University Presses: An Essential Cog Within Our Society’s ‘Sophistication Machine'”
Former IU Press intern Nico Perrino compares UPs’ role in scholarship to loading docks at a factory, a stage in a theater, or tables at a restaurant: a basic necessity for sharing the creative products of scholars and authors with the world. (And a special shout-out to Indiana UP for organizing this week’s blog tour!)
Fordham University Press: “Why University Presses Matter”
Press Director Fredric Nachbaur wrote his post in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and the destruction wrought on his home city of New York and native state of New Jersey, reflecting on how the work of university presses and their authors have, in times of tragedy, helped us understand the events of the moment.
Texas A&M University Press: “The Value of a University Press”
TAMU author and Houston Chronicle business columnist tells the story of how he came to write and publish a book with the Press, a book that itself told the story of his father’s journey from an electrician with a hobby to a foundational practitioner of nautical archaeology—and the role the Press played in that story of a man and a fascinating field of knowledge.
Georgetown University Press: “We speak your language!”
Press publicist Jacqueline Beilhart was inspired by a journalist’s offhand comment to canvass AAUP members on their commitments to publishing language acquisition materials in Less Commonly Taught Languages (LCTLs). The resulting list of languages whose learning is supported by university presses (scroll…scroll…keep scrolling…) is a clear testament to how uniquely this kind of publishing connects us across place and time.
Friday’s leg of the tour begins at New York University Press.
November 11-17 marks University Press Week 2012! All week long, presses around the Web will be hosting special posts as part of a UP Week Blog Tour. The Digital Digest will be following the tour with a daily round up.
The University of Chicago Press: “Scott Esposito on Wayne Booth”
To read literary critic and editor, Quarterly Conversation, Scott Esposito’s persuasive case for the enduring importance of Wayne Booth’s Modernist Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent is to know that it is the power of the ideas we publish that is “why university presses matter.”
The University of Minnesota Press: “What Was a University Press?”
Read excerpts from Press Director Doug Armato’s recent plenary talk at the Charleston Conference, by all accounts a stimulating exchange of ideas between Doug, California Press Director Alison Mudditt, and the conference’s overflowing audience of librarians and publishers.
The University of Illinois Press: “Write for the World”
Musician and writer Stephen Wade (author of Illinois’ Fine Print* selection, The Beautiful Music All Around Us) riffs on the words of former UI Press Editor Judith McCulloh and celebrates university presses’ “commitment to humane scholarship” as embodied in such storied projects as the Music in American Life series.
The University of Nebraska Press: “Why University Presses Matter”
UNP’s Bison Books Manager Tom Swanson looks at how the Bison Books imprint embodies the regional commitments of university presses and how presses such as Nebraska give us “a voice for our place.”
Syracuse University Press: “Why University Presses Matter”
Laurence Hauptman (SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, SUNY New Paltz, and scholar of Native American, New York, and Civil War History) explains what university press editors and staff meant to his development as a scholar and author, and to the development of essential fields of research in Northeastern Native American history.
Thursday’s leg of the tour begins at Princeton University Press.
Back in August, we asked member presses to think about their work in a new way: geographical impact. What better way to show university press “contributions to culture, the academy, and society” in the modern, global publishing economy than to visually illustrate their reach? This was the idea behind the Mapping Our Influence project.
Using the Google Custom Maps tool, we developed an iconographic key to represent authors, subjects, and other points that might be plotted. The simplicity of the Google Maps construct allowed us to imagine a variety of maps: a season’s worth of titles, a disciplinary list, a regional focus. But of course, soon maps started rolling in—38 to date—and the virtual pushpins took on a rainbow of new meanings.
Melissa Pitts, director at University of British Columbia Press, piloted the Maps project with Valerie Nair, Assistant to the Publisher, and the press’s current work-study student. UBC Press mapped authors and subject matter from the latest season, and then got creative with adding events and awards. (Their map is here.) Clusters of pins color the Vancouver and Toronto areas, scattering thickly across Canada and down through the US, reaching west across the Pacific to Japan and New Zealand, east across the Atlantic to northern Europe and Israel.
And yet, with markers blooming like party balloons or bright speech bubbles—“we’re here! and here and here and here!”—across the globe, Pitts notes that the map is most definitely a work in progress. It currently represents 2011 and 2012 publications, which Pitts plans to continue to expand with new seasons. She’s considering integrating it into the publication process for each new book, carrying it beyond University Press Week.
Future iterations, possibly to be used in meetings with the university administration, may build off of other presses’ ideas—like that of University of New Mexico Press.
New Mexico’s map is a monochromatic blue: 367 pins representing libraries around the globe that have purchased 2012 publications. (See the map here.) Unsurprisingly, the US has transformed to a sea of blue, with outliers marking off libraries around the globe, both public and university—in Peru, South Africa, Malaysia, China…the list goes on.
“We did consider several options including maps showing the locations of our authors or the subjects of our recent books (or a combination of several metrics),” writes New Mexico director John Byram. “The problem was capturing and representing data that succinctly reflected the Press’s global footprint most dramatically. A map showing the location of libraries who purchased our new books in the last calendar year seemed to offer the best opportunity to represent the influence we have as a publishing operation both for scholars and for the general public.”
Like Pitts, Byram has plans to update the map; he’s already shared it with the press’s faculty advisory board and the university administration. Temple University Press Director Alex Holzman has done the same: “It’s become my favorite new toy in presentations to both administration and faculty. Temple’s been emphasizing its international presence in recent years and I’ve been saying that our books have a presence on every continent except possibly Antarctica. Saying it is one thing; all these pins provide a fabulous graphic showing it. I also think the map is a great acquisitions tool. What author doesn’t want to daydream about people around the world reading their work?”
Holzman is referring to the unique elements of the Temple map: the press also mapped 2012 authors and subjects, but on top of that, two more colors to denote, first, countries where local publishers have licensed rights for their particular languages, and second, every country where Temple books have been purchased. (Take a look here.) The former, language rights, pop up in Brazil, India, South Korea, and more; the latter, purchases, truly cover the globe—and from 2012 titles alone. Says publicist Gary Kramer, “we were happily amazed at the extent of what we were able to cover with just this one year of data”. And Holzman is already brainstorming new maps for the coming years: “I could think of a few—course adoptions come to mind—but I’ll let Gary and Brian [who plotted the map] take a break first!”
November 11-17 marks University Press Week 2012! All week long, presses around the Web will be hosting special posts as part of a UP Week Blog Tour. The Digital Digest will be following the tour with a daily round up.
MONDAY | TUESDAY
The MIT Press: “Thoughts for the Day After University Press Week”
MIT Editorial Director Gita Manaktala surveys some of the major shifts in scholarly publishing, from a university press at the leading edge of many of those transitions.
The University of California Press: “Why University Presses Matter”
Rachel Lee (UC Press Library Relations Manager) looks at why university presses should matter to librarians: as a “partner engaged in work that sustains academic research.”
The University of Hawaii Press: “Why University Presses Matter”
Barbara Watson Andaya (Professor of Asian Studies, University of Hawaii; Editorial Board Member, UH Press) examines the importance of university presses for smaller disciplines and developing fields of knowledge. The UH Press editorial commitment to Southeast Asian Studies, publishing both within the English-speaking world and reaching out to the local region, is a snapshot of the “global university press.”
Wilfrid Laurier University Press: “University Press Week Feature: R. Bruce Elder”
Film scholar Elder (whose latest book Harmony & Dissent is WLUP’s Fine Print* selection) discusses the urgent need for a humanistic study of technology; and holds up the university press monograph as the form best suited to support this kind of sustained intellectual endeavor.
The University Press of Florida: “Hands-on Education”
Three UPF interns—Claire Eder, Samantha Pryor, and Alia Almeida—reflect on what they brought to and what they’ve learned from their work at the Press. From falling for a book as its marketing campaign is developed, to seeking and finding greater challenges and strong mentorship, to the delights of “Death, Deformity, Disembowelment, [and] Dismemberment”, the day-to-day work of university presses is revealed through fresh eyes.
Wednesday’s leg of the tour begins at The Chicago Blog.
Fine Print* (*and digital!) is an online gallery of titles—books, journals, online collections, and reference works— from AAUP members, developed in celebration of University Press Week 2012. Presses were asked to select one title from their full catalog of publications that they felt exemplifies the work they do. Here, Johns Hopkins University Press—with 134 years of history to choose from—shares how they made that decision.
by Jack Holmes, Director of Development, Johns Hopkins University Press
It is easy to imagine that all the presses participating in the AAUP Fine Print* project had difficulty selecting just one publication to represent a legacy that might include decades of publishing, numerous subject areas, various formats, and many distinguished achievements.
That was certainly true for us at the Johns Hopkins University Press as we considered our Fine Print selection. We might reasonably have chosen the American Journal of Mathematics, which J. J. Sylvester founded in 1878 and which remains a centerpiece of our journals publishing program. We thought Project MUSE, the highly regarded online collection of journals and books, would be a compelling choice because it represents the innovation and success not just of our press but of the broader community of university presses, libraries, and scholars who collaborated to create it and work to sustain it. We could have chosen any of several discipline-changing titles, from Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology to Carlo Ginzburg’s The Cheese and the Worms, to highlight the capacity of key scholarly works to revolutionize how we think about certain subjects. We could, of course, sensibly select one of our best sellers. And it turns out that our best-selling title also gives us one of our best stories to tell.
The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementias, and Memory Loss, by Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins, is indeed JHUP’s best-selling book, with more than 2.5 million copies sold in the five editions published since it first appeared in 1980. It has been called a legend, a bible, and the best of its kind. We are proud to include it as the Johns Hopkins University Press title in the AAUP’s Fine Print* collection.
How The 36-Hour Day landed on the JHU Press list, how it almost never found a publisher, and how it ties our press to esteemed friends and colleagues at Johns Hopkins also adds up to a good university-press story, one that we believe echoes the shared mission, values, and aspirations of all AAUP’s member presses.
By the late 1970s, Alzheimer Disease was becoming increasingly known but remained barely understood among the general public as the cause of dementia and memory loss in older patients. Managing the condition medically within psychiatry or geriatric departments was becoming more common, and the psychiatry department at the Johns Hopkins Hospital was one of the first in the nation to establish a special unit for patients with dementia. As growing awareness of the disease brought more frequent requests for advice and information, two members of the program staff at Hopkins, Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins, collaborated on a short booklet advising caregivers on understanding the disease, helping the person with dementia, and coping with the challenges of the caregiver’s role. The booklet was mimeographed repeatedly by the department, and requests for copies continued to increase. With the department overwhelmed by requests, Mace and Rabins explored the possibility of expanding the booklet into a book, but they were turned away by numerous commercial publishers who didn’t see a market and found the topic depressing and uncomfortable.
In the lore of our Press, JHUP author and Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Paul McHugh, advised that Mace and Rabins “talk to the Press.” The 36-Hour Day found an appreciative home here, and our press embraced the mission of publishing trusted, expert medical information for general readers. Our successful series, Johns Hopkins Press Health Books, with some fifty similar books available in print and digital formats, is part of this legacy.
While the good The 36-Hour Day has done in the world is arguably beyond measure, we can point to at least some of the numbers that suggest the scale of its impact and success: five editions published since 1980, the most recent in 2011; sales in excess of 2.5 million copies, not including mass market paperbacks, which were published for three of the five editions; praise and affection generated over the years that easily matches those sales figures; massive review attention and numerous awards from both professional and advocacy organizations; strong e-book sales and an audio-book edition in production. With dozens of books about Alzheimer Disease now available for general readers, The 36-Hour Day remains the leading resource for caregivers, one of the few titles that B&N will never allow to go out of stock.
For all of us at JHUP, The 36-Hour Day and its success are a somewhat larger-than-life expression of the hope we always have when we publish a book or journal under the Johns Hopkins imprint. We want to deliver knowledge, discovery, and expertise to the people who need it. We want to publish works that have an impact, whether on a small circle of scholars in a dedicated field of study or on the hundreds of thousands of readers who are informed and comforted by a book like The 36-Hour Day.
That is our aim with 200 new books each year and with every new issue of the 80 journals we publish. But few works the Press has published match the reach and impact of The 36-Hour Day, and we salute and thank our friends and colleagues, Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins, for their exceptional work and achievement.
There are stories behind every title in the Fine Print* gallery. Browse the slideshow and immerse yourself in the breadth and depth of university press publishing.
Harvard University Press: “My Blue-Bound Loves”
Anthony Grafton (Professor of History, Princeton University; co-editor, The Classical Tradition) writes of being seduced by the physical and intellectual beauty of the Oxford Classical Texts. The seriousness, the courage, and the beauty of university press publishing still draw him to the stacks.
Duke University Press: “Why University Presses Matter”
Judith Halberstam (Professor of English, American Studies and Ethnicity, and Gender Studies, University of Southern California; author, The Queer Art of Failure) advocates for university presses as supporters of radical knowledge and the cross-pollinators of culture, learning, and unlearning.
Stanford University Press: “Steve Levingston on Why University Presses Matter”
Levingston, Nonfiction Editor of the Washington Post Book World, picks out a few favorite university press titles reviewed in the Post and the Political Bookworm—memorable for the continuing fascination of the conversations the books inspired, and illustrating what we mean when we say that university presses “contribute to an informed society.”
University of Georgia Press: “Small is Better: Why University Presses are Sustainable Presses”
Claire Bond Potter, (Tenured Radical, Professor of History at the New School for Public Engagement, and co-author of Doing Recent History) writes the “bottom line” of university presses: “We can help you write the book you want to write, and we get it to your readers. That’s publishing.”
University of Missouri Press: “Why Do We Need University Presses?”
The extraordinary co-organizers of the “Save the University of Missouri Press” campaign, Ned Stuckey-French (professor of English, Florida State University; author, The American Essay in the American Century) and Bruce Miller (sales representative and President, Miller Book Trade Marketing) explore what people don’t know about university presses and the works that “stay on shelves for years, get taught in our schools, and change the way we think.”
by Lorri Hagman, Executive Editor, University of Washington Press
A Books That Matter Essay
Stories Old and New: A Ming Dynasty Collection, Vol. 1, compiled by Feng Menglong, translated by Shuhui Yang and Yunqin Yang (University of Washington Press, 2000)
Stories to Caution the World: A Ming Dynasty Collection, Vol. 2, compiled by Feng Menglong, translated by Shuhui Yang and Yunqin Yang (University of Washington Press, 2007)
Stories to Awaken the World: A Ming Dynasty Collection, Vol. 3, compiled by Feng Menglong, translated by Shuhui Yang and Yunqin Yang (University of Washington Press, 2009)
Some people spend thousands of dollars and endure hours of exhausting air travel to vacation in exotic places. But among the perks of my editorial job at the University of Washington Press in the summer of 1998 was being paid to boat down rivers and trek through mist-shrouded mountains in southeast China and to tiptoe into ancient monasteries and palaces, with eloquent and entertaining locals as my guides. This travel was, alas, only in the mind, but I relished it every day—an eight-hour minivacation in both space and time. My purported task was to copyedit the 1,270 manuscript pages of the English translation of Stories Old and New, a set of forty vernacular short stories collected in the late Ming dynasty (1368-1644) by the most knowledgeable connoisseur of popular Chinese literature of his time, Feng Menglong. My true mission, however, was deeper and more subversive: to undermine cultural stereotypes by providing the English-reading world with an unmediated view of Chinese culture and society.
Back then, I still was doing occasional copyediting in addition to acquiring books in Asian studies and various other fields. At its best, copyediting can be like tackling a cleverly constructed crossword puzzle, a self-contained and satisfying task—not something I care to do full-time, but an entertaining diversion. Normally, it’s preferable to have a new set of eyes for copyediting, to spot things that the author and acquiring editor no longer have the objectivity to see, but Stories Old and New required a copy editor with Chinese-language training, and I was the only such person available. So I both acquired and copyedited the manuscript.
Pausing in front of the text and multipage style sheet (one for each story, as well as a list of recurring terms) and shifting my gaze out the office window westward toward Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, I would sometimes reflect that I had just surfaced from a time in which China was already an old and marvelously complex civilization, but the city of Seattle would not be founded for another two and a half centuries. The stories were so rich, so varied, that collectively they illustrated just about everything one needed to know about late imperial China—from history to religion to family structure. When the first Chinese edition was published in 1620, compiler and editor Feng Menglong wrote in the preface of the power of fiction:
Just ask the storytellers to demonstrate in public their art of description: they will gladden you, astonish you, move you to sad tears, rouse you to song and dance; they will prompt you to draw a sword, bow in reverence, cut off a head, or donate money. The faint-hearted will be made brave, the debauched chaste, the unkind compassionate, the obtuse ashamed. One may recite the Classic of Filial Piety and the Analects of Confucius every day, yet he will not be moved so quickly nor so profoundly as by these storytellers. (p. 6)
Shuhui Yang, a professor of Chinese language and literature at Bates College, had first written to us in 1996 about the translation of Stories Old and New that he and his wife, Yunqin Yang, a simultaneous translator at the UN, were completing. I had long been familiar with Feng Menglong’s work, and in my student days had even presented a paper comparing a courtesan in one of the stories to a famous courtesan in Sanskrit literature, a paper that was eventually published in the Journal of South Asian Literature. But the Yangs didn’t know that; our collaboration on this project seemed pure serendipity.
After the publication of Stories Old and New, I was surprised but delighted to learn that the Yangs were forging on with translation of the two remaining volumes in Feng Menglong’s trilogy of collected short stories, known collectively as the Sanyan: Stories to Caution the World and Stories to Awaken the World. Like Stories Old and New, each volume contained forty stories. Translating the three volumes—a total of 120 stories in 4,300 manuscript pages—was a labor of love on their part, as neither received professional credit or pay (beyond very modest royalties) for this work. My colleagues were understandably concerned about the difficulty and expense of producing these oversize volumes, but with generous title subsidies from the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation and Bates College, along with creative typography and thin paper, we were able to publish all three.
Although English translations of a handful of the stories had been published in various anthologies, these were always abridged, omitting the many snippets of verse that are strewn throughout the stories, counterposed with the text, such as this one from “Chen Congshan Loses His Wife on Mei Ridge” (Stories Old and New, p. 342”):
Upon returning to his own yamen, the inspector held a banquet to celebrate the victory. With the slaying of Tiger of the Mountain, indeed,
His fame spread throughout the Nanxiong region;
His skills in the martial arts won praise from all.
Also omitted were Feng’s interlinear and marginal notes, often deliciously irreverent, such as the following (in italic) from “The Courtesans Mourn Liu the Seventh in the Spring Breeze” (Stories Old and New, p. 219):
From that time on, he grew more dissolute in his ways and went so far as to take up residence in the courtesans’ quarters. On a tablet of the kind that was held by officials, he wrote, “Liu of Three Changes, Imperial Poet Designate.” Before he called on a courtesan, he would first send over this tablet and she would then prepare wine and dishes and bedding for the night. (What a carefree life! This is better than serving as an official.)
Even Chinese editions of the stories have omitted elements of the original, such as sexually explicit passages, which the Yangs translate in full. Their translation of the three-volume collection is the first—and probably will be the only—complete, unabridged English translation of this milestone work in world literature. An important editorial feature that is apparent only when the stories are seen in Feng’s original arrangement is their thematic pairing.
The flavor of the Yangs’ translation is captivating. Feng Menglong had collected stories hither and yon, modifying and even, perhaps, freshly composing some of them himself (much as the Grimm Brothers had done in Europe). The language of the stories is not classical but vernacular Chinese, a form that reflected the grammar and usage of common speech. Although easier for those of us who are not Confucian scholars to understand, Feng’s Ming-dynasty common speech is several centuries old. One of the things I love about the Yangs’ translation is the slightly old-fashioned cadence of the English phrasing, which reflects Feng’s language: things happen “in a trice,” or to “all and sundry” (as in the extract above). Although the Yangs’ command of English is among the best I’ve ever observed in non-native speakers, I wondered how they had been able to capture that subtly old-fashioned tone. When I asked about this, Yunqin’s response was, “Dickens, of course!”
After immersing myself so deeply in his world through the course of three volumes and 120 stories, I felt that I knew Feng Menglong personally and, curiously, that, were he to time-travel to my world as I had to his, he would not be perplexed or intimidated by twenty-first century culture. With his broad mind and deep curiosity, he would have eagerly engaged with the contemporary intellectual and social scene, recognizing new and fascinating variations on the same old stories.
Helping to bring this trove of cultural gems to the English-speaking world was a privilege and a delight. Translators Shuhui Yang and Yunqin Yang were model “authors,” and we were assisted generously in the multivolume project by scholars such as Bob Hegel (Washington University), Wilt Idema (Harvard), and Andrew Plaks (Princeton). Bob wrote a capstone foreword for the final volume, and he also organized an Association for Asian Studies roundtable discussion in 2009 celebrating the completion of the set. The Yangs spoke on the process of translation; I contributed an editor/publisher’s perspective on the challenge of editing, producing, and financing such a large project; and several professors of Chinese literature discussed the use of the Sanyan stories in the classroom. The following year, another AAS panel focused on the content and style of the stories. Participants uniformly agreed that the rich content of these stories augment teaching on any aspect of traditional Chinese society. As rare, unofficial records of popular culture, they are priceless.
Sadly, despite its importance, literary translation is not adequately encouraged or rewarded. Academic departments do not count it toward promotion and tenure; publication subsidies and book prizes usually exclude it; and, with rare exceptions, translated literature does not sell well. Yet, I believe that, over time, books like our Ming Dynasty Collection trilogy, which enable readers to experience another culture directly, through native eyes, will matter more in advancing cultural understanding than will analytical works. Good translations allow readers to connect deeply with other times and places; to observe them first-hand; to experience amazement at both differences from and similarities to one’s own culture; to, for a moment, forget self and place and time.
While reading a chunk of the first draft of volume 3 on my commute to work one morning back in 2006, I was so mesmerized by “The Grateful Tiger” that I missed my bus stop:
But they had hardly gone a few paces when a sudden strong gust of wind blew out all the lanterns and torches. A yellow-striped tiger with bulging eyes and a white forehead was seen leaping down from midair. The crowd shrieked and ran pell-mell in all directions.
They thought their lives were in danger;
Their souls took flight in fear.
When the wind died down and the tiger was gone, everyone cried out, “Thank heaven!” They relit the lanterns and the torches, and as they were preparing to go on with their journey, the sedan-chair carriers exclaimed, “Oh no!” Of the two sedan-chairs, one was now empty. A look with a torch confirmed that the bride had disappeared. . . .
Reluctantly, I disembarked at the next stop and trudged uphill to the office, wistful for the Ming.
by Niko Pfund, Publisher, Trade & Academic, Oxford University Press (USA)
A Books That Matter Essay
Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend, by Carleton Mabee (NYU Press, 1995)
The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam, by Jerry Lembcke (NYU Press, 2000)
Like most university press directors, I could pen an entire collection of essays on books with which I have been proud to be associated. I’ll focus here on two books that I acquired and edited at NYU Press rather than published, since an editor’s involvement is always more direct than a publisher’s. Both of these books provide a wholly original and counterintuitive perspective on a familiar topic, in both cases a subject rife with emotion, passion, and conflict.
In the early 1990s I came across the manuscript of a revisionist biography of legendary abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth by Carleton Mabee, a SUNY historian who had won a Pulitzer Prize in 1944 for his biography of Samuel F. B. Morse, and was immediately intrigued. I was especially struck by his contention that Truth never actually uttered the phrase with which she is most famously associated, “Ain’t I A Woman?,” spoken defiantly, it had long been believed, to a hostile crowd uneasy about the establishment of a direct link between women’s rights and abolitionism, at an 1851 women’s rights convention in Akron, Ohio. Instead, Mabee claimed, Truth’s speech was met enthusiastically. The hisses and catcalls that purportedly rang out from the crowd were in fact the later embellishment of Frances Gage, one of the organizers of the conference, in a chronicle written years after the fact. Mabee further contended that the famous phrase was not in fact Truth’s at all, but rather of Gage’s later manufacture, basing his claim on an examination of both Truth’s and Gage’s use of language in their speeches and writings, and a review of newspaper accounts in the days immediately following the conference, which contained no mention of any such expression.
While the Akron convention may have been devoid of the specific dramas attributed to it, the publication of Mabee’s book itself made for some moments of considerable drama at the 1993 Berkshire Conference of Women Historians. Mabee was perhaps 30 years the senior of his fellow presenters, and was, if memory serves, the only man and the only white person on the panel. Appearing alongside a panel of Truth biographers at one of the conference’s best-attended sessions, held in the large auditorium at Vassar College, Mabee’s presentation of his findings was greeted respectfully by the other panelists.
The excitement began during the Q&A, when a member of the audience stood up, wearing a black “Silence = Death” t-shirt, and claimed that Mabee’s work was motivated solely by his desire to tear down an iconic female figure. The time has passed, she said angrily, when we should let a white man guide our interpretation of the life of a prominent African-American woman. Carleton remained impassive and a hush fell over the audience, as I sat squirming in the front row.
After a tense few moments, the Princeton historian Nell Painter, who was at the time working on her own biography of Truth and thus had every reason to feel ambivalent about Mabee’s work appearing before hers, took the microphone. Painter began by saying that it was she who had invited Mabee to the conference. His work, she continued, was important and, er, truthful, rooted in imaginative archival research and fact. Her own work would make use of his when her book (which was widely considered the definitive biography of Truth upon publication) was released. As 300 women historians sat rapt, she concluded that the time had happily passed when scholars of women’s history needed to shore up their subjects as a means of validating the field of study. Sojourner Truth, she said was a remarkable and potent historical figure, and no one should feel the need to erect—or sustain—mythical scaffolding to prop her up.
Debates over identity politics were roiling the humanities in 1993, but Painter’s remarks were met with loud, sustained applause.
Some topics act as a canvas onto which we project our pre-existing beliefs. Rather than engaging with other perspectives to challenge and test those beliefs, too often we simply search for empirical evidence—however selectively chosen or disingenuously applied—to support our established sense of how the world *is*. And so there are few more gratifying experiences as a publisher than contributing in some small, vicarious way to changing the way we think.
The Vietnam War, as a barometer of America’s trajectory as a nation and global power, is clearly such a topic. And, of all the contested iconography that came out of that war, the image of the American soldier returning home, crisply uniformed and eagerly anticipating a family reunion, only to be met by an anti- war protestor who spits on him and calls him “baby killer” has been one of the most potent and most resilient.
Only, claimed Holy Cross sociologist Jerry Lembcke, in his book The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam, it never happened. Not once, at least not according to any available evidence other than individual memories, which are, as oral history has shown us, notoriously changeable over time.
When I first encountered it, Lembcke’s argument struck me as overstated. Surely, I thought, this must have happened at least a few times and then been exaggerated; why else would everyone think it had? But the further I read and the more Lembcke and I discussed the project, the more persuasive I found his claim. The spectre of the hippy protestor (most often a woman, frequently wearing a flowery dress, almost always in the San Francisco airport) spitting on the returning vet was first given life, according to Lembcke, in the film Coming Home with Jon Voight and Jane Fonda, and then became culturally institutionalized in the mumbling monologues of Sylvester Stallone in the Rambo films. In fact, the only Vietnam-era episode Lembcke unearthed of someone being spat upon occurred during a rally by Vietnam Veterans Against the War when an anti-war protester was spat upon by another veteran countermarching with the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Even as I found Lembcke’s argument increasingly persuasive, I failed in my attempt to get him to address why so many returning soldiers absorbed this claim of having been spat upon into their own autobiographies, and how the obvious unease that Americans felt in welcoming home veterans of a “lost war” was translated by soldiers into feelings of having been spat upon. Here I should note that I sent a draft of this piece to Jerry, who disagreed with my recollection here: “I think I did address the question why veterans say they were spat on. The stories are a form of scapegoating, i.e., blaming the loss of the war on home front betrayal and gendering those stories with girls or young women (or male longhairs) cast as spitters. The stories also conjure the image of the spat-on `good veteran’ that displaces from public memory the real-life anti-war veteran with whom the public is uncomfortable. The book’s contribution to the study of myth-construction is some of what has given it the legs it has.”
In any event, the book was widely reviewed upon publication, including an above-the-fold feature piece in the purple “Life” section of USA Today. Every review was met with incredulous, often irate readers’ responses as well as with other letters best distilled as “finally!” Jerry was tireless in engaging with all perspectives. His work compelled precisely the sort of debate that both author and editor had hoped for.
Given what a dicey proposition it is to accuse others of having in effect embraced a false consciousness—or, put more bluntly, having made things up—about their own autobiographies, Jerry faced some challenging moments during the promotional campaign for the book. At a reading at Clark University, a group of VFW members assembled outside before the talk and then marched in, taking up most of the front row seats. Within a few minutes of Lembcke’s opening comments, they began shouting comments and questions like “Where were you during the war?” Happily, Lembcke is not a shrinking violet. He didn’t shy away from these encounters but was even animated by them and welcomed the engagement, however fierce, holding his ground and giving as good as he got.
Influential books have a long life, and so The Spitting Image has seen several revivals. The 2006 film Sir! No Sir! featured the book, giving it its biggest post-launch boost. Manohla Dargis, the New York Times critic, favorably reviewed the film, specifically mentioning the book. Seven years after the book’s publication, Sir! No Sir! served as a second launch of sorts for The Spitting Image. More recently, the LA Times editorialized about President Obama’s 2012 Memorial Day speech and built its critique around The Spitting Image, citing the book favorably.
Jerry continues his revisionist ways, most recently publishing a book about Jane Fonda, Hanoi Jane, with the University of Massachusetts Press. He reports “a donnybrook at the Waterbury CT public library in 2010 where a group of about 20 veterans decked-out in “I’m Not Fond ’a’ Fonda” t-shirts picketed outside and then entered the auditorium where they forced an early end to my talk and then intimidated other attendees in the Q&A to the point where a police officer stepped to the front of the room to cool things down.”
I just hit my quarter-century mark in scholarly publishing. Writing this piece, and reliving the experience of publishing these two books, affirms for me yet again how much I love the work we do, how valuable that work is, and how lucky we are to be academic publishers.
Scholarly presses are better known for publishing the results of archival research: documentary editions, works of history, sociological studies–all the amazing scholarship that is supported by memory institutions and records repositories. But as cultural institutions with long and storied histories of their own, presses often light upon some pretty amazing archival finds in their working files. During this Archives Awareness Month, we’ve happened on a couple of stories of such recent finds:
* While working on a massive contracts digitization project, Peter Froehlich, Rights & Permissions Manager of Indiana University Press, came across the press’s original contract with one Jorge Luis Borges for the book Borges at Eighty: Conversations. Borges happened to be visiting Bloomington and signed the contract in person; attached was a photo of the occasion featuring the great writer and the Press’s then-editor, now-director Janet Rabinowitch. The Press is now working with the University Archivist to preserve this wonderful history.
* Penn State University Press is working on a reprint of a seminal work on the poetics of Maurice Sendak, by John Cech, originally published in 1996. In the marketing files for the original edition, PSU Press Marketing & Sales Director Tony Sanfilippo found a letter to Sendak about how the press might use some of his illustrations, marked up in Sendak’s handwriting with a personal note to Tony’s predecessor. Perhaps even more appealing to a university press sales director, Sendak also appended an order for a copy of Penn State’s The Photographic Experience! (The story of how the reprint finally came to fruition is also worth reading, so flip over to Tony’s blog for the full tale.)
There have to be hundreds, even thousands, of stories like this–please share some of your favorites in the comments!
by Meredith Morris-Babb, Director, University Press of Florida
A Books That Matter Essay
The Fosse Style, by Debra McWaters, Foreword by Ben Vereen (University Press of Florida, 2008)
“Dance as though no one was watching.” When the opportunity to acquire books in dance can into my life, I tour jetté-d at the chance. What better way to express one’s love for dance then through books for everyone?
I love the ballet and all of its force of emotion and music, but my heart is drawn to jazz dance, specifically, the dances and choreography of Mr. Bob Fosse, Mr. Jazz Hands himself. Now there was a man who knew how to break from the known, go to the edge with unflinching conviction, guided by a vision and style that remains unique and complete. His signature movements were so subtle yet so powerful in their expression, sensual in their delivery, cynical in their purpose, provocative in their meaning. Most people regard him as the guy behind Cabaret and Chicago, and those musicals do indulge in his singular style. But if you want to see classic Fosse, watch him as the Snake in “The Little Prince.” It’s like Robert Downey, Jr., as Tony Stark—only that man could play that part so well. Fosse simply was the snake. However, I am drawn to other works—The Pajama Game with Gwen Verdon dancing “Steam Heat,” and the movie All that Jazz with the number “Bye-Bye Life.” How many performers get to choreograph their final performance? Genius.
What bothered my editorial sensibilities though, were the Fosse knockoffs; those crass imitators who saw nothing more than hip thrusts and cocked wrists as Fosse-style. Here, in Bob Fosse as much as in the dances of Merce Cunningham and Twyla Tharpe, was the American jazz style. So was this magic to be lost simply because Fosse never had a dance company? Stars have had their careers made with his dance—Shirley MacLaine and Liza Minnelli still make his dances the center of their one-person shows. You know it when you see it, and, if you know it, you know when it is done badly. So the editor in me wanted to codify that style, capture that genie of technique and pedagogy in a Fosse-style bottle.
About four years after making my move to the University Press of Florida, a press with a strong list in music and dance, my chance arrived. The Carr Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Florida had booked the show Fosse!, a retrospective of Fosse’s work created by Ann Reinking, a protégé and romantic partner of Fosse’s, in collaboration with Gwen Verdon, his wife and mother of his daughter. The three-act musical is a marvelous tribute and a wonderful documentary of Fosse’s evolution as a choreographer. Of course, I had contacted Ann Reinking about a book project, but she expressed no interest. I wanted to meet the person who was staging and directing the show—perhaps here was the author for my dream book. It turns out, in a surely serendipitous sign, that the dance director, Deb McWaters, was living in Tampa.
Deb and I hit it off immediately. We both shared the same vision and the need for a collaborative effort to preserve that which we both found precious and special in Fosse’s work. Many issues needed to be fleshed out before we could begin with a proposal, however, much less a contract. Were the dances in copyright? Did Nicole Fosse, his daughter and artistic estate heir, own the trademark on his image, name and use? What was Reinking’s role going to be? Did the estate of Gwen Verdon have any say? Was this going to be a legal nightmare like a book on Michael Jackson or Elvis Presley? Almost, almost…
First, we contacted Nicole Fosse. We received approval to do a book on the dance style of Fosse using the production Fosse! as the basis, but Reinking would have to pre-approve everything. Well, that made sense, and we proceeded with the estate’s permission. But of course, things never go quite that easily. For reasons that are still unclear, Ann Reinking suddenly opposed the idea, stating that if anyone should do this book it should be her, an idea she had already declined once.
I wrote to the Fosse estate lawyers asking if the dance moves (not the choreography) were trademarked or copyrighted in anyway. In other words, was there anything preventing us from showing moves as being in the Fosse STYLE but not recreating any single Fosse dance in toto. The lawyers reluctantly agreed that we could proceed in this manner, but of course that meant no endorsement from either the family or Ann Reinking. This was the dilemma. Do we honor the wishes of the ex-girlfriend, or do we preserve for posterity that which was not going to be done otherwise, for it was evident that this denial of participation had a personal element in it. Deb, it appeared, had fallen out of favor and no longer was of the tribe. But Reinking made it quite clear that she had no intention of creating such a book herself or with Fosse’s daughter. Posterity or publicity: that was the question.
We opted for posterity.
The book required defining Fosse’s funky names for all of the moves and postures, then photographing dancers performing them. This was very challenging as Fosse’s choreography is filled with small, subtle, nuanced, movements. Fosse once described himself as “turned in:” rounded shoulders, knocked-knees, and fallen insteps all lead Fosse to create a closed-up, tightly wound, style with bursts of unexpected openness and freedom. The signature wrist rolls are called the “Soft-Boiled-Egg Roll,” and are to be performed as if holding an egg. Sequential photography to show the Fosse version of the Mosh Pit (“The Clump”) and its variations the “amoeba” and “seaweed,” the hat flip with fingers extended, and so on, were needed. Fosse’s dancers are so highly stylized, yet you can see how easily a dancer can put their own mark on this choreography.
How to capture this? Dance is so visual, all mirrors upon mirrors, that dance technique is quite demanding to capture on film. We opted to use both male and female dancers, two of each, to demonstrate how personal the movements could be. Each movement was done in at least three sequential photos. The book was divided into body parts because that was how Fosse taught his classes. The book closes with a sequence of photographs from the earlier chapters that show how the moves can be put together into a Fosse-style dance. We really wanted to re-create “Bye, Bye, Blackbird,” but the lawyers said “no.” So we created a fake Fosse dance using Fosse-style moves. It worked brilliantly. Deb was able to capture in the narrative how necessary it was for dancers to perform a move perfectly AND improvise within the style, for the dancer to be utterly fearless because the first eight counts belong to them alone.
As we neared the end of both our budget ($1200 for the photography alone!) and our endurance, Ben Vereen called me out of the blue. Yes THAT Ben Vereen. He had heard about the book and offers to write a foreword. Hallelujah, the Fosse angels are here! The foreword is a loving tribute, and Deb is most gracious in her acknowledgements even to Reinking. Once final piece was needed: the essay or prologue that would place Fosse into the dance historical context. Why did this man’s vision matter? What did he contribute? Dance critic and historian Mindy Aloff provided the prologue and we were done.
The book has done reasonably well, but it did not earn back its costs in Year One. It remains a solid if not stellar backlist contributor. But that was not the point. Deb, I, and all the dancers put into the written record, for all the ages, the genius that was Bob Fosse. That is so satisfying and rewarding. Because every time I walk into a big meeting or presentation I always think…
“Give ’em the old Razzle Dazzle…..”