One Book at a Time

Gangs of Russia author Svetlana Stephenson wanted to become a sociologist after she read a collection of essays entitled American Sociology given to her by her father at the age of fifteen.

Growing up in Russia, she couldn’t obtain a degree in sociology from Moscow State University without having first worked in an industrial plant or for the party. So she studied history and later obtained a doctorate in sociology from the Russian Academy of Sciences.

“I consider myself a historical sociologist,” she said. “This was the time of Gorbachev. I got a job at the Russian center for public opinion and I was lucky to have it.”

Svetlana Stephenson at No. 11 Cadogan Gardens, March 2017

She contacted CUP executive editor Roger Haydon with a proposal about publishing a book on Russian gangs in the 1990s that arose from interviews with homeless youth who joined criminal gangs. She received a positive response but she needed to complete the manuscript.

“I wanted to be published by Cornell University Press. Other publishers would have taken my proposal but I wanted to work with Roger. He was a joy to work with.”

One book changed her life.

I had a similar experience. I took a creative writing class in my junior year at the University of Virginia with poet Richard Jones. He introduced us to poets like James Tate, Sharon Olds and Tomas Transtromer. One evening he brought in the book They Feed They Lion, by Philip Levine and read the title poem.

After that class, I knew I wanted to be a poet. Levine had worked nights in an auto factory at the age of fourteen and wrote poetry.

Inspired by Jones, Sylvia Plath, Charles Wright and Paul Muldoon, I published a collection of poems in 2000 entitled American Boy. It took me fifteen years to publish it.

A few weeks ago, my mother passed away in Tuscany.

She was also a poet who purchased more than one-hundred copies of my book. As a family law attorney, she gave the book to clients with children facing divorce. The first five or six poems deal with being from a broken family. My mother fought hard for the children of divorce.

This factored into my decision to open American Boy up to the world on the Internet Archive.

Open access is important for the next generation of scholars and writers. We now have 150 OA titles on our platform, Cornell Open, that are accessed in 150 countries. We had an idea four years ago to reach 150 for the 150th anniversary of Cornell University Press.

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In January, we published an Open Access catalog in conjunction with the Modern Language Association meeting. We publicized the catalog on social media and were surprised by the results. In four days, we recorded 80,000 engagements, 850 shares and 7,000 eBook downloads.

On March 14, Cornell’s Giving Day, we are raising funds to open one of our books. Please join us in bringing scholarship to the world.

We can change the world one book at a time. Help us inspire scholars and writers of the future.


Dean Smith is Director of Cornell University Press. He’s a Baltimore boy dreaming of big things for the Orioles this year, if only because that means winter in Ithaca might finally be over!

One Book at a Time