Hiking Cascadilla Gorge with Ange

A few weeks ago, I received an email about the Cornell Library and Press Service and Recognition Awards. This is the first time we’ve participated in an official program like this.

A number of Cornell University Press staff nominated their colleagues. It was exciting to see staff appreciating each other in an open forum.

As we zero in on our second straight year of break-even performance, I nominate our entire staff. Their willingness to embrace change and innovation has produced outstanding results.

Everyone in Sage House has contributed to the Press’s success.

Recent news suggests that university administrations have little idea or appreciation of what this entails day in and day out—the “mission” of advancing high-quality, peer-reviewed knowledge on a global scale and the “margin” activity of balancing the bottom line.

This is what we’ve done here and will continue to do. I’ve introduced a lot of change to staff in four years—and one person stands out.

Ange Romeo-Hall, our director of manuscript editing helped me understand the meaning of excellence from the first day I appeared in 2015. It was Ange who educated me to the significance of publishing a “Cornell book.”

“We judiciously acquire, carefully edit, design well and market widely. We put everything we have into it and we are proud.”

Cornell is the “rugged, no-frills, ivy” where working hard is a trait that students, faculty and staff share.

Our one-on-one “various” conversations often took place during hikes into Cascadilla Gorge. It’s straight uphill into the waterfall with a set of steps at the end which scale the face of the rock into Collegetown. The grade is steep but the reward is an ice coffee at Starbucks.

University press publishing bears some resemblance to the last sentence.

We talked about re-structuring the editing and production department, her career aspirations and her interest in poetry writing. We shared similar upbringings by single mothers and had to grow up fast. We discovered as young people that we both were taken (the result of someone’s poor judgement) to see the original “Walking Tall,” our first “R” movie with Joe Don Baker and lost sleep over it.

We conceived a chapbook for President Beth Garret’s inauguration that included the president’s speech and two poems by Alice Fulton who teaches in the English department.

Ange fixed an incorrect reference for the president and edited Fulton’s line breaks.

One day, she told me about a classification system she was working on to expand the way we evaluated manuscripts. Our scoring system for each project at the proposal stage involved the level of edit needed. She wanted to look at the different types of books we published and the investments we were making in every department.

She then analyzed the title mix from previous seasons and asked a question.

“What is the optimum title mix that will allow us to fulfill our mission to the academy and break even?”

As part of the answer, she conceived the framework for the Cornell Strategies or Rainbow Strategies as we sometimes call them – six categories of Cornell books based on the color spectrum. From “violet” monographs by first time authors to “red” trade titles with high sales potential, this program has enabled us to be honest about a project’s potential audience from the outset and to use a common language.

Ange is an excellent manager who has built an outstanding team. She is also one of the finest editors in the industry and highly respected.

“If there is one person I dread negotiating with, it’s Ange,” Westchester’s Bill Foley once told me.

Our bestselling author Suzanne Gordon and former Cornell President Frank H.T. Rhodes request her to edit their books. She is steady and firm and she laid the foundation for us to increase our title count by 50 books per year. She fiercely guards quality.

Over the next couple of months during my transition to Duke, I will be looking for Ange Romeo-Hall’s new collection of poems, Grand Ballroom Reception published by Morningstar Press in Denmark. Here is what she writes about her work.

“For me the reading life is the life of reading not only finished published work but also work in progress, printouts of first drafts, pages from notebooks shared at the writer’s group or the open mic. The poem is everything it was made of before it was conceived and every draft it took to bring it to its settled place. I am interested in all of it.”

I am too.

All of this is bittersweet as my next university press journey awaits.  I will miss working with Ange–but I can’t wait to see what she does next.


 Dean J. Smith is the Director at Cornell University Press.

Hiking Cascadilla Gorge with Ange