Becoming by Michelle Obama (or why books matter to me)

My sister kindly gave me Becoming by Michelle Obama as a Christmas present, and I finished reading it on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. Unsurprisingly, it really got me thinking…

Why do books matter?

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Continue reading “Becoming by Michelle Obama (or why books matter to me)”

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Becoming by Michelle Obama (or why books matter to me)

Behind-the-scenes with an Acquiring Editor at the 2019 American Historical Association Conference

a-ha
Wrong A-HA?

This year’s meeting was in Chicago, but we were spared the worst of the winds (and denied the pleasures of daylight) in the Book Exhibit, located in the subterranean level of the Hilton Hotel. Had I been wiser about creating some personal time, I’d have taken a break to walk the fabulous waterfront, envy of North American cities everywhere; to visit local museums; to practice the fine art of being a flanneur for an afternoon.

That said, there were memorable moments of site-seeing. An author took me to the incredible landmark deli, Manny’s, for breakfast, where we shared smoked meat (which, at that hour of the morning, had an effect akin to caffeine) and talked about modern Japanese history. Another colleague, Eric Zuelow, editor of our newly launched series, The Histories & Cultures of Tourism, took me for dinner at a world-class Spanish tapas bar, Café Iberico, where we enjoyed one marvelous garlicky dish after another. Between bites, we discussed upcoming author meetings and how best to position Cornell University Press, and our series, with respect to their work.

I cemented existing author relations in the most enjoyable way. Now that the anxieties of peer review were a distant memory, the back-and-forth of committee approvals and revisions were no more, and actual publication dates were assigned for books, we could partake in civilized drinks in a too-loud hotel lobby to reminisce about the process and strategize about promotion, or to discuss future projects. One of my authors, Jay Geller, did a “Live at the Event” podcast with our Marketing and Sales Director Martyn Beeny, about his forthcoming book, The Scholems, and then we had a Mexican dinner, where I found out about his next research question. (I was so impressed that he truly had just the question, not even the suggestion of an answer.)  At moments like these, this editor’s saturated mind found room she did not even know existed.

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I had hourly meetings with prospective authors. Conversations encompassed everything from the essentials of thesis revision, to the way in the evaluation process works, to the key features distinguishing Cornell University Press as a publisher. Every now and then, I would excuse myself from the meeting to sell books – highly rewarding to get the fruits of our collective labor into customers’ hands – but I heard about many fascinating potential manuscripts.

I also took time to be, à la Jonathan Lethem, a feral booth detective (getting a sense of the shape of other publishers’ current lists, seeing books I would love to have acquired, taking note of interesting cover designs, discovering newly launched book series), and to speak to those colleagues at other presses. We are living in interesting times, as the old expression goes, and it’s informative to get a sense of how others are navigating them.

I got back to the office and committed to kale shakes, low carbs, and a healthy dose of fiction. I am now renewed for the next conference!

Emily Andrew is a senior editor, acquiring manuscripts in the fields of European History, military history, Asian history, and tourism studies. Next time in Chicago, she plans to visit The Green Mill, a staple of the city’s live jazz scene, which has been slinging drinks since before Prohibition.

 

 

Behind-the-scenes with an Acquiring Editor at the 2019 American Historical Association Conference

I Get Most of the Vaccines My Doctor Recommends

[We’re starting a new short series of blog posts today that we’re calling, “Acquiring a Point of View.” Each post is written by one of our acquiring editors and is inspired, in some way or other, by one (or more) of the books they signed that’s coming out between March and August this year.]

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I get most of the vaccines my doctors recommend. Long ago I approved vaccines for my child without a second thought. I shudder at the media reports about disease outbreaks exacerbated by people who refuse to vaccinate themselves or their children. And yet. I understand the whole controversy differently now that I have read Bernice Hausman’s forthcoming book Anti/Vax, which, as the subtitle explains, reframes the vaccination controversy.

Continue reading “I Get Most of the Vaccines My Doctor Recommends”

I Get Most of the Vaccines My Doctor Recommends

We Were the First

 

We were the first. Not many get to say that. Well, we do! CUP is 150 years old. So we were around before all the other university presses.

From a marketing perspective this should be a dream. Easy hook, lots of promotion, and so on. But do readers even care? Do they know or want to know that we’ve been doing this publishing thing since 1869? Do authors? What about vendors and other stakeholders? Somehow, I struggle to believe Amazon is going to see we’re 150 years old and immediately order thousands more books!

Regardless, over the past year or so, the marketing team has been brainstorming and planning how to make people take notice of the fact that CUP is the first university press to the sesquicentennial mark. Colleagues from other departments have joined in and we’ve enlisted help from a variety of people on campus. We’ve got the main stuff covered: parties, events, logos, etc. We’ll use those things to let influencers on campus and in the University Press world know about the amazing things we’re doing. But what about the outsiders? Those who might not care so much? Time to get creative. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tell people our story and, perhaps most importantly sell some more books.

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Being 150 years old is also an excuse to experiment, to push out some wild and wacky marketing campaigns that perhaps only tangentially use the 150th as their foundation. Videos, podcasts, blogs—content, in other words—will revolve around the 150th but won’t be consumed by it. This catalogue is full of 150th stuff but it’s not the main purpose of the catalogue, obviously! Our new website launched just in time for the 150th and we’ll use the confluence of these two things to move boldly into a content-marketing strategy more suited to the next 150 years (Weeks? Hours?) rather than what’s been done by book publishers for the past 150.

So, we’re 150! Yay, us. And we’re telling you all about it. Lucky you. But, really, from the marketing side of things, this milestone anniversary is all about being the first again. First to try new things. First to change. First to experiment. First to tear it all up and start again. And again. And again. We’re going to the be first to try a whole bunch of crazy things in scholarly book marketing and we hope you enjoy at least one or two of them.

Martyn Beeny is Marketing and Sales Director. He likes coming first; it’s a winning thing. This post was first published in the Spring/Summer 2019 Cornell University Press Catalog.

We Were the First

Sharing the News about New York History

Signed contracts, a press release, a day and time for an announcement all of the pieces were in place to go public with the news. Cornell University Press was about to tell the world that we would work with the New York State Museum to publish the journal New York History. It was big news. It was exciting. I also had no idea how people would react.

New York History, the journal of record for the history of the Empire State, has been around for a century.

Begun as The Quarterly Journal of the New York State Historical Association in 1919, it has been the key publication for historical research about the state. New York History has been the venue where great essays from stellar scholars have appeared across the decades; careers have been launched and critical debates have been engaged in its pages. Accordingly, many people academic historians, public historians, and engaged lay people alike cherish the journal.

It is, in every sense of the term, an institution.

That attachment is a good thing. What would those same people say, however, when they heard of changes to their beloved journal? Would they want everything to stay the same or would they ask to turn back the editorial clock to 1985? I wondered about possible reactions all last Thursday, as I worked the 2018 installment of the Researching New York Conference on the uptown campus of the University of Albany, and anticipated the announcement I would make at the New York State Museum that evening.

Amidst my fretting, my colleagues in this endeavor, State Historian Devin Lander and Chief Curator of History Jennifer Lemak, supported me. It was all going to be well received they said. And I believed them, sort of. A couple of historian friends with whom I quietly shared the news in advance were similarly positive, and I started to think that modest enthusiasm, and not a welter of critical questions, would be the response to the news.

So when I was invited by Susan McCormick, Lecturer in History and Documentary Studies at the University at Albany, to say a few words to the crowd gathered in the Adirondack Hall, I was only a little nervous.

I told the group that the Fenimore Art Museum had passed on the stewardship of New York History to Cornell University Press, and that we would be working with Devin, Jennifer, and staff at the New York State Museum to produce the journal. Jennifer described how the journal would now actively solicit essays on a variety of topics, including public history and museum studies, and how the editorial program would aim to unify the diverse communities of historians, teachers, curators, and archivists engaged with the history of the state. Finally, Devin spoke about details of the editorial work, how the journal would soon appear semi-annually, and that New York History would return to print publication (in addition to its digital dissemination).

There was applause. There were congratulations. My trepidation was wholly unfounded.

The gathering of 50 or so people appreciated the news and were excited about what was to come; by all appearances, they were not just accepting changes in the journal but welcoming them. And that positive response spilled over to email and Twitter as the word got out to the wider historical community in New York State and beyond. I was elated and, yes, relieved.

New York History is in for some change and the community of interested scholars, educators, curators, archivists, and readers is ready for it. As the journal celebrates its centennial in 2019, there is no better time to make this change—appreciating the excellence of the first century and anticipating the next century of publication.

There will be revisions to the journal, and, as the publication develops, I encourage the community to remain interested, appreciative, and engaged.

Now the hard but satisfying work of stewardship and editing begins. I encourage the community interested in the history of New York State to keep cheering us on and, most importantly, working with us in the months and years to come.

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Useful information:

 


 

About the writer of this blog post: Michael J. McGandy is Senior Editor and Director of the Three Hills imprint at Cornell University Press.

 

Sharing the News about New York History

Gerri Jones, Professor Cleese, and Me

Last summer, Gerri Jones called to tell me that Cornell Professor at Large John Cleese would be coming to Ithaca in September for a week. She told me that she had scheduled me for a public talk with Cleese on September 11th at Bailey Hall that would become the last chapter of the book we were working on together.

Since joining this amazing Press in 2015, moments like this seemed to occur with some regularity. I attended a poetry workshop at Olin Library café with a former leader of the SDS at Cornell, a Nobel Laureate and an A.R. Ammons biographer. Today, I am surrounded by correspondence rejecting Vladimir Nabokov’s novel in verse and a ledger that holds the 1939 pencil-written royalty entries for the publication of The Nature of the Chemical Bond. I am also keenly aware at times of Cornell founder Henry Sage and his wife Susan who initially occupied the mansion where I work. Gerri Jones fit right in as part of an emerging entourage.

A small family of deer mingled outside my window looking in my direction as if waiting for an answer. Surely someone else would want the opportunity to have this conversation. Gerri confirmed that she had cleared it with the Provost’s office, and that the Provost would be introducing us both. I still didn’t believe it was going to happen.

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More than one year after that call and the event that formed the final chapter of Professor at Large: The Cornell Years, Gerri Jones passed away on August 10th, 2018. She was 68. She died from an infection in the hospital while being treated for leukemia.

This mystical and extraordinary woman who first alighted upon the second-floor landing of the Sage House during a folk concert never got to see her book get published. It was Gerri who brought one of the world’s most impressive and hilarious minds to Cornell over a span of seventeen years.

“Start thinking about a plan for the conversation,” she instructed me.

 

As it always was with Gerri, I knew what she meant. Avoid the cliched version of the Professor. Don’t spend a lot of time on Python—which I already knew anyway. If my words didn’t energize Gerri—she became bored and disinterested. She’d make a face. You had to elevate your game to be on the field with her. Those words reverberated in the weeks after the call. I dove into the Cleese canon of books, movies, and television shows. His mind came first. I read the manuscript of lectures and talks over and over.

While studying the Minister of Silly Walks, I recalled Gerri’s return to Sage House after the folk concert wearing knee-length boots and John Lennon shades. She carried a white shopping bag of Cleese talks and lectures on CDs. She told us about the never before published lecture entitled “The Sermon at Sage Chapel” that included a passage about “The Psychopaths for Christ.”

I received word of her passing and attended her funeral. She was supposed to be in remission now.

Through her friends, I came to discover that this whole episode was another glorious chapter in the amazing life of Gerri Jones. She could tilt the universe in any direction. She brought the Dalai Lama to Ithaca twice as the house mother to the Tibetan monks. She carried Kurt Cobain’s ashes back to Courtney Love after the monks had prepared them. She had even used one set as a door stop. She broke Reagan’s blockade of Nicaragua. She was the pride of Central Islip High on Long Island. To everyone there, she was simply “Ger.”

She loved Mardi Gras, dogs and Professor Cleese fiercely. They trusted each other and their chemistry was telepathic. She engineered a schedule that both challenged and protected him and left him with enough space to be creative. “I can’t read him,” he told Gerri during our second meeting after trying to discern the meaning of my facial expression. I can tell you that in that moment I felt absolute joy. My preparation for the talk had been rigorous and thorough. Professor Cleese had been talking about the brain and I leaned back in my chair and smiled. Yes, I had a little secret. I had known exactly what he was going to say before the words came out but I didn’t want to tell him that in the aftermath. Getting to know John Cleese is like learning how to play guitar. The chord structures are accessible, but they merely serve as a launch pad into an endless galaxy of improvisation.

I was ready for the public conversation and had enough confidence in his presence to suggest how the show was going to begin. After nearly falling off the chair with laughter, he agreed. Until now, Gerri was the only one I told this to in the hallway after we left Cleese that day. She and I have other secrets related to the book. Those we will keep. She swore me to it.

“We make a good team, don’t we?” She pinched my arm.

GERRI
Photo courtesy of Slade Kennedy.

 

About the author of this blog post: Dean Smith is the Director of Cornell University Press.

Gerri Jones, Professor Cleese, and Me

Won’t you celebrate with me? 31 ways to celebrate National Poetry Month

It’s National Poetry Month and the Academy of American Poets have come up with 30 different ways to celebrate it. The ideas are creative and include subscribing to a daily digital poetry series featuring more than 200 previously unpublished poems, chalking a poem on a sidewalk or memorizing one, and listening to Mark Doty’s talk, “Tide of Voices: Why Poetry Matters Now.” NPR has claimed that “you can bet we’re not letting April slip by without a nod to the art of the verse,” inviting listeners to submit a 140-character poem on Twitter together with the hashtag #NPRpoetry, and at Cornell University Press, we feel the same.

Our 1869 podcast interviewing author Susan Eisenberg on her latest book, Stanley’s Girl, a collection of touching poems about gender inclusion, sexual violence and women in the workplace, has inspired us to add one more idea to the list. And for that purpose, we have invited two women at the Press to contribute their own poetic visions of the world. The result is insightful and exciting, and together with our selection of fine poetry books, they make us part of what has become the largest poetry celebration in the world:

 

Baltimore, You Are a Pocket Full of Copper Nails

by Cheryl Quimba

A lot of the time I want to push people

into giant manholes then fly down

to save them, introduce myself as their

long-lost sister who has finally sold everything

to come home. They would be confused but then

so happy for having found something they didn’t know

was lost, and it would feel like a piano playing

beams of colored light against the wall.

In your poems I’m always sad and saying

sad things but in real life I say I am the mountain

sitting on this park bench, so small a microscope needs

binoculars to find me. Baltimore is filled with dirty bathrooms

but no one cares because fun is happening.

Where I live the places where

people die are marked with stuffed animals tied

to lamp posts. There is a store called Hair Strategies

and little kids push strollers filled with

cans of soda up and down the medians.

I like to cross the street like

I’m walking through a casino.

The bells are ringing and ringing

and ringing goodbye.

Quimba, Cheryl. (2015). Nobody Dancing. Publishing Genius Press

 

Meticulous Landscaping

by Ana Carpenter

Here in the passenger side lie Wendy’s bags crumpled by boots

The gentle pungent mulch compacts beneath each nail

Picking at the leather seats to stroke the tattered brail

And decode Dad’s lesson of the day like stringed stray roots:

The ones you mulched over the mornings of summer through July.

Disembarking the diesel F450 with silver smokestacks,

You’re mapping on your hands the clay-dried, thorn-bruised cracks

Wiping the Wendy’s grease on your sister’s off-brand “Nike” slacks

Step out into the cicada-thick air where, like Wendy’s, you fry.

You let the grass prick your bare calves and adjust in the sticky bed

Wiping soil across your forehead, swatting away flying things

And quietly recoiling from the grubs unearthed as dad sings,

Something he beat-boxed under his breath about marriage and rings-

Wash your hands in the cold hose-water until they turn Wendy-hair red.

 

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Order Stanley’s Girl here

 

Other suggested media for our readers on #NationalPoetryMonth:

 

Cheryl Quimba is the Publicity Manager at CUP. She eats, sleeps, and breathes books (but loves a good movie or music debate any day). Follow her on Twitter @ cheryl_quimba.

Ana Carpenter is a member of the Cornell University Class of 2019 and Student Publishing Associate at Cornell University Press. In her free time she likes to sing, salsa, be in the company of dogs of all shapes and sizes, and collect mugs to home-brew cheap coffee.

 

Won’t you celebrate with me? 31 ways to celebrate National Poetry Month