The persistence of books in an age of content: A conversation

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In recognition of West Virginia University’s long-form scholarship celebration, we’re turning the blog’s camera around for an interview with Derek Krissoff, director of West Virginia University Press, in conversation with Ryan Claycomb, interim director of the WVU Humanities Center. 

RC: Derek, at this transitional moment in the publishing industry, how would you characterize the work of university presses?

DK: I would say, without qualification, irony, or diffidence, that this is a golden age for books and for university presses. There are more books, more bookstores, more authors, more communities of readers, more publishers in general, and more university presses specifically than ever before.

Moreover, while presses are experimenting with new business models and new methods of disseminating information, our recent history has been characterized by continuity far more than disruption. At most university presses, eighty to ninety percent of sales continue to come from print, while the upstart open access model, heralded in some quarters as our inevitable future, involves something like one percent of new scholarly titles. The substance of university press books—from Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century to Safiya Umoja Noble’s Algorithms of Oppression—is more adventurous than ever. Their form, however, is essentially unchanged.Read More »

Hope and Contradictions in Appalachia

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WVU student Tristan Dennis warms up before a concert at Washington Lands Elementary School, Marshall County, WV. Credit: Raymond Thompson.

Travis Stimeling is an associate professor of music history at West Virginia University, a series editor and author with WVU Press, and a member of the WVU Humanities Center advisory board. He was instrumental in helping bring Elizabeth Catte, the press’s new editor at large, to WVU for this week’s talk cosponsored with the humanities center and the David C. Hardesty Jr. Festival of Ideas. Here he responds to Catte’s presentation.

Earlier this week, WVU Press’s new editor at large Elizabeth Catte visited Morgantown to participate in WVU’s Festival of Ideas and to serve as a much-needed counterpoint to Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance, who spoke at the university on February 21. Vance’s talk reinforced familiar negative stereotypes about Appalachia at nearly every turn—we’re deliberately ignorant, too lazy to work, and too dependent on government assistance to want to do anything to take ownership over our lives—and blamed “environmental” and “cultural” factors for the region’s problems. On the other hand, Catte—who holds a Ph.D. in public history from Middle Tennessee State University—argued that these negative stereotypes have often been deployed by people who did not always have the best interest of Appalachians at heart, including missionaries, extractive industry leaders, politicians, and even eugenicists.

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Late winter roundup: Reviews, media attention, and author events

In a starred review, Publishers Weekly calls The Book of the Dead an “innovative, gorgeous, and deeply moving” work that “has lost none of its power—and, in fact, has gained resonance.” Catherine Venable Moore’s recent tour in support of the book received attention in Pittsburgh City Paper and the Wheeling Intelligencer. Her panel discussion with West Virginia University faculty was the inaugural event from the WVU Humanities Center.

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Booklist, in another starred review, says Todd Synder’s 12 Rounds in Lo’s Gym “is a very special book, both in its focus on one man who did work that mattered and in its portrayal of a distressed region whose economy is based on a dying industry.” Snyder is touring West Virginia, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, and Missouri in support of the book.Read More »

Author gallery: Meet the experts in our series Teaching and Learning in Higher Education

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Authors in WVU Press’s series Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, edited by James M. Lang, have given successful talks and workshops around the world and are available for a variety of programming on topics ranging from small teaching interventions to universal design to neuroscience. When you bring a WVU Press author to your campus or conference, we’ll work with you to get books in the hands of your audience or participants; we offer bulk discounts for all-conference reads, faculty reading groups, or even just a few books for raffle prizes. Contact sales and marketing manager Abby Freeland for details, and get to know our authors below.

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Series editor James M. Lang is a professor of English and the director of the D’Amour Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption College in Worcester, MA. He is the author of five books, the most recent of which are Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning (Jossey-Bass, 2016), Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty (Harvard, 2013), and On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching (Harvard, 2008). He is also coeditor of Teaching the Literature Survey Course, published by WVU Press. Lang writes a monthly column on teaching and learning for The Chronicle of Higher Education; his work has been appearing in the Chronicle since 1999. His book reviews and public scholarship on higher education have appeared in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, including the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and Time. He has conducted workshops on teaching for faculty at more than a hundred colleges or universities in the US and abroad.  In September of 2016 he received a Fulbright Specialist grant to work with three universities in Colombia on the creation of a MOOC on teaching and learning in STEM education. He has a BA in English and philosophy from the University of Notre Dame, an MA in English from St. Louis University, and a Ph.D. in English from Northwestern University.Read More »

“I hope readers will see it as a corrective to narratives that blame those in the region for their troubles”: Todd Snyder on his new book, and two young boxers who made it

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Long before I was a first-generation college student or professor of rhetoric and composition, I was the son of a full-time West Virginia coal miner and part-time boxing coach, Mike “Lo” Snyder. For a short period of time, my father was one of the most respected boxing trainers in the state. For just over 40 years, he was a coal miner. I write about both sides of my father’s masculine ethos in my book 12 Rounds in Lo’s Gym: Boxing and Manhood in Appalachia, which will be published March 1 by WVU Press. It was in my hometown of Cowen, West Virginia, that my perspectives on Appalachian life were shaped by the beauty and brutality of life in coal country – experiences that continue to inform my research and writing on Appalachian culture.

12 Rounds in Lo’s Gym is about my father’s experiences but also – through stories of young fighters from West Virginia – about individual and community strength in the face of globalism’s headwinds. I hope readers will see it as a corrective to narratives that blame those in the region for their troubles.Read More »

Muriel Rukeyser’s memory, or, the ends of poetry

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Johanna Winant and Bradley Wilson at the WVU Press–WVU Humanities Center launch for The Book of the Dead.

On February 1, the WVU Humanities Center cohosted an evening to help launch WVU Press’s lovely new edition of Muriel Rukeyser’s The Book of the Dead, with a powerful introduction by West Virginia writer Catherine Venable Moore. The evening featured an interdisciplinary panel to talk about the poems, the history, and the global context of the poems and the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel disaster that the poems remembered. While the centerpiece of the evening was Moore’s reading from her essay of the same name, the panel also included historical context from Hal Gorby (History), who presented moving primary documents from those who advocated on behalf of the Hawk’s Nest workers. Bradley Wilson (Geography) put the disaster into Union Carbide’s global history of environmental disasters, noting that the Gauley Bridge Committee of advocates may have been among the first environmental justice activists in the US. Johanna Winant (English) gave the talk presented below, which asks, “What are the ends of a cycle of poems that calls itself a ‘Book of the Dead’? And indeed, what are the ends of poetry?”

This post is the first of many that we hope will be a long and fruitful exchange of ideas between the Humanities Center and WVU Press in this space. Like the rich evening of discussion that first presented this book to the public and prompted Winant’s essay, this post is an apt beginning to an intellectually exciting partnership.—Ryan ClaycombRead More »

A sales rep walks into an independent bookstore


Booktimist has showcased perspectives from authors and editors, but there are many other professionals involved in making and disseminating books. Today we hear from Bob Barnett, the regional sales manager for the University of Texas Press. He sells titles to bookstores in the southern United States for a number of university presses, including WVU.

During the annual winter meeting of publishers and booksellers, American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher referred to the “indie resurgence.” New independent bookstores are opening (40 last year) and sales have improved, year to year, for the past five years. According to a new study associated with the Harvard Business School, the resurgence of indie bookselling has been influenced by three factors – community, curation, and convening. On a recent trip to Florida, I had the chance to visit Copperfish Books for the first time. Based on my visit, I think it illustrates the three C’s of indie bookstore success.Read More »