The Ohio State University Press
KS: I live in northeast Ohio, and a few months ago I attended a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Kent State University Press. The Wick Poetry Center, at Kent State, had just opened their beautiful historic house and center, with a gorgeous poetry park graced with a large bronze sculpture and poetry on banners tucked around the landscaped greenery and meditative spaces. The press, itself, was jubilant and the gala well attended.
In attendance were friends and acquaintances of mine from the University of Akron Press that, in that moment, had fallen to budget cuts. It would receive a national groundswell of support and the president would reverse his position and reinstate the press, although as I write this, the exact terms of the near future are unclear.
I want to begin with this question of politico-economics, because as a press in Ohio, you will have also experienced these simultaneous events viscerally, and I also want to give you a chance to preach to the choir and talk about how, in this world of mega publishers and mega online book outlets, why we need university presses.
KER: It’s an important question, so I’m glad you asked. University presses have a mission: to disseminate important scholarly work. And many university presses have long recognized that charge to dissemination as not just applying to scholarly work, but to regional and literary work as well.
We need university presses because they are willing to publish artistic, daring, and innovative literary titles—in nonfiction, fiction, and poetry—that push boundaries and seek to expand in content, form, and style the field of literature. And while there are seemingly limitless publishing venues for literature, truly innovative work—whether in format, content, or style—tends to be ignored by for-profit trade houses who are concerned with sales numbers as a bottom line. University presses can take risks on unknown authors, books that may not have mass market appeal, books which will incite debate and critique.
We want to expand the field of literature and promote new thought. It’s right there in our mission. Being not-for-profit and mission based helps us to keep the priority on the artistic medium, on providing a platform for new writing and new thought. University presses fill a void by publishing the important, cutting edge work that for-profit publishers eschew. And university presses can act as small, boutique trade houses developing thoughtful publication lists in cultivated areas, becoming a place where people know to look for high quality literature. So as an editor, I’m not looking to change manuscripts to fit a certain mold or expectation, again, because I’m not interested in satisfying a particular established audience. For us, at a university press, it’s about collaboration with authors and the individual and unique merits of books, and then the quality and care we bring to the table in terms of editorial, production, and marketing.
And, of course, we serve the same purpose when it comes to publishing academic scholarship. For us, it’s about the contribution the scholarship makes to the field, the new conversation it opens, and the debate it incites, even if it’s for small academic subfields and we know sales might be limited. We care about more than just the numbers. And we bring to the table the scholarly vetting process and the board review which provides a solid, scholarly scaffolding that non-university presses simply can’t provide.
KS: Tell us about your newest poetry collection.
Our newest poetry collection is Talvikki Ansel’s Somewhere in Space, the 2014 Ohio State University Press/The Journal Award in Poetry winner which we released in December. It’s a beautiful book about our tenuous connections to the world around us. At its core, it is an exploration of how we are situated within the world around us, within the mingling of made and natural, wild and tamed. Ansel points readers toward the otherwise overlooked bits of nature, encouraging engagement and connection with emotional moments. The effect is that readers can recognize themselves anew in the natural world, thanks to Ansel’s keen eye. The book is clever and sumptuous, a stunning addition to the series.
My favorite poem in the collection is “Mycorrhizae.” I think it’s a beautiful example of the kind of dissection of the infinitesimal that she performs throughout the collection. And I find the last two lines even more sharp every time I read them.
When you dig up a tree,
keep some soil around the roots,
wrap the taproot, the calm anchor, reach
horizontal through duff and toad dung,
damp mould. Things move so
I didn’t even notice.
A tiger’s ear flares in shade.
Was that the water molecule’s
elemental split? The sleight of hand
described on page twenty? No, not exactly,
you prop a shingle barrier up
to shelter a wind-torn cabbage sprout.
Strawberries edge the bed, an upside down
pot keeps rain from the post hole,
another adage proved: plant
at the new moon,
a stitch in time saves nine,
if you must leave, don’t
go bare, take some dirt with you.
KS: Yes; the last lines shape the poem into a startling directive. Tell us more about The Journal Award.
KER: OSUP has been publishing the prize winner of The Journal Award in poetry since 1986. It’s a longstanding collaboration with the The Journal and the OSU English department that we’re proud to be a part of. And it has allowed us to remain involved in publishing creative writing through the years, even though—until now—literary prose and poetry had not been a significant portion of our publishing program and editorial mission. It’s a great partnership that allows the press to work not just with talented writers, but the students and faculty on campus who work diligently to select the winning manuscript.
Each year, manuscripts by emerging and established poets are screened by volunteer readers associated with The Journal and OSU. Associate Poetry Editor Pablo Tanguay selects semi-finalists and Kathy Fagan, Poetry Editor, selects one full-length manuscript of poetry for publication by OSUP. This year the final selection was made by guest editor Marcus Jackson, the author of the chapbook Rundown (Aureole Press) and Neighborhood Register (Cavan Kerry Press). In addition to publication, the winning author receives the Charles B. Wheeler prize of $2500. Over the years, the prize has been won by such poets as Judith Hall, Lia Purpura, Mark Svenvold, Edward Haworth Hoeppner, and Kary Wayson, to name a few.
This year’s winner, Rosalie Moffett’s June in Eden, marks the 30th book in the series and will be published in spring 2017. June in Eden is melodic and clear, centering on loss, loneliness, and the inscrutabilities of the world around. Moffett’s voice is one of veracity and authenticity. Her poems have appeared in such literary magazines as Tin House, The Believer, FIELD, Prairie Schooner, Cincinnati Review, AGNI, and Ploughshares, among others.
KS: How many submissions do you receive each year? Also, reading fees seem to be a hot topic in the writing community, so I wondered if you could speak to what your fees are used for.
KER: The submissions are received by The Journal and they handle the entire selection process. The press enters the process once the winner has been chosen. The series receives around 600 submissions each year. In this case, it’s more of a handling fee because the readers volunteer their time. The fee covers the costs for using Submittable to process the submissions, it makes up the bulk of the prize money, and the remainder goes to production and marketing for the book. It allows us to price the book reasonably and to publicize the book effectively, including attending exhibits like AWP to offer author book signings and promote the book to writers, writing programs, and general readers alike.
KS: Having read so many manuscripts, what do you want submitting poets to know?
KER: I’d encourage poets to take the time to prepare and polish their materials as best they can so that they have the best shot of catching the attention of a reader or editor. A carefully honed cover letter that describes the project makes such an impact on an editor. I encourage writers to think hard about their pitch and how they present their book to editors; what makes their work different, new, or important. It’s concerning if authors can’t explain the heart of their own project or why anyone would want to read it. The careful attention and time spent crafting the perfect cover letter is well worth it because it’s the first thing and editor sees and it sets the tone. And I always recommend that writers do their research; know who they’re submitting to and what kind of work they publish, when they accept submissions, and in what form. Don’t send hard copies if they only accept electronic, or send materials outside of their stated reading period, or send projects that are clearly outside of what they publish. Better to spend more time researching and send out fewer manuscripts than to send to places that won’t even consider the manuscript because they aren’t currently reading or they don’t publish that type of work. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Email an editor and ask what they’re looking for and if they’re taking submissions. Perfect your three-sentence pitch and email editors if you want to know if they’d consider your work. And most importantly: don’t give up. It’s about getting your manuscript into the right hands at the right time and that might take some persistence.
 (much as our new literary trade book imprint, Mad River Books, plans to highlight).
Kristen Elias Rowley completed her graduate work in literature at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln. She is Editor-in-Chief at The Ohio State University Press where she acquires nonfiction, fiction, and poetry for OSUP’s new literary trade imprint Mad River Books, as well as critical race and ethnic studies and gender and sexuality studies. She previously acquired the literary trade list at University of Nebraska Press, acquiring such books as Barry Jean Borich’s Body Geographic, a 2014 LAMBDA Literary Award finalist; Ellen Cassedy’s We Are Here, winner of the 2013 Grub Street Prize in Non-Fiction; Joy Castro’s Island of Bones, which received the International Latino Book Awards’s first place in the Most Inspirational Nonfiction Book in English category, and Nancy Miller’s What They Saved, winner of the 2012 Jewish Journal Book Prize. She has published such authors as Lee Martin, Sue Williams Silverman, Patrick Madden, Mary Clearman Blew, Dan O’Brien, Ilan Stavans, David Lazar, Jared Carter, R.A. Villanueva, and Susan Blackwell Ramsey.