NA: I read on the website that the University of Georgia is a well-established press that has been around since 1938. It publishes 60 to 70 books a year? How many of them are poetry books?
LB: Depending on the year, we publish between 3 and 5 poetry books.
NA: How does one get a poetry book accepted by the University of Georgia Press? Do you have an open reading period? Contests?
LB: We publish the winning collections in two contests, one of five annual National Poetry Series winners and, every third year, the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. We also occasionally publish stand-alone collections by poets with whom we have an existing relationship or whose work fits our larger list, e.g. Kyle Dargan, Margaret Walker, Clarence Major, Frank X. Walker, and Coleman Barks. We are getting ready to announce the Georgia Poetry Prize, a new national open competition that will be judged by poets on faculty at the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Georgia State University, with publication by the Press. The submission period for the Georgia Poetry Prize is October 1 - November 30. We'll announce the winner, chosen this first year by Tom Lux, in early 2016 and publish the inaugural winning volume in Fall 2016. What’s great about this prize is that the winning poet will also do three readings, two in Atlanta and one in Athens, as part of the award. We are part of a land-grant university, so enriching the lives of the citizens of the state (including students in the University System of Georgia) is part of our mission.
NA: How did you come to work in book publishing?
LB: I am living proof that a humanities degree and an internship will get you everywhere. During graduate school in the late 1980s I stumbled into an internship at the Southern Illinois University Press, which led to my first publishing job at Penn State University Press in 1991. After six years at Penn State, I returned to SIU Press where I worked with Jon Tribble and Allison Joseph to launch the Crab Orchard Poetry Series. In 2000, I headed to the Twin Cities for its rich publishing scene, where I worked for both a nonprofit educational publisher and the Minnesota Historical Society Press. After I had my daughter, I returned to Illinois and spent 6 years at the University of Illinois Press. In 2012 I became director at Georgia and could not have imagined a better professional and personal home.
NA: What are your areas of interest? What kinds of books do you admire, look for, hope to publish?
LB: Most of my responsibilities now involve administration and fundraising (both of which I enjoy); our acquisitions program is in the capable hands of our editorial team. I do acquire much of our writing list, including the new Crux literary nonfiction series edited by John Griswold, and also women’s history and general trade titles that catch my eye and interest. Assistant Editor Beth Snead works with our poetry list and the Flannery O’Connor Award. Georgia has a reputation for publishing accessible books across the humanities, including strong lists in history, food studies, and the environment. Regardless of subject, we want to publish books that speak beyond the academy to a broader audience. Our poetry list achieves that aim splendidly.
NA: To what extent is the press a Georgia press? A southern press?
LB: The Press’s publishing program reflects the interest of the university in engagement with the world, which in turn enriches the campus and the region. While we have inarguably old and deep strengths in publishing on southern topics, we are interrogating these areas in interesting, more globally minded ways. Our poetry, short fiction, and CNF lists are not bound by region. Our history and literature lists increasingly look farther south, to the rich intricacies and transnational questions of the Caribbean and Atlantic World; our environmental studies list marries the natural world with a range of critical inquiries; our foodways list is interested in questions of the South as diasporic home to multiple cultures; and our series Studies in Security and International Affairs; Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation; and Children, Youth, and War—and a new series on animal studies—are certainly global in every respect.
NA: The two poets and writers I know well who are published by the University of Georgia Press are Sydney Lea and John Lane. Both are essayists as well. Both have a profound love of the environment and could be described as naturalists and as narrative poets. I know you publish many kinds of poets and writers, but do these two men in any way exemplify what the University of Georgia Press likes to see in an author?
LB: I don’t know Sydney Lea’s work as well as John Lane’s; we’re working with John on Coyote Settles the South, a new project about coyotes turning up in urban areas like Atlanta. John is a gem of a writer, and we’re happy to have an ongoing relationship with him. Other writers on our list such as Natasha Trethewey, Barbara Hurd (whose Listening to the Savage is on our Spring 2016 list, with John’s), and Susan Cerulean also work in a kind of lyrical style that, to me, exemplifies our interest in complex ideas expressed clearly and beautifully, whatever the genre.
NA: Could you say a few words about some of your new or forthcoming books we should read? Provide us with a poem or an excerpt?
LB: We’ve just published A Sense of Regard: Essays on Poetry and Race, featuring the voices of 32 diverse poets and scholars; the idea for a book sprang from a heated conversation at a past AWP conference and could not be more timely given the current national scene. I think that everyone should read Judith Ortiz Cofer’s meditation on grief and loss, The Cruel Country. We published her first novel, The Line of the Sun, in 1989 after New York publishers told her agent that “Puerto Ricans don’t read,” and haven’t looked back. Forthcoming projects that I’m excited about include the first collection of contemporary Dominican women’s writing edited by Erika Martinez; CNF books in the Crux series by Debra Monroe and Sonja Livingston; and After Montaigne, a “covers album” of contemporary essayists riffing on Montaigne’s original essays.
NA: What are some of your happiest or proudest moments with the press? (Feel free to provide a link or two).
LB: Hmmm, over the past three years I would say that highlights include reissuing This Is My Century, Margaret Walker’s collected poems, with a foreword by Nikky Finney; celebrating both the 30th anniversary of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and the 75th anniversary of the Press in 2013; and publishing Visible Man, the first biography of writer and poet Henry Dumas, who was killed at age 33 in 1968 by a white transit policeman (sigh). Overall, getting to know the writerly community again after not working with this particular list for some time. AWP is my favorite conference because it is filled with enthusiastic, interesting, smart as hell, amazing people who love the literary arts and support one another by, among other things, buying gobs of books (which is how presses survive to publish more of them).
NA: Is there anything else you would like to say about the press?
LB: Watch this page.
NA: I’d love to close with a poem by a University of Georgia poet.
LB: This poem is from, Honest Engine (2015), Kyle Dargan’s fourth book of poetry with Georgia.
O, Ghost, you methane mirage, blue
burning at the foot of my basement stairs
ignited nightly by the haunting’s hunt.
I have read you come hungry—a gullet
straw-thin, belly like a cavern, you vase
with limbs. I place cut asters down your throat.
They fall through you, to the floor. I pour
rainwater down your throat. It rises.
You want a Michelob. You want a good fuck
or some crystalline spark injected through
your phantom veins, but, Ghost, I am
the wrong dealer for you. I’ve read
parables suggesting truth is all you’ll digest
At this point. I am only a heartbeat,
a sentient sack of blood who expects
night will give way to sunlight
as it has done each day of my life.
I cannot call that truth. Ghost, I cannot
feed you, but I’ll tongue a woman wildly
for you. I’ll feed pints of ale across my lips.
I’ll rub my nerves raw with recklessness,
reminded now that this is all we ever were:
wrecks. Pity all who think they are heavenly
bodies marooned here on earth. We smolder.
We expire in trills of smoke. Ghost,
What arrogance earned you your body
of cold, ceaseless flame? Were my touch
so true, I would extinguish you.
Lisa Bayer is director of the University of Georgia Press. Her scholarly publishing career spans nearly 25 years. A native Midwesterner, she studied at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and has worked for six publishers in four states.
Nin Andrews received her BA from Hamilton College and her MFA from Vermont College. The recipient of two Ohio Arts Council grants, she is the author of several books, most recently Why God Is a Woman (Boa). Others include The Book of Orgasms, Spontaneous Breasts, Why They Grow Wings, Midlife Crisis with Dick and Jane, Sleeping with Houdini, and Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum. She also edited Someone Wants to Steal My Name, a book of translations of the French poet, Henri Michaux. Her book, Southern Comfort was published by CavanKerry Press in 2010. Follow Nin's blog here. Follow Nin on Twitter here.