NA: Tell me a little bit about Wesleyan University Press. What would you say makes this press unique?
ST: We were established in 1957 as a poetry press, and we have published many amazing first and early books by people like James Wright, James Tate, Marge Piercy, Brenda Hillman, and Yusef Komunyakaa and we continue to promote the work of “new” poets alongside more established authors. On the scholarly book side, our early mission was to publish interdisciplinary work; there were no set subject areas. Two of our first books were Silence by john Cage and Life Against Death by Norman O Brown. Over time the list has retained that interdisciplinary bent, even while we have honed a set of subject areas. I think the influence of the press’s original mission is still palpable in the books we select today.
NA: As Editor-in-Chief, you’ve had some huge successes. I wonder if you could say a few words about your successes?
ST: I assume you mean successful books that we’ve published. When a book succeeds, through winning awards, or garnering positive reviews, or selling lots of copies, it’s first and foremost a reflection on the author’s intelligence, creativity, writing ability and work ethic. For my part, I try to read broadly, print and online, go to bookstores and libraries, talk to our authors and others in the field. When I am making acquisitions decisions, I am looking at how a project will fit on a seasonal list, how it will fit on the list as a whole, how it will speak to its audience now and ten, twenty years from now, and I look for projects that are inspirational by which I mean they feel alive, they open up some breathing space. In my time as editor of the poetry series our books have won three Pulitzer prizes and a National Book Award, several Griffins and a host of other accolades. I am honored to have been part of that. Then there is the influence of sheer luck. As my husband says, Sometimes even the blind squirrel finds a nut. NA: How did you become the Editor-in-Chief?
ST: See above: blind squirrel reference. Seriously, I walked into the press on a winter day in my junior year of college, was smitten by the atmosphere of passionate chaos (the press offices were not unlike certain parts of the Times offices (And someone could make an episode of “Hoarders” about that.) Russell Edson claimed that people could get lost forever in our offices). I started out on the bottom rung, and never left. Eventually, they had no choice but to promote me. I love working for a small press. We are very hands on, and we can give each book and each author a lot of attention. I feel very fortunate to have been able to bring writers to the press like Joy Harjo, Marlene NourbeSe Philip and Rae Armantrout, and to have relaunched our dance list in the 90s.
NA: How does one get a poetry book accepted by Wesleyan University Press? Do you have an open reading period? Contests?
ST: I read proposals year-round and solicit full manuscripts that seem like strong possibilities. All manuscripts are read in-house and if we decide to pursue something it goes to two unique outside readers, and we have a faculty editorial board that approves all projects for publication. There are open submissions for the BAX anthology for several months each year—September to November.
NA: How many poetry books do you publish per year?
ST: Out of a total of 24 titles each year, we aim to publish six books of poetry.
NA: The press also publishes nonfiction?
ST: We publish scholarly books in dance, music, film, literary studies, science fiction studies and we have a regional trade list in Connecticut history and culture.
NA: You also have done some work with dance? Or publishing books on dance? Could you explain?
ST: The press published some of the first books in the field of dance studies, under the outside editorship of Selma Jeanne Cohen and press editor Jose Rollin (aka “Bill”) de la Torre Bueno, for whom the prestigious Bueno Prize is named. https://sdhs.org/awards/de-la-torre-bueno-prize We currently publish one or two dance books each year.
NA: Does the press have any regional leanings?
ST: We have a Connecticut series, called Garnet Books. There’s a huge need in this state for in-depth and engaging history books and appreciations of the state’s unique heritage, from geology to architecture to cooking to politics. Through Garnet Books, we have enjoyed publishing partnerships with numerous state and community organizations. We like knowing our neighbors, and publishing books that serve our state and regional communities.
We also publish The Driftless Connecticut Series. This series was established in 2010 to recognize excellent books with a Connecticut focus or written by a Connecticut author. To be eligible, the book must have a Connecticut topic or setting or an author must have been born in Connecticut or have been a legal resident of Connecticut for at least three years. The Driftless Connecticut Series is funded by the Beatrice Fox Auerbach Foundation Fund at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.
NA: Could you say a few words about your new and forthcoming books? Maybe provide us with a poem or an excerpt?
ST: This fall, our poetry lineup includes a new translation of Mallarmé, a reissue of NourbeSe Philip’s classic She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks, Ben Doller’s Fauxhawk, A Sulfur Anthology (the best of Sulfur magazine) and BAX 2015: Best American Experimental Writing edited by Charles Bernstein and Tracie Morris. In the spring, the list will include The Book of Landings by Mark McMorris, Scarecrow by Robert Fernandez and The Age of Reasons by Ted Greenwald, edited by Miles Champion.
Artifact of Beginnings by Mark McMorris
Paradise must be a landscape inside
the language we inherit from the logos
borrowing from each person’s childhood
to repeat the sounds of owls at night
the tactile image of mango trees evoked
by sunlight on a valley’s hillside
where you stand, the color of earth
and there is a green table cloth spread
before your eyes for games of skill
rectangle edged in white, and mown grass
an artifact of beginnings and a song
to stir the classes in a way not repeated.
What is it that is about the idea except
everyone agrees there must be such a place
the comfort of mass delusion or a wish
that it is ahead and not over, and not a fable
written by old men with feverish hands
never mind their skill at the cithara
or their bondage in the land of the Egyptians.
Say then that the idea of it pre-dates
the Ziggurat of Ur, or the Olmec Heads
at Tres Zapotes. If only we had a metaphor
“ostrich plume ginger” as old as the idea
being the inventor of the design and a place.
NA: I’d love to close with another poem by a Wesleyan University Press poet.
ST: This is by Agha Shahid Ali, from his book The Half Inch Himalayas (1987)
The moon did not become the sun.
It just fell on the desert
In great sheets, reams
Of silver handmade by you.
The night is your cottage industry now,
The day is your brisk emporium.
The world is full of paper.
Write to me.
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. Find out more about Nin here. Follow Nin on Twitter @AndrewsNin .