Thursday, May 06, 2010

Writing class and bad publishing news

Tonight was the first meeting of the Writing Your Life class that I'm facilitating, and Elizabeth (known to the rest of the world as Beth) is helping me with it. Ten ladies joined us on my front porch, and they were a wonderful group--responsive, talkative, interested, some writers, some who had never written a word. Some have such strong backgrounds I'm going to be challenged to make this a rewarding experience for them, but I plan to work at it and work hard. They all have interesting stories to tell and many of us will have to confront the "elephant in the room." My brother once said to me that he has three-oclock-in-the-morning thoughts of, "Oh, I wish I hadn't done that one." We all do, but those are the things we have to look at squarely in order to come to terms with ourselves. The premise of the group is that each member share only as much as she wants, and nothing shared goes beyond the group. But I encouraged each member to be as honest as possible with herself--otherwise, the exploration of self ends up being less than satisfying. I think each of us can learn a lot about ourself if we look at our life honestly. A definition I like: memoir is a record of how we got where we are. They have an assignment to write five pages in the next two weeks, and many moaned they can't do it. I am going to do the assignments myself, but I'm not sure where to begin. It requires some thought--and some time. Like others in the class, I'll have to force myself to do the assignment and not be diverted by other things. But I am on the whole excited about it.
Otherwise the world seemed topsy-turvy today. SMU announced the "suspension" of publishing activities for its press--do they have any idea at all of how hard it is to pick up and rebuild a pubishing program that has been suspended, however briefly? Good friends of mine form the staff at SMU, and I grieve for my friends, for the authors who will be left in limbo--both those published (who will market their books?) and those waiting to be published. But must of all I grieve that a university is so short-sighted as to measure the value of its academic press in dollars and cents. Huge presses like Columbia and Oxford can probably support themselves from income; a small press, publishing eight to ten titles a year can never do so. Yet a press does so much more for a university--bringing it prestige, spreading its name into communities that don't care about football. Who measures athletic programs by dollars and cents?
The groundswell of support for SMU from all over the country has been tremendous. The SMU Faculty Senate passed two resolutions supporting them, and their editorial board is actively up at arms. There's a glimmer of hope that, as editor Kathie Lang says, David will beat Goliath. I cling to that glimmer--it affects not just SMU Press but all of us in academic publishing and all of us who value a good, well-written, beautifully produced book. New York publishing just isn't going to do for the book world what small, academic presses do. Pray with me, folks.

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