In 2012, the University of Arizona Press was honored with three author and book awards from Wordcraft Circle. We had the chance to catch up with the wonderful Holly Schaffer at the Press and ask her some questions for this spotlight.
1) Give us a brief history of the press
The University of Arizona Press was founded in 1959 as a department of the University of Arizona in Tucson. What originally began as a program offering groundbreaking work in anthropology, the Press has grown to include award-winning books in more than 30 subject areas, from poetry, Native American literature, and memoir to space science, ecology, and Latin American studies.
2) The press has demonstrated a commitment to Native lit and Native writers, why? What sparked this interest? What is the motivation behind publishing Native authors?
Sun Tracks: An American Indian Literary Series was originally conceived as a literary journal that was published through the University of Arizona’s creative writing department. In 1971, it was turned into a book series published by the UA Press and, over the past four decades, has grown to include work from some of the most beloved authors of contemporary literature and poetry, such as Joy Harjo, N. Scott Momaday, Simon J. Ortiz, and Luci Tapahanso, among many others.
Simply put, the Press strives to publish the best books that celebrate the diverse cultures of our world, whether in our Latina and Latino Literary Series, Camino del sol, or in Sun Tracks. In many cases, the books we publish give voice to those who would otherwise not be heard—voices that are sadly underrepresented in mainstream publishing. They are the voices of emerging poets, writers of color, and writers whose works challenge the expectation of traditional literary forms.
Dr. Larry Evers, a founder of the Sun Tracks literary series, says “The strong support that the University of Arizona Press has provided Sun Tracks for more than thirty years has created an essential outlet for creative writing by Native Americans.” Our motivation for doing so is to champion multicultural writing that readers all over the world will take interest in and connect to. As Allyson Carter, the Press’s Editor-in-Chief says, “In a commercial press, you really have to think of the bottom line. . . . For us, the bottom line is important, but really it’s about the art and scholarship itself and taking pleasure in the success of the authors and the books.”
3) What do you think makes the press unique? What are some of the superlatives of the press?
The Press prides itself in helping to sustain the global arts community. Books in our two literary series reach readers on a national and international level and they foster a greater understanding and appreciation of diverse cultures, something that we believe to be an integral part of creating an ongoing dialog among readers and writers.
Our goal has been and will always be to publish books of exceptional merit that represent the highest forms of contemporary literary art. It’s what our readers deserve.
4) Are there any people who you would highlight who work for the press?
Everyone! Despite the fact that we release more than 50 books each year, the Press has a small staff of extremely dedicated individuals. From our acquisitions editors, including Kristen Buckles who acquires in our literary series, to the editors and production staff ensuring eye-catching design and editorial quality to those in marketing and business, we all work incredibly hard and take great pride in the books that we publish.
5) What are some of the works we can look forward to from the press?
In October, we’ll be releasing Corpse Whale, a debut collection from Inupiat author dg nanouk okpik. It’s already received some incredible prepublication endorsements, including from Sherman Alexie who called okpik “a startling original poet.” In Spring 2013, we’ll release another debut collection – Leaving Tulsa by Muscogee (Creek) author Jennifer Elise Foerster. Both of these poets were included in the 2011 anthology Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas edited by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke.
6) Describe a little of the work on Sing. How did you decide to go forward with the book? What was the process? What has been the response?
Sing is a groundbreaking anthology. Unprecedented in scope, it is the first-ever multilingual collection of Indigenous American poetry. It gathers more than eighty poets from across the Americas and features familiar names like Sherwin Bitsui, Louise Erdrich, and Lee Maracle alongside international poets—both emerging and acclaimed—from regions underrepresented in anthologies. It is, as former Poet Laureate Billy Collins says, an “ambitious collection . . . a daring announcement of individuality.”
The work in Sing was originally published as a special edition of a literary magazine (Ahani: Indigenous American Poetry | To Topos: Poetry International, Volume 9, Winter 2007). Although it reached many readers in that form, as Allison Adelle Hedge Coke points out “The journal stood alone in the field. Both first and second print editions sold out, and a third was in the making when it became apparent that a more complete anthology was needed.”
Hedge Coke approached the UA Press, submitted the journal as an abstract, and then began collecting what would become Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas. The poets included in the anthology comprise those whose work Hedge Coke sought out and discovered while traveling to various literary festivals and workshops in South America, including ones in Colombia Venezuela, and Argentina as well as familiar and up-and-coming poets residing in North America. This volume may be the largest collective representation of literature from the Indigenous Americas that is completely composed of contemporary poetry.
Hedge Coke spent countless hours on this project securing permissions, making calls for additional submissions, selecting, collating, securing translators, and typesetting the manuscript. In addition, she was instrumental in deciding how the volume would be presented. As Hedge Coke explains in the Introduction, we decided to arrange it “in seven representative sections of corresponding poetic conversation customarily collected in stylistic approach, tone, intent, relative content, challenge, device, and literary value.”
The Press is grateful for her dedication and hard work and honored to be the publisher of this groundbreaking anthology. It is our hope that it inspires further recognition of Indigenous writing from around the world.
The response to Sing has been incredibly positive. A book launch at the University of Arizona Poetry Center November 2011 featured readings by the editor and a number of the contributors and it was packed, standing room only. It was an amazing celebration after all the years of hard work that had been put into the book’s making. It’s received reviews in a number of publications, including the Tucson Weekly, the North American Review, Terrain.org, and Critical Mass, the blog of the National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors, where it was named a 2011 Small Press Highlight.
7) Anything else you would like to say about the press?
Since its inception in the early 1970s, Sun Tracks has been one of the primary publishing programs to focus exclusively on the creative works of Native Americas. Books in the series have earned honors and accolades too numerous to count. Some of the more recent awards bestowed on Sun Tracks books and authors include the Skipping Stones Honor Award (For a Girl Becoming, Joy Harjo, illustrations by Mercedes McDonald), the HAIL – Honoring Alaska’s Indigenous Literature – Award (Blonde Indian, Ernestine Hayes), and the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award (The Secret Powers of Naming, Sara Littlecrow-Russell). A current list of award winners can be found online at http://www.uapress.arizona.edu/awards.php.
University of Arizona Press authors travel widely to present their work and interact with readers. Upcoming events can be found at http://www.uapress.arizona.edu/signings.php. We also feature award winners, reviews, and more news on Twitter and Facebook, so please be sure to connect with us to stay up-to-date on the latest happenings: http://twitter.com/azpress, http://www.facebook.com/AZpress.