One of the benefits of working for a press, like LSU Press, that publishes regional books is that it makes it very difficult to take for granted the cultural assets that surround us here in Louisiana. When you are charged with making sure each book finds a home—which is a quaint way of defining the ceaseless preoccupations of the marketing and sales department—it is a daily exercise to think through the meaning of a book’s subject, be that culinary, or musical traditions, historic places, a storied byway, a natural resource, or a slice of our literary heritage. The outcome of all that deep contemplation, aside from setting a price, print run, and discount, is always a striking realization of how immensely rich and varied Louisiana’s culture is, and moreover the difficulty inherent in drawing geographic lines around the origin of folklore in Acadiana or pinpointing the birth of a Cajun-French drinking song. In fact, it is the tradition of sharing—of communion—which is responsible for the pleasurable yet dizzying mix of influences that reveal themselves in nearly every regional title we’ve published.
So I am fascinated by the pursuit of accurately capturing a culture that is greater than the sum of its many disparate parts in something as finite as a book. When I get the chance I always ask our authors about this experience: How did you pull together this wonderful narrative or portfolio of images, and get to the heart of the story? How did you get to the truth about a Mardi Gras tradition when some of sources are oral histories that contradict each other? How did you find out about the dance hall in Eunice, Louisiana when there is no website or Facebook page for it? To be honest, these questions are as driven by the need to aim our marketing efforts in the right direction as my own curiosity, but on a broader level it takes into account the challenges of accessibility and very, very, subjective nature of how to define what is local.
None of the responses from these queried authors is the quite the same, but there is always a touch of journalistic integrity, a dogged quest for more information, and most of all an abiding respect for what they are researching–something short of scared but a thousand miles beyond seeing the matter as a commodity. They are, quite fittingly, driven by the desire to share as much as they can and explain it as accurately as possible, rather than forgoing the complexities of a story for the sake of commercialization.
I think it’s that approach, a balance between passion for a subject and a commitment to authenticity that makes our authors and our books so special, even vital. Perhaps it is the intersection of high academic standards and the privilege of being geographically close to so many valuable local resources that puts us in the best position to preserve regional culture and history—as it really is and not how it is most easily consumed.
From our fortunate position, I believe our books are not separate but part of that tradition of cultural communion. In staying true not only to the meaning of the culture that surrounds us, but to the custom of sharing, LSU Press and its titles serve as an extension of the heritage that we disseminate.
The Association of American University Presses (AAUP) is celebrating University Press Week November 10-16. This week started back in the summer of 1978 when President Jimmy Carter proclaimed a University Press Week “in recognition of the impact, both here and abroad, of American university presses on culture and scholarship.”
In the spirit of partnership that pervades the university press community, LSU Press and 36 other presses are uniting for the AAUP’s second annual blog tour during University Press Week. This tour highlights the value of university presses and the contributions they make to scholarship and our society. Individual presses will blog on a different theme each day, including profiles of university press staff members, the future of scholarly communication, subject area spotlights, the importance of regional publishing, and the global reach of university presses.
See a complete University Press Week blog tour schedule at: http://bit.ly/HjQX7n