When I got the call from Oxford University Press in 2010, I was in downtown Baton Rouge, chattering to my parents and a security guard about football. I went outside to take the call, and I accepted the job sitting on a stone ledge that overlooked the Louisiana State Capitol.
When I got the call from LSU last year, I was at work in mid-town Manhattan, nervously asking my brother-in-law, “Am I going to get this job? Am I getting this job? Is this happening?” I went into one of the conference rooms to take the call, and I accepted the job gazing out a window that looked out on the Empire State Building.*
I told all my New York friends that I was moving back to Louisiana after three years in the city, and after the expected expressions of grief, they all said, “It’s good for you. You always wanted to move back there.”
That’s true. I did.
Working at LSU Press is a different, different beast to working at Oxford University Press. Water and oil, chalk and cheese, hamburgers and helium. I noticed the other day that I know the handwriting of almost everyone on staff at LSU Press. If you gave me a Memory board with head shots and handwriting samples from each of the staff members of LSU Press, I’m pretty sure I would crush it. People here leave notes on closed office doors—Kate’s in class now—and on each other’s desks—Sorry this is late! Can you rush it?—and on routing documents—Best blurb ever. I know who crosses Ts with the most enthusiasm, and who writes like that one friend you had in seventh grade whose main role was to serve as MASH transcriptionist at slumber parties. **
I could identify the handwriting of maybe two people at Oxford University Press, and one of them lived with me.
When I moved from New York back to my home town of Baton Rouge, I wanted the experience of working in a smaller, more personal press like LSU, in a job where I would be involved with the press’s full range of published books. I am not exaggerating when I say that I interacted almost exclusively with scholars of African history for a full six months after starting work at Oxford. At LSU Press, I work with Civil War scholars and novelists and sports historians and poets, all in the space of a single publishing season. I couldn’t tell you the names of the editor-in-chief for any single reference project at Oxford that I wasn’t working on myself. Here, I think I could get pretty close to a full listing of the authors and titles for our entire spring list, because I’m writing press releases and prize applications for all of them.
And honestly? Having said all that? The surprising thing isn’t the differences between my old job and my new one. The surprising thing is the similarities.
People who work in publishing believe in what we’re doing. We wouldn’t be working for pennies in a scarily threatened industry if we didn’t. My coworkers at Oxford would light up when they talked about the new ethnomusicology project coming down the pike. The acquisitions editors at LSU Press lean across the table at meetings about their books and say, Did you know about this? I didn’t! This hasn’t been written about before!
That’s what I always loved about academic publishing. Whether you’re working with a hundred authors a year or a thousand, whether you’re interacting with other departments once a day or once a year, the endeavors are exactly the same at the core: to put more knowledge out into the world.
I can’t imagine anything better.
*Okay, this is a slightly illusive parallel. I could probably have seen some segment of the Empire State Building if I had leaned really far in one direction. Actually I sat down at the conference table and accepted the job flipping anxiously through a style guide that happened to be in there.
**I never had a friend whose main role in my life was MASH transcriptionist at slumber parties. I am not Regina George.