It’s University Press Week! This year, the Association of University Presses (AUPresses) has chosen the theme “Next UP” to highlight the dedicated work performed by those in the university press community to seek out, engage, advance, and promote the latest scholarship, ideas, best practices, and technology. Read more about University Press Week and check out the Next UP gallery and reading list featuring publications published by our peer presses.
Today, we’re responding to the prompt, “Who’s #NextUp at your press?” to spotlight an early-career staff member on the rise. Continue reading for an insightful Q&A with Assistant Editor Ryan Kendall!
It was maybe inevitable that I ended up in the publishing world. I’ve always loved reading and writing. I’ve built homes in books since I learned how to read, and I’ve learned to think through writing. I have delighted in the ecstatic fullness that language can offer, and I have been devastated by its resistance to be full again. It is a love story, after all.
I came to academic publishing because, after completing a Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies PhD in 2020, I was not done thinking. I am not done thinking. Academic publishing is compelling to me because the books we publish want to challenge what and how we think. Academic publishing is a space where ideas, methods, and practices are given so much care. It’s also a space (though certainly not the only or primary space) where more livable worlds are envisioned. To be in a position to support and guide these processes is incredible.
More exactly, what brought me to academic publishing is love. I have a deep love and respect for the writing process and for what writing can do. For me, an opportunity to share in that process is a life-giving one. Academic publishing lives within the expansiveness of what it means to write, and that is so exciting to me. Each book is teeming with the echoes of formative conversations between authors, scholars, editors, reviewers, and a whole host of individuals. In each book, there is a world, and with each book, another world is becoming.
It’s too simple to say that what brought me to Duke University Press is their incredible history of consistently publishing stellar books. Of course, that wasn’t not why. But it was more personal than that. I can locate the exact moment when I knew I wanted to build a publishing career at DUP. It was 2019, and I was attending the Duke Feminist Theory Workshop as a graduate student. There, the late Laurent Berlant announced their Writing Matters! series at Duke University Press. My heart swelled. I felt giddy. I knew where I needed to be—where writing mattered.
I would describe my career trajectory so far as challenging and a little dizzying but mostly exciting and promising. I joined DUP just ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I had to learn the ropes as they were moving. The absence of in-person talks and conferences made networking especially challenging, so I’ve had to be creative. Despite these difficulties, I feel as though I am in a really promising and supportive place to establish my publishing career.
The transition from a PhD program to a publishing career is a unique one. Graduate programs are geared toward preparing you for tenure-track professorships, though I do think we are now seeing more and more discussions within graduate programs about alternative academic jobs. In the move to publishing, you’re shifting from budding scholar to budding editor. Your relationship to the work changes. I recall, in my first week, my supervisor asked me what I thought about an author’s work on affect theory. I answered with something along the lines of: “I think their work is really productive, but I question the ways in which affect here inadvertently becomes a way of sanitizing sexuality.” He stared at me blankly. I came to realize later that the disconnect happening in this moment was a result of me trying to answer his question as a graduate student, not a potential editor. My relationship to the work now is less about my own personal investments (though I am absolutely personally invested) and more about its quality, scope, intervention, significance, reach, and marketing potential (I know, marketing potential, gross, but it’s a real concern in publishing). It’s a shift that takes some learning and unlearning. Of course, this is not to say that my graduate training has not been useful here. I have drawn, again and again, on my graduate experience in this job.
My advice is to start seeking out experiences that translate within the world of publishing. If you’re a graduate student, you might assist a professor who is preparing an article or book manuscript for production. Formatting manuscripts, obtaining permissions for text reprints or images, and assembling art programs are all part of publishing. Are there any journals housed at your institution? Do any of your professors serve as editors for journals? Do they need an editorial assistant? I worked as an editorial assistant for the James Baldwin Review for a couple of years prior to graduation, and though I was coming to publishing with a PhD in a relevant field, my editorial experience is what helped set me apart. If your institution has a press, they likely have part-time positions for students. Some presses have paid internships as well. You also might be surprised by what sorts of job skills can help you advance in publishing. Having some experience with administrative work is a great thing. Publishing is a lot of that too.
My other piece of advice is to do your research. What books are you most excited about, and who is publishing them? What does peer review look like there? How many books do they typically publish a year? Are there any talks on publishing you can attend? So many talks have virtual options now, so they’re becoming more and more accessible. Some have been recorded and are available on YouTube. The Association of University Presses also has a wealth of resources online about publishing, though I believe it is behind a paywall. Also, reach out to editors! Start a conversation. If you’re interested in a job, make it known. There is little to be lost and much to be gained by letting presses know that you’re interested in their work.
What I look for in a project is a refusal to take its own terms and the terms of our contemporary moment for granted. I’m most excited about books that are theoretically and politically engaged and are committed to thinking with race, gender, sexuality, class, and (dis)ability. Truly, I am interested in books that challenge modes of thinking, feeling, and living in our contemporary moment (while still being historically-minded).
Feminist philosophy is near and dear to my heart. For me, feminist philosophy means attending to the philosophical exigencies of gender and sexuality. It also means attending to the gendered and sexed exigencies of philosophy (*gasp* a chiasmus!). What is most compelling to me about feminist philosophy is the way it calls on feminism’s historical investments in antifoundationalism—a refusal to let the dust settle on essentialisms and metaphysical truths. What I’m looking for in a project, then, is one that deeply interrogates its own assumptions and needs—what it needs from gender, from feminism, from philosophy. Feminist philosophy is, for me, as much a project of critique as it is of philosophical exploration.
I am hopeful that Duke University Press will continue to strengthen its reputation of theoretical rigor and political edge, and I am also hopeful that DUP will continue to close the gap between the politics of the work it publishes and the politics of its workplace. It is not a secret that scholarly publishing generally struggles to be a hospitable and supportive place for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Several of my colleagues have done incredible work to identify and remedy this problem—namely Alejandra Mejía, Jocelyn Dawson, and our Editorial Director Gisela Fosado, all of whom have leading roles in creating the Toolkits for Equity Project with the Coalition for Diversity & Inclusion in Scholarly Communications. This project is an invaluable resource for the scholarly publishing community, and it has a wealth of free materials for download. Anyone interested in scholarly publishing should take advantage of this resource.
Going forward, I hope to see more structured mentor/mentee opportunities within and beyond DUP, so that young professionals, especially BIPOC young professionals, have built-in support and guidance as they carve out their own publishing identities and futures. From what I have seen, scholarly publishing tends toward a competitive culture of ‘every person for themselves.’ So long as this is the case, few will thrive, and those few are likely to be buoyed by social and racial privileges.
Check back here tomorrow and Thursday for more great blog posts, and don’t forget to share your love for university presses online with the hashtag #NextUp.