Author: Laura Sell

Publicity and Advertising Manager, Duke University Press

Duke University Press to Bring James Baldwin’s Only Children’s Book Back Into Print

LittleManLittleManLittle Man, Little Man is the only children’s book by acclaimed writer James Baldwin. Published in 1976 by Dial Press, the book quickly went out of print. Now, at a time when Baldwin is more popular than ever, and readers, librarians, and booksellers are clamoring for more diverse children’s books, Duke University Press is proud to bring the book back into print. It will be available in August 2018.

In the book, four-year-old TJ spends his days on his lively Harlem block playing with his best friends WT and Blinky and running errands for neighbors. As he comes of age as a “Little Man” with big dreams, TJ faces a world of grown-up adventures and realities. Little Man, Little Man celebrates and explores the challenges and joys of black childhood. In it we not only see life in 1970s Harlem from a black child’s perspective; we gain a fuller appreciation of the genius of one of America’s greatest writers.

James Baldwin called Little Man, Little Man a “celebration of the self-esteem of black children.” In their brief introduction to the book, Baldwin scholars Nicholas Boggs and Jennifer DeVere Brody explain that the illustrations and text invite readers to “look again and experience the social ills represented in the book—violence, economic disparity, alcoholism and drug abuse, and the distortions of mass media—from the perspective of a black child, and one, it is important to note in closing, who is not innocent.” They suggest that audiences at the time were not ready for this perspective, which might explain the book’s initial reception.

Duke University Press’s new edition of Little Man, Little Man retains the charming original illustrations by French artist Yoran Cazac and includes a foreword by Baldwin’s nephew Tejan “TJ” Karefa-Smart (the inspiration for the title character) and an afterword by his niece Aisha Karefa-Smart.

Booksellers wanting more information or wishing to place an order for the book can contact Sales Manager Jennifer Schaper at

All other inquiries: Laura Sell, Publicity, or 919-687-3639.

Little Man, Little Man: A Story of Childhood
By James Baldwin. Illustrated by Yoran Cazac.
Edited and with an introduction by Nicholas Boggs and Jennifer DeVere Brody
With a foreword by Tejan Karefa and an afterword by Aisha Karefa-Smart
ISBN: 978-1-4780-0004-4
Hardcover, 128 pages, $22.95
Fully illustrated in color
August 2018

American Studies Association, 2017

We had a great time meeting authors and editors and selling books and journals at the 2017 annual meeting of the American Studies Association in Chicago this weekend.

Saldana PortilloA huge congratulations to María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo whose book Indian Given: Racial Geographies across Mexico and the United States won the 2017 John Hope Franklin prize honoring the most outstanding book published in American Studies in 2016.

chris in tshirtWe were excited to sell our very first t-shirts at the meeting. Look for Feminist Killjoy and TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly shirts for sale on our website soon if you missed them at the meeting. We’ll also have them for sale at several other fall conferences.

As always, we enjoyed having authors and editors pose with their publications in the booth.


If you missed the conference, or if your favorite title sold out before you could buy it, don’t despair, you can still order them from our website for 30% off with coupon code ASA17.

Selling the Facts: Sales Manager Jennifer Schaper Reports from the Frankfurt Book Fair


Schaper-Jennifer-169x300Welcome back to the University Press Week blog tour! Today’s theme is Selling the Facts, and features posts about booksellers and book selling in today’s challenging political climate. Today’s post is by our Sales Manager Jennifer Schaper. Schaper has over ten years of experience in book publishing. Before coming to Duke University Press, she was the International Rights Manager at the Perseus Books Group.

Visiting the 2017 Frankfurt book fair this October was a unique opportunity to sample the bookselling climate in the age of Trump. Of course, the US wasn’t the only nation to experience political upheaval on a nearly-surreal level—there was a consensus that during the US election, the Brexit vote and France’s election, as well as several other nations facing pivotal national decisions, book sales were dipping. The theory is that everyone was glued to, and bingeing on, media coverage of the state of their home countries and the world. After the results were in and the dust settled, people had a chance to absorb and process the outcomes, and then slowly but surely returned to the solid, non-fake news world of nonfiction to figure out what happened, to piece together why and to figure out what to do about it.

frankfurt 1The general book fair atmosphere was somber, and it was not a year for taking publishing risks for the larger, non-university publishers. It felt reminiscent of the 2008 book fair post-market crash, when publishers felt uncertain of the financial and political future, and their publishing programs reflected a fiscally cautious approach, returning to safe mainstays.

But as this new normal sets in, there seems to be a renewed interest in nonfiction as an antidote to fake news. Particularly concerning politics and philosophy, readers are hungry for well-researched, trustworthy sources of information and informed opinion. People are attending activist author events and readings and sales at left-leaning bookstores are strong. Activist, feminist bookstore Bluestockings in New York City is near the top of Duke University Press’s bestselling booksellers list. There is also a return to interest in classic philosophy and political thought as the current state of things seems muddled, unpredictable, and in danger of falling apart. Perhaps readers are looking for comfort: something solid and intelligent to revisit or reconsider.

frankfurt 2In these dystopian-like times, when reality is disorienting, readers are looking for wisdom and reassurance, rediscovering political and philosophical works and searching for real, educated guidance in current non-fiction, to make their way through a sea of fake news and political turmoil. Politically engaged, deeply informed nonfiction publishing is more important than ever and remains a source of knowledge and inspiration to inspire informed conversation and action.

The blog tour continues at the University of Minnesota Press, where they interview a few of their favorite booksellers. The University of Hawai’i Press offers a round-up of interesting, peer-reviewed facts published by their journals. At Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore indie bookstore The Ivy Bookshop writes about selling in the Age of Trump and working with JHUP. Columbia University Press offers a post by Conor Broughan, Northeast Sales Representative for the Columbia University Press Sales Consortium, discussing making sales calls during the 2016 presidential campaign. University Press of Kentucky features a guest post by UK Libraries exploring the societal benefits in university presses continuing to publish and readers continuing to have access to well-researched, low-controversy, long-form published content in an age of distraction, manufactured outrage, and hyper partisanship. University of Toronto Press has a post on the day in the life of a Canadian higher education sales rep, selling books on US campuses. And University of Texas Press also has a post.

Check back here tomorrow for more on the University Press Week blog tour. Don’t forget to use the hashtags #LookItUP and #ReadUP!


University Press Week 2017: Knowledge Matters


It’s University Press Week! University Press Week highlights the extraordinary work of nonprofit scholarly publishers and their many contributions to culture, the academy, and an informed society. We’ll be celebrating with displays at the Durham County Library‘s South Regional branch, the Hayti Heritage Center, North Carolina Central University library, and around Duke University’s campus at the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, the Music Library, the Office for Faculty Advancement, the John Hope Franklin Center, the Nicholas School of the Environment, and the Center for Multicultural Affairs. If you’re in Durham please stop by and check out some of our recent titles and pick up a free bookmark, pen, or magnet.

This year’s University Press Week Theme is #LookItUP: Knowledge Matters. In today’s political climate—where “fake news” and “alternate facts” are believed by so many people—valuing expertise and knowledge can feel like a radical act. University presses not only believe in facts and knowledge, but traffic in them daily, publishing approximately 14,000 books and more than 1,100 journals each year, read by people around the globe.

We launched our “Read to Respond” series to highlight some of our own groundbreaking scholarship that engages with today’s pressing issues. Each topic, from student activism to racial justice, is highlighted with a reading list that encourages students and teachers alike to join the conversation surrounding these current events. Check out your favorite “Read to Respond” topics below and share these resources in and out of the classroom. These articles are freely available until December 15, 2017.

We now encourage you to learn more about the important work of university presses by checking out the week-long blog tour. Each day has a different theme and will feature posts by five-ten different presses. Today’s theme is Scholarship Making a Difference. Begin at Temple University Press for a post on scholarship on racism and whiteness. Then head to Wayne State University Press to read about their upcoming book on slavery in 21st-century America. University Press of Colorado has a feature on their post-truth focused titles. At Princeton University Press, Al Bertrand writes on the importance of non-partisan peer reviewed social science in today’s political climate. George Mason University Press offers a post on the path to discovery of an overlooked and misunderstood yet influential historical figure, William Playfair. At University of Toronto Press, their history editor in higher education discusses the importance of making scholarship accessible to students and the role of publishers in helping to build better citizens. Wilfrid Laurier University Press offers a roundup of their Indigenous scholarship with commentary from the series editor about its importance. Oregon State University Press  Finally, stop at Cambridge University Press to see their post.

Check back here each day to see the stops on the blog tour and our own University Press Week posts. Don’t forget to share with the hashtags #ReadUP and #LookItUP!

Q&A with Karlyn Forner, Author of Why the Vote Wasn’t Enough for Selma

Forner, Karlyn author photoKarlyn Forner is Project Manager of the SNCC Digital Gateway at Duke University Libraries. In her new book Why the Vote Wasn’t Enough for Selma, she rewrites the heralded story of Selma to show why gaining the right to vote did not lead to economic justice for African Americans in the Alabama Black Belt.

978-0-8223-7005-5Towards the beginning of the book, you mention a civil rights bus trip that sparked your love for Selma. What in particular about Selma, versus another important civil rights locations like Birmingham, spoke to you? 

Ms. Joanne Bland is the reason that Selma spoke to me. At the time, she was the director of the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute and the embodiment of its mission to put forward the stories of the local men and women who made the Movement. She had been on the bridge on Bloody Sunday as a child and shared her own personal story and that of her neighbors with such power that I was blown away. We spent the next week organizing the archives of this grassroots-oriented museum. It was the first time that I began to understand that change comes from courageous people working together to better their own lives. That first bus trip to Selma fundamentally changed my perspective, not only of history but of the world we live in today.

In the book’s introduction, you explain: “In the collective memory of the nation, Selma represents the triumphal moment of black nonviolent protest and the fulfillment of the promises of American democracy.” However, your book depicts a different version of Selma, one where voting rights could not make up for the city’s disenfranchisement of its black citizens. Could you describe how these “two Selmas” differ?

The triumphal story of Selma assumes that the vote, in and of itself, is all that’s needed to redress the injustices of the past and ensure full citizenship for all Americans. It’s a story that ignores the deep economic legacy of slavery, where white people unfairly reaped the benefits of black people’s labor for decade upon decade. This legacy of inequality and poverty was apparent in Selma in 1965 and continues to be glaringly visible in the Black Belt today, fifty years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act. While securing the vote was essential for black people to gain better schools, housing, jobs, and livelihoods, it alone could not undo the entrenched economic inequality and poverty of the city’s black residents. The actual Selma is a stark reminder of how the vote, alone, was not sufficient.

In the book’s second chapter, you describe the effects of flooding on Selma’s workers and its crop yields. What other sorts of geographical or natural obstacles would field laborers have had to contend with?

White plantation owners and black tenants alike had to deal with the poor, spent soil that was a legacy of the Black Belt’s one-crop system of agriculture. Years of cotton production had depleted the soil, especially in the first quarter of the twentieth century. This was something that the Extension Service attempted to address, promoting fertilization, crop rotation, cover crops, and other methods of what they called “scientific agriculture.” However, like everything in the Black Belt, extension agents’ work was governed by the order of white supremacy. While white owners of large plantations could invest in methods to improve the soil, black tenants were forced to grow cotton year after year on the same depleted land without even being able to afford fertilizer. Tenant contracts required payment in the Black Belt’s one cash crop, leaving nothing left over for cover crops, gardens, or more sustainable agricultural methods. One observer noted that cotton grew all the way up to the door of tenant houses.

You mention that in 1955, 29 black residents petitioned for the integration of Selma’s schools, and that within a week, these petitioners lost their jobs and subsequently retracted their signatures. What other types of intimidation tactics were used against black residents who were fighting segregation? 

Black residents who challenged the Black Belt’s racial order faced a combination of economic intimidation and physical violence. Sultan Moore, a black store owner, was first threatened and then put out of business after local white people discovered that his son had participated in demonstrations in Montgomery. Moore drove off a group of white vigilantes who attempted to burn down his house and store by arming his children and wife and standing guard. After that the white suppliers stopped delivering products to his store, putting him out of business. Around the same time, white men shot into the house of John Smitherman, another black store owner, after he was accused of making inappropriate comments to a white woman. They also mistakenly kidnapped another black man they thought was Smitherman before releasing him. Smitherman was eventually forced to close his store and move his family to Detroit. The local black extension agent and race man, S.W. Boynton, was nearly caned by a white man who entered his office. Bernard Lafayette, the first field secretary with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, was beaten bloody outside of his house within his first six months in town. Challenges to Selma’s racial order were not taken lightly. While the white Citizens’ Council preferred economic threats, their intimidation worked hand in hand with the vigilante violence of the Klan or Sheriff Clark’s posse to keep black residents in their place.

Given the city’s history of racism, inequality, and poverty, what do you think the future holds for Selma? 

Historians aren’t in the business of predicting the future, so any answer of mine is no more than a guess. A few things hold true from Selma’s past. As for the city’s history of racism, it’s a legacy shared by the entire country, north and south. In many ways, Selma’s place in the triumphal narrative of American democracy forces the city to acknowledge this history more openly than other places, as well as represent it for the nation. The Selmians I know don’t need more outsiders telling them how they should best redress the wrongs of the past. If anything, the people who are already working to remedy the city’s history of racism inequality need resources to be able to enact their visions. Dismantling racism and addressing poverty and inequality are one in the same.

For the past fifty years, Selma—along with the entire Black Belt South and much of rural America—has been on the losing end of both economic development and federal investment. As high-tech companies flock to metropolitan areas with educated, middle class workforces, the Black Belt’s history of segregation, its low wages, and its poor education are now an enormous liability. Globalization effectively upended old industrial recruitment strategies that promised cheap labor and an anti-union climate.

Meanwhile, the presence of the federal government in Selma now comes mainly in the form of welfare and transfer payments. After Craig Air Force Base’s closing in 1977, Selma was never able to make up for the well-paying federal jobs and defense dollars that it lost. During this same period, federal funding for programs and local development all but dried up. Grants like those that supported SWAFCA (Southwest Alabama Farmers Cooperative Association), a black run cooperative of small farmers trying to make a living on the land, no longer exist.

So Selma’s future (like that of much of rural American) hangs on a combination of local and national factors. Economic opportunity is essential to addressing poverty and inequality in places like Selma. But as companies increasingly choose to locate in large cities over rural, poorer areas, a major question is how much is the federal government willing to invest in the places that have been left behind. There’s no interstate that runs through the Black Belt. Rural hospitals in the Black Belt are fighting to stay open, and public school systems struggle with shrinking tax bases.

Creating quality jobs, dismantling segregated school systems, repairing the damage done by the War on Drugs, and bringing long divided communities together require resources beyond those that can be found in the Black Belt alone. Meaningful economic opportunities for all of Selma’s residents will depend on government and corporate investment. However, the people who call Selma home, black and white, should be the shapers of the solutions for their city. They know the challenges they are facing and how to best address them.

You can order Why the Vote Wasn’t Enough for Selma from your favorite local or online bookstore (print and e-editions available) or save 30% when you order directly from Duke University Press. Use coupon code E17SELMA at check out to save.

Q&A with Howard E. Covington Jr., Author of Lending Power

Covington, Howard photo cred Joe Rodriguez.

Photo by Joe Rodriguez

Howard E. Covington Jr. is a freelance historian and biographer and the author or coauthor of several books, including Terry Sanford: Politics, Progress, and Outrageous Ambitions, also published by Duke University Press; The Story of Nationsbank: Changing the Face of American BankingHenry Frye: North Carolina’s First African American Chief Justice; and Favored by Fortune: George W. Watts and the Hills of Durham. An award-winning newspaper reporter and editor, Covington received the Ragan Old North State Award for nonfiction in 2004. His latest book is Lending Power: How Self-Help Credit Union Turned Small-Time Loans into Big-Time Change, the compelling story of the nonprofit Center for Community Self-Help, a community-oriented and civil rights-based financial institution that has helped provide loans to those who lacked access to traditional financing while fighting for consumer protection for all Americans.

Lending PowerWhat drew you to write about Self-Help? How did you become involved in this story?

This is an unusual story that doesn’t follow the normal theme of the life and times of an up-and-coming NGO. I was drawn to the improbable. How did a credit union initially funded by the proceeds of a bake sale become the largest lender for low- and moderate-income home borrowers in the nation?

Martin Eakes and Bonnie Wright founded the Center for Community Self-Help to assist displaced factory workers in North Carolina become worker-owners in the plants where they once worked. They were savvy enough to learn from the experience, which did not work, and shifted their strategy. They didn’t change the mission—to assist those trying to make it on the margins of the economy—but they found a new way to give folk a hand up. Home ownership replaced worker-owned business as the way out.

Most NGO founders fail to learn as they work and eventually come to a dead end. Self-Help adjusted to meet reality. That’s a good story with lessons for many in public service work.

Eakes and others at Self-Help cooperated with me on this project, but not all met it with enthusiasm. Eakes rebuffed my first attempt to do this book. He later agreed to my work on the condition that it not become his biography. That was hard to manage, but I believe I honored the spirit of that request.

 Who does the Center for Community Self-Help serve in North Carolina? What impact has it had not just for individuals, but for communities?

Self-Help now provides financial services for large segments of the nation’s unbanked population from California to Florida. Those who benefit most are African Americans, single mothers, Latinos, and underemployed workers who have not had ready access to home loans or other financial services at a cost they can afford.

Communities have benefited from Self-Help’s partnership with larger institutions, such as Duke University, in the rehabilitation of entire neighborhoods. Self-Help has helped neighbors work with neighbors since the mid-1980s. It continues to provide technical support and funding for neighborhoods across the state.

In Chicago, Self-Help saved a community bank that had long served the city’s large Latino community. Borrowers facing foreclosure were assisted with loan modifications that allowed them to stay in their homes. Likewise, the financial strength of a local financial institution was restored and today continues to serve its customers.

 What made Self-Help so successful?

It was nimble and willing to adapt. It also developed sources of income independent of foundations or government agencies. It has been able to dance to its own tune, not that called by someone else.

It was creative and willing to take risks, moving into segments of financial services that traditional banks had either ignored or disregarded. Opportunity lay in the space between the feet of the big elephants in the marketplace. It then took what it learned and shared it with others.

Throughout the years, it remained true to its mission and recruited a staff, willing to work for low wages, that believed the organization could make a difference in the lives of those it served.

What are some of the biggest challenges that Self-Help has faced? How did it overcome those challenges?

Five to eight years on, Martin Eakes and the Self-Help staff wrestled with Self-Help’s future and determined that there were multiple ways to serve. This willingness to adapt to lessons learned allowed Self-Help to expand into other areas of work. It also resulted in growing confidence of the ability of Self-Help staff members to deal with multiple opportunities and move beyond a narrow range of options.

What relevance does your book hold for readers who might not be familiar with Self-Help? What lessons can readers take away?

The principles that have guided Self-Help can be applied to any NGO. Focus of mission, sustainability, adaptability, resilience, and adherence to fundamental business practices are tenets that will aid any organization. They do not have to limit the mission or dampen the passions of those called to serve.

The book also provides a broader understanding of the causes of the Great Recession, a financial catastrophe that was driven by the greed and arrogance of Wall Street, not the low-to-moderate income borrowers who got caught up in the tidal wave.

How do you see the role of Self-Help moving forward, especially in the current political climate?

Self-Help continues to use its creative lending to restore historic properties and revitalize communities. Financial services—loans at reasonable rates, savings accounts, small loans—are part of a portfolio at credit unions in California, Illinois, North Carolina, and Florida. The network will continue to grow, especially in the Southeast.

Self-Help has avoided partisanship, but has not avoided dealing in areas rife with controversy. It has one of the largest lending programs for charter schools in the nation. Its clients are carefully selected to insure soundness of the program and relevance to the communities served.

Over the years, Self-Help worked with Republicans and Democrats in the state legislature to pass North Carolina predatory lending law, which helped the state avoid the worst of the Great Recession. It does draw heaps of criticism from segments of the financial industry—payday lenders, title lenders—for its work at the Center for Responsible Lending, its advocacy and policy development shop.

You can order Lending Power from your favorite local or online bookstore (print and e-editions available) or save 30% when you order directly from Duke University Press. Use coupon code E17LEND at check out to save.

Final Day of our Fall Sale


Today is the final day of our Fall sale! Head over to our website right now to save 40% on all in-stock books and journal issues. Just enter coupon code FALL40 at checkout.

Please note that journal subscriptions and society memberships are not included in this sale. See all the fine print here. Don’t delay, the sale ends at 11:59 pm Eastern time tonight, October 2.



What Should You Buy During Our Sale? Our Editors Offer Suggestions


Our Fall Sale continues through Monday, October 2. Still thinking about what you want to buy for 40% off? Check out some of our editors’ recommendations.

Courtney Berger, Editor

Economization of LifeI highly recommend Michelle Murphy’s The Economization of Life. This is a short and incisive critique of the mechanisms by which populations have been economized and the value of lives have been calculated—logics that allow certain lives to thrive while others are devalued, contained, or destroyed. Murphy helps us to see the connection between forms of large-scale economization—such as the invention of the Gross Domestic Product in the 1940s and 50s—and initiatives like recent “invest in a girl” programs that link financial investment in and control over marginalized girls’ and women’s reproductive abilities to global economic prosperity.

For folks in American studies, take a look at Brian Russell Roberts and Michelle Ann Stephens, Archipelagic American Studies. The editors and contributors to this volume seek to “decontinentalize” American studies by shifting our perspective away from the continental space of the Americas to the islands, oceans, and shorelines that have frequently been regarded as its periphery, but which have been central to the ways that empire has been formulated, consolidated, and resisted.Critical Surf Studies Reader

And, speaking of oceans. I can’t surf, but nevertheless I was absorbed by the essays in The Critical Surf Studies Reader, edited by Dexter Zavalza Hough-Snee and Alexander Sotelo Eastman. The collection looks at surfing, not just as a sport, but as a practice shaped by racial, colonial, gendered, and indigenous histories.  For academically minded surf enthusiasts and scholars alike.

Gisela Fosado, Editor

978-0-8223-6992-9Keith Gilyard’s Louise Thompson Patterson: A Life of Struggle for Justice is a beautifully written biography of an extraordinary woman who was a central cultural and political figure of the black Left.  Adding to other recent biographies of important African-American activists, that book underscores the centrality of Black women within the most powerful social revolutions of the twentieth century.

Susan Coutin’s Exiled Home: Salvadoran Transnational Youth in the Aftermath of Violence builds on Coutin’s decades-long work with undocumented immigrants from Latin America.  Exiled Home centers the experiences of youth from El Salvador, including many DACA recipients, and others who were eventually deported after living most of their lives in the United States.

FBI in Latin AmericaMark Becker’s The FBI in Latin America: The Ecuador Case Files offers a fascinating view into the FBI’s surveillance in Latin America during the Second Word War, offering unique documentation of local leftist movements that otherwise left little documentation of their clandestine activities and opening a window to the nature of US imperial ambitions in the area.

Ken Wissoker, Editorial Director

Everyone should know by now that they need the books by Christina Sharpe, Stuart Hall, Ann Stoler, Donna Haraway, and Achille Mbembe.  And Greg Tate, John Corbett, Kellie Jones, and Tim Lawrence. Here are some new books you might have missed:The Look of a Woman

Eric Plemons’s The Look of a Woman: Facial Feminization Surgery and the Aims of Trans- Medicine is a smart book that changes how we think about trans and gender, by bringing theory out of a practice.

Listening to Images by Tina Campt is a beautiful short book Power of the Steel-Tipped Penthat teases theory, politics, and futurities out of lost and buried photographs.

In The Power of the Steel-tipped Pen: Reconstructing Native Hawaiian Intellectual History, the brilliant Hawaiian theorist Noenoe Silva asks what might intellectual history look like, if thought from an indigenous point of view?

Elizabeth Ault, Associate Editor

Competing ResponsibilitiesCompeting Responsibilities, edited by Susanna Trnka and Catherine Trundle, represents a new turn in the conversation about self-governance sparked by Foucault’s understanding of neoliberalism and biopolitics. This set of essays, mostly ethnographic, help us think about how we can be responsible to and for each other. It’s an important critique of neoliberalism that moves beyond nostalgia for the welfare state to imagine care and accountability together.

Louise Meintjes knows how to listen. In her beautiful book Dust of the Zulu, full of pictures by South African photographer T.J. Lemon, she provides a full sensory Dust of the Zuluaccount of Zulu men (and women!) making community through the competitive dance/performance of ngoma. Meintjes traces how performers and audiences reimagine post-apartheid masculinity through sound and performance.

Michelle Commander’s Afro-Atlantic Flight moves through film, literature, and ethnographic accounts of tourism to show the many ways that members of the Black diaspora have imagined and enacted freedom through literal and figurative flights back to Africa. While the book shows how individual returns have often been unsatisfying, it also shows the revolutionary possibilities of pan-diasporic speculation.

Now that you have all these great recommendations, get shopping! Enter coupon code FALL17 at checkout. All in-stock books and journal issues are on sale, but journal subscriptions and society memberships are not. The sale ends Monday, October 2 at 11:59 pm Eastern time.


Save 40% During Our Fall Sale


Make some room on your bookshelves, because you’re going to want to check out our Fall Sale. Head to our website and save 40% on all in-stock books and journal issues by entering coupon code FALL40.

Here’s the usual fine print: The discount does not apply to journals subscriptions or society memberships. You can’t order out-of-stock or not yet published titles at the discount. And you can’t combine multiple orders to maximize the discount. Regular shipping applies and all sales are final.

The sale ends in one week, on Monday, October 2 at 11:59 Eastern Time. Start shopping now!

Editorial Director Ken Wissoker on Why He Loves Peer Review

Wissoker, KenIt’s Peer Review Week. In this guest post, our Editorial Director Ken Wissoker shares what he loves about this crucial, and sometimes misunderstood, element of academic publishing.

I love peer review. Many authors fear it, or see it as a necessary evil, perhaps good for others less accomplished than themselves. Many hope for it to be as quick and minimal as possible, or as with some commercial academic presses, done in a cursory and non-binding way. Enough of a review that the scholar can count their work as a peer-reviewed publication, but not so much that they would actually have to change their manuscript in light of what the reviewers say.

Those who fear peer review often think of its gate-keeping function, perhaps imagining a process like a job search or an award committee where the judges work to eliminate as many contenders as possible. There might still be journals somewhere that peer review everything that is submitted in that way, but I doubt there are many, at least in the humanities and social sciences. For book manuscripts, that would never be a plausible model. It’s a lot of work to read a three or five hundred page draft manuscript. It is even more work if it is a frustrating experience. A press that consistently sent out a lot of mediocre manuscripts or manuscripts that they know at the outset would not work in their list would soon have trouble getting reviewers to agree to read.

At Duke University Press, when we send a manuscript out for peer review, it usually means we would like to publish the manuscript, at least if it is as great as we think it is. We don’t expect it to be publishable right away, but we see the promise. I may have recognized something in an author’s idea or approach to a topic that seems smart and original. I want the reviewers to tell me if that’s genuinely new, or just new to me. Perhaps I’ve let my hopes for what the manuscript will accomplish get in the way of seeing how it actually reads. Other times, the reviewers’ knowledgeable assessment of the manuscript exceeds my own. Most of the time, the truth—and the manuscript—is somewhere in between. That’s where peer review makes all the difference.

I think of peer review as like a mini-test-screening for a film, where the viewers give honest feedback about what they saw. Where were they bored? Where were they confused? Which scenes seemed to go on forever and which rushed past? Did the plot make sense and unfold in a way that kept them attentive? Was it so predictable that the viewers knew what was going to happen the whole time? When did they look at their watch to see how much longer it went on?

In our peer review process, there are generally two such viewers. From them, we ask similar things. Was the argument convincing? Does the manuscript know its own argument and organize the evidence around that argument? Or, conversely, are there big generalizations sitting uneasily astride a detailed account of the object under study? Does it seem like there is enough evidence to support the points, or far more than was needed? Where was the reader bored or confused? Did the arc of the narrative make sense, or were there sections where the story was lost? Are all the chapters each contributing something to making the book a more convincing whole?

Some of these questions could be answered by any attentive reader, others require a knowledge of the topic or field. I like to choose readers whose interests will be complementary, who will see the manuscript from different angles. We want our books to be read by as wide as audience as possible. If the book is interdisciplinary, how does it look from the different interdisciplinary perspectives? One person might be an expert on the approach and the other on the object—or one person on the method and the other on the place. I want to hear what one or the other sees and misses in the book. Does it work equally well for the film scholar and the anthropologist? The Southeast Asianist and the feminist theorist? What would be needed to make the manuscript more legible and credible in each direction? What hits or misses for each? Surprisingly often, people chosen to represent different perspectives will see the same things working and not working in a manuscript, even if they might describe or frame those things in a different way.

Just as it wouldn’t makes sense to send someone who had never seen a Star Wars film to report on the latest one, or someone who hated musicals to comment on a new production, we want readers who can see the manuscripts and recognize their aspirations and methods. I look for readers who will hope that the book will succeed—but who will be honest about whether it does or does not. The reviewers might be invested in the intellectual project or the field and want new work to make a real contribution. They might be invested in the scholar themselves, perhaps having seen promising earlier work from a junior scholar, or admiring the project of a senior person in the field. The readers might be our authors, or otherwise attached to what qualities make a book seem like a Duke book. Whatever it is, I want that commitment to take the form of wanting the work to be better, to help improve it now, rather than letting it slip by with vague praise, only to seem half-baked when the book is published. The last thing I would want in a reader is someone who would be competitive, or more obviously, thought no work like the author’s could be worthwhile, no matter how smart or carefully done.

The readers are writing these reports for the Press. Often they may address the author directly in going over minor details, but the overall assessment is usually directed to us. The readers understand that the process is single blind. That means they know whose work they are reading, but that the author will not know who wrote the reports. I don’t reveal the identity of readers even when a reader says it is okay to do so. As soon as an author knows who wrote a report, the difference between how the reviewer thinks and the way the author thinks (or how the author understands that difference) too easily becomes the lens for viewing the reports. In our own reading, we all like books that go about their projects differently than we would had we written them. But, in the context of a report, the issues identified by the readers in the manuscript are attributed to differences in method between the author and reviewer.  As long as the readers stay Reader #1 and Reader #2 they function better as a test audience—two people in a reasonable inner circle of possible readers for the book, who didn’t understand a particular turn in the manuscript. In this way I sometimes compare the review process to therapy. You can go out and talk about your problems with friends over a beer all you want, and wake up the next day with the same issues. Talking about them with a disinterested but attentive therapist is more likely to open up the possibility of change, even if in some ways one’s friends know you better.

Readers usually suggest fixes for parts of the manuscript that aren’t working. That help is offered with generous intentions, but it sometimes ends up distracting the author. The reviewer is trying to help the author solve a problem. Since the reader would probably approach the topic in a different way themselves, they try to imagine solutions that fit with their understanding of the author’s goals and methods. It’s brainstorming about potential solutions. “Did you try that?” Authors easily get stuck on bad guesses, suggestions that hit a wrong note. They become sure that the person who suggested such a course could not understand the book. I always urge a symptomatic approach. Why would someone suggest that something needed to be done at all? What wasn’t working that required a solution? It’s the author’s manuscript! They ought to be able to think of a better approach. If the readers’ ideas are helpful, great. If not, what’s a better way of ameliorating the problem?

This approach to peer review sees it as part of the writing process. It’s a valuable opportunity to take a manuscript that is the result of years of research and writing and be given a chance to see what is working and what isn’t before it is published. To improve it and make it better. While scholars are researching, they want to find all the evidence they can. When we are reading, if we are convinced by the first example, we rarely need to see three more. Writing—and even sharing one’s writing in a writing group or with a writing partner—is very local, focused on a chapter or section at a time. It’s hard to have a sense of rhythm and pacing and flow; hard to see the whole. The review process is the moment to step back and benefit from generous and invested colleagues willing to read with and for you, to give you the feedback that makes the path more intuitive and well-paced for future readers.

I’m not saying the process is always perfect all the time—nothing is. I can remember books that went through several rounds of peer review, only to be stuck with an intractable problem. Other authors might be frustrated by a tough review process only to end up with a book that goes on to win prizes. There are many paths to publication but, in itself, the review process helps an author write the best possible book. The process is a gift to the writer, not something to be dodged. It’s a gift to the Press and to our readers as well.

Ken Wissoker is the Editorial Director at Duke University Press, acquiring books in the humanities and narrative social sciences. He works out of an office at The Graduate Center CUNY in New York, where in addition to his duties at the Press, he is Director of  Intellectual Publics. Learn more about our peer review process, and how to submit a manuscript, here.