Blurb. It sounds like an onomatopoeia for a noise made by infant humans. In publishing, though, the blurb—i.e. a quote on the cover praising the book—figures mightily in the marketing process. Why? Because over a century of mass market advertising has taught us that a testimonial from the knowledgeable, or better yet the famous, will convince the American consumer to buy anything. No judgment: who among us can resist buying a Seagram’s Wine Cooler or going into paralyzing credit card debt when the prospect is thrown at us by a celebrity?

Bread Sculpture 1In the academic publishing business, the famous/knowledgeable divide often comes into play. The Grail of the endorsement trade, its Starbucks-for-Life card, is the Celebrity Blurber, for the reasons mentioned above. Knowledgeable, while perhaps less sexy, is easier to find. Even an obscure field of study attracts its share of scholars. These experts offer a reliable pool of “blurbers,” to use the insider jargon, that a marketing department can contact for a project. Topics with mainstream appeal, not surprisingly, provide more options: established authors and that handful of intellectuals actually familiar to a segment of the public.

Like canines and jilted lovers, we in the publishing game are pleased with any praise whatsoever. When a blurber comes back at us with a comment like, “An absolutely essential re-evaluation of [academic topic] that also guarantees weight loss,” it makes our jobs very easy, assuming we spell all the words correctly.

We acquire blurbs in a number of ways, but three methods predominate: (1) taking praise from reports submitted by scholars and other experts who reviewed the book in manuscript form; (2) contacting names on a list of potential blurbers supplied by the author; (3) doing research ourselves on potential endorsers and emailing/calling those people. All work. All fail. It’s up to the individual we solicit.

Keep in mind, though: often their personal relationship to the author determines whether or not they help.

As an author, you can get a head start by sucking up to famous academics while still an undergrad. Read the professor’s book. Take her/his independent study section. By all means, ask her/him to be your faculty adviser when you move on to graduate school. If you do admirable work, particularly as a researcher for one of her/his projects, she/he will remember you, and not in the same way she/he will remember you if you burn down their lab.

I know. It sounds venal. It sounds shallow. It sounds anti-intellectual. It is, frankly, all of these things. But the world runs on rules that, while absurd, are also beyond challenge. The UIP just wants to help you navigate these ridiculous seas.

At some point in your studies, you’ll realize you want to enter Academia. Why not? It’s a proud tradition and in the unlikely event you get tenure you’ll probably get health and dental, and that’s not happening with a lot of jobs these days. Therefore, you may need to put out a book at some point—publish or perish, etc. Why not guarantee its success by cultivating a professional network?

And if you want to aim higher, say a residency on NPR or a part in a Matrix film, we can only go back to the beginning of this post: the more famous the blurber, the better. Become friends with a notable person or persons. Even a well-known racehorse is fine. Better yet, become relatives. As long as the person pretends to have read the book, they don’t have to actually open it. No kidding. We can’t afford a department that verifies that sort of thing. So, if your only famous cousin is a dumb celebrity or racehorse, you’re still golden.

ParksS15Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures, edited by Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski, has won the Best Edited Collection Award for 2015-2016, awarded by the Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS).

The award is given to honor an “outstanding example of newly edited work involving the insights of an editor or co-editor in bringing together the best work of multiple scholars in a single volume.

This award is also meant to encourage new scholarship that reflects upon the traditions of collaboration and diverse perspectives in our field.” The award will be presented at the 2016 SCMS Conference in Atlanta, April 1.

Signal Traffic offers an examination of the “media infrastructure” of technological objects, geophysical locations, and material resources that network the world. Contributors include Charles R. Acland, Paul Dourish, Sarah Harris, Jennifer Holt, Shannon Mattern, Toby Miller, Lisa Parks, Christian Sandvig, Nicole Starosielski, Jonathan Sterne, Helga Tawil-Souri, and Patrick Vonderau.

Signal Traffic is a volume in the Geopolitics of Information series.

For the month of February 2016, to coincide with Black History Month, we have lowered the e-book list price of three titles in the University of Illinois Press catalog to $2.99.

Cover for WILLIAMS: Word Warrior: Richard Durham, Radio, and Freedom. Click for larger imageWord Warrior: Richard Durham, Radio, and Freedom by Sonja D. Williams
Posthumously inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2007, Richard Durham creatively chronicled and brought to life the significant events of his times. Durham’s trademark narrative style engaged listeners with fascinating characters, compelling details, and sharp images of pivotal moments in American and African American history and culture. In Word Warrior, award-winning radio producer Sonja D. Williams draws on archives and hard-to-access family records, as well as interviews with family and colleagues like Studs Terkel and Toni Morrison, to illuminate Durham’s astounding career. Buy the Kindle version here. Buy the Kobo version here. Buy the Google Play version here. Buy the Nook version here.

Cover for Beck: Daisy Turner's Kin: An African American Family Saga. Click for larger imageDaisy Turner’s Kin: An African American Family Saga by Jane C. Beck
A daughter of freed African American slaves, Daisy Turner became a living repository of history. The family narrative entrusted to her–”a well-polished artifact, an heirloom that had been carefully preserved”–began among the Yoruba in West Africa and continued with her own long lifetime. In 1983, folklorist Jane Beck began to interview Turner, then one hundred years old and still relating four generations of oral history. Beck uses Turner’s storytelling to build the Turner family saga, using at its foundation the oft-repeated touchstone stories at the heart of their experiences. Buy the Kindle version here. Buy the Kobo version here. Buy the Google Play version here. Buy the Nook version here.

Cover for MArovich: A City Called Heaven: Chicago and the Birth of Gospel Music. Click for larger imageA City Called Heaven: Chicago and the Birth of Gospel Music by Robert M. Marovich
In A City Called Heaven, Marovich follows gospel music from early hymns and camp meetings through its growth into the sanctified soundtrack of Chicago’s mainline black Protestant churches. He mines print media, ephemera, and hours of interviews with artists, ministers, and historians–as well as relatives and friends of gospel pioneers–to recover forgotten singers, musicians, songwriters, and industry leaders. He also examines the entrepreneurial spirit that fueled gospel music’s rise to popularity and granted social mobility to a number of its practitioners. As Marovich shows, the music expressed a yearning for freedom from earthly pains, racial prejudice, and life’s hardships. Yet it also helped give voice to a people—and lift a nation. Buy the Kindle version here. Buy the Kobo version here. Buy the Google Play version here. Buy the Nook version here.

Price and participation may vary.

It is no surprise that World War II, the most massive war in human history, receives the most attention from the publishing industry. Biography on figures like Churchill and FDR crowd the bookstore table, as do studies by military historians delving into the minute details of battles and campaigns, to say nothing of all the Nazis.

Less likely to turn up are works concerning the people most affected by war. You know, regular soldiers and civilians. UIP saves space on the shelf for that great majority of human beings shunted into the background of the so-called epic histories.

kahnBetween Tedium and Terror: A Soldier’s World War II Diary, 1943-46, by Sy M. Kahn
In the vein of classic memoirs like With the Old Breed, this war diary gives readers a ground-level account of a bookish nineteen year-old’s introduction, and adjustment, to the realities of war.

Often writing in tents by candlelight, in foxholes, or on board ships, Sy M. Kahn documents life during four campaigns and over three hundred air attacks, a life filled with backbreaking labor, suffocating heat, debilitating tropical diseases, and a terrifying string bombings, accidents, casualties, and deaths. A detailed record of the daily cost of war, Between Tedium and Terror reflects one man’s road to maturity and a brutal coming of age representative of thousands of young Americans who served.

liEchoes of Chongqing: Women in Wartime China, by Danke Li
These twenty oral histories tell the personal stories of twenty Chinese women who lived in the wartime capital of Chongqing during China’s War of Resistance against Japan during World War II.

Danke Li presents the lives of women came from different backgrounds and experienced the war in a variety of ways. Some took part in the communist resistance. Others tried to support families or pursue educations. The War of Resistance had two faces: one presented by official propaganda and characterized by an upbeat unified front against Japan, the other a record of invisible private stories and a sobering national experience of death and suffering. The accounts of how Chinese women coped, worked, and lived during the war years in the Chongqing region recast historical understanding of the roles played by ordinary people in wartime and give women a public voice and face that, until now, have been missing from scholarship on the war.

thurstonThe People’s War: Responses to World War II in the Soviet Union, edited by Robert W. Thurston and Bernd Bonwetsch
Americans often forget the Soviet Union fought and suffered immensely during the Great Patriotic War. But the nation’s ultimate triumph in World War II remains a vivid part of the Russian national narrative even with communism consigned to the dustbin of history.

Drawing on a wealth of archival and recently published material, the contributors show us Russians at war in ways seldom, if ever, discussed outside the country. Chapters detail the calculated destruction of a Jewish town by the Germans and present a chilling picture of life in occupied Minsk. Another looks at the relative freedom from Stalinist oppression enjoyed by intellectuals. Still others discuss women’s myriad roles in combat and other spheres of activity. The People’s War is a frank investigation of civilian life that puts the Soviet people back in their war—and restores the range and complexity of human experience to one of history’s most savage periods.

kaufmanWill Kaufman, the author of UIP’s Woody Guthrie: American Radical, just published a piece in The Conversation about a recent discovery he made in the Guthrie archives. Maybe you’ve seen it referenced all over the Internet. Well, Kaufman kickstarted the meme with his article. Revealed: Woody Guthrie hated his Brooklyn landlord. That’s nothing unusual, granted. But Guthrie’s landlord happened to be would-be real estate baron Fred Trump, father of Donald.

Kaufman writes:

What Guthrie discovered all too late was Trump’s enthusiastic embrace of the FHA’s guidelines for avoiding “inharmonious uses of housing”—or as Trump biographer Gwenda Blair puts it, “a code phrase for selling homes in white areas to blacks.” As Blair points out, such “restrictive covenants” were common among Federal Housing Authority projects—a betrayal, if ever there was one, of the New Deal vision that had given birth to the agency.

A fascinating and timely article provoking other timely articles, for instance here.

Meet the UI Press is a recurring feature that delves into issues affecting academic publishing, writing, education, and related topics.

Homophones vex us from the day we put away our toolbox of infant noises and attempt to engage other human beings with language.

As a professional writer I am of course highly trained to avoid homophone-related confusion. It’s not a matter of intelligence or, God forbid, virtue. I just get lots of practice in milieus where one faces abject humiliation and the Thorny Boot of Misdemeanor when he/she misuses a word.

carnivalBut let your guard down a little bit and boom, disaster ensues. Not long ago, for instance, as I skated along writing about animals, I substituted “carnival” for “carnivore.” The best part is I turned in the manuscript with the mistake. Just last night, messaging with someone, I meant to say “relationship” and typed “revolution,” a Freudian slip so troubling I don’t want to know what it means.

One might blame these kinds of mistakes on being tired. Or on trying to do two things at once, or listening to music, or pondering that now-moving pile of laundry.

Occasionally, alas, I am betrayed by that inner voice that dictates what I intend to write. My version of that voice mumbles, and suddenly I’m trying to pass off “carnivore” as “carnival” and all the editors are laughing at me.

But the real blame is on our forebears.

I ask myself and the unknowable cosmic beings that ignore our entreaties: Why did linguistic practical jokers create this series of mine fields? What lack of imagination led to English speakers having to cope with the their-they’re-there conundrum? Ethnologue tells us that humans speak about 6700 languages worldwide, and we know hundreds—probably thousands—have gone extinct in the past. In other words, humans have ascribed meaning to a bewildering symphony of sounds. Why do we have to make two words sound so much alike?

There is a difference in the problem, I realize that. “Carnival” and “carnivore”—it’s just bad linguistic luck that they sound alike. Some words have to sound the same even in Esperanto. It just happens.

But why turn the concepts behind “our” and “are” into homophomes? Those are important words. English-speakers use them all the time. It’s as if some all-powerful king or queen or pope heard this sort of thing taking root and decided, “Not my problem,” even though these sorts of people meddled in every other aspect of human affairs. Now their laws regarding when you can eat mince pie don’t matter, but we’re still stuck trying to sort out if we should pay someone a complement or a compliment, and the thing is, if you like puns, you could write a sentence where either word would work.

I know, I know. We’ll all get by, until we reduce written communication to IMHO and LOL and IIRC. Then we’ll watch the sun rise on a happier day, shedding nary a tier for the fact we have traded the beauty and subtlety of the obsolete Mother Tongue for the freedom to write a sentence without looking like a dope.

David Hartwell, the legendary science fiction editor, critic, and historian, passed away yesterday at age 74. Nominated a mind-blasting 41 times for the Hugo Award, Hartwell worked for Signet, Berkley/Putnam, Pocket (particularly its Timescape SF imprint), and as a senior editor at Tor Books, while also maintaining part-time relationships with Gregg (his own baby) and William Morrow. He taught. He mentored. He served on the board of the World Fantasy Convention.

Hartwell had a hand in thousands of SF titles, including Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun, Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune, and works by Gregory Benford. A tireless advocate of literary-oriented SF, Hartwell was perhaps best known as the all-knowing, deeply learned editor of many anthologies, some produced with his wife Kathryn Cramer. As such, he had a profound influence on what the field came to consider its own canon and history. The Bruce Sterling-edited Mirrorshades, a Hartwell project, helped defined cyberpunk, to the extent it can be defined, and Hartwell’s anthologies did much to mainstream hard SF and revive space opera. Yesterday, Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing summed it up:

He had Views about science fiction, ideas about what should be happening in the field, and he used his considerable talent, reputation and dedication to foster writers and works and make them well known.

In his book Age of Wonder Hartwell analyzed not just the literature but SF fandom. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction summed it up in its entry on his career: “He was perhaps the single most influential book editor of the past forty years in the American sf publishing world.”

schwalmA Hard Fight for We: Women’s Transition from Slavery to Freedom in South Carolina, by Leslie A. Schwalm

African American women fought bravely and tenaciously for their freedom during the Civil War and after. Focusing on slave women on the rice plantations of lowcountry South Carolina, Leslie A. Schwalm explores women’s vital roles in antebellum plantation life and in the wartime collapse of slavery, and their efforts as freedwomen to recover from the impact of war while redefining life and labor in the postbellum period. Freedwomen fiercely asserted their own ideas of what freedom meant and insisted on important changes in the work they performed for white employers and in their own homes. They rejected the most unpleasant or demeaning tasks, guarded prerogatives gained under a slave economy, and defended their vision of freedom against unwanted intervention by Northern whites and the efforts of former owners to restore slavery’s social and economic relations during Reconstruction.

berry“Swing the Sickle for the Harvest Is Ripe”: Gender and Slavery in Antebellum Georgia, by Daina Ramey Berry

“Swing the Sickle for the Harvest Is Ripe” compares the work, family, and economic experiences of enslaved women and men in upcountry and lowcountry Georgia during the nineteenth century. Mining planters’ daybooks, plantation records, and a wealth of other sources, Daina Ramey Berry shows how slaves’ experiences on large plantations, which were essentially self-contained, closed communities, contrasted with those on small plantations, where planters’ interests in sharing their workforces allowed slaves more open, fluid communications. By inviting readers into slaves’ internal lives through her detailed examination of domestic violence, separation and sale, and forced breeding, Berry also reveals important new ways of understanding what it meant to be a female or male slave, as well as how public and private aspects of slave life influenced each other on the plantation.

weinerMistresses and Slaves: Plantation Women in South Carolina, 1830-80, by Marli F. Weiner

Marli Weiner challenges much of the received wisdom on the domestic realm of the nineteenth-century southern plantation, a world in which white mistresses and female slaves labored together to provide food, clothing, and medicines to the larger plantation community.

Although divided by race, black and white women were joined by common female experiences and expectations of behavior. Because work and gender affected them as much as race, mistresses and female slaves interacted with one another very differently from the ways they interacted with men.

lewisTelling Narratives: Secrets in African American Literature, by Leslie W. Lewis

Telling Narratives analyzes key texts from nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century African American literature to demonstrate how secrets and their many tellings have become slavery’s legacy. This study focuses on the ways secrets are told in abolitionist texts and in novels of uplift, including those by William Wells Brown, Jessie Fauset, Charles W. Chesnutt, Martin Delany, Frances E. W. Harper, Pauline Hopkins, James Weldon Johnson, and Frederick Douglass. In examining how racial and sexual secrets are kept and told in these works, Leslie W. Lewis traces how interaction between masters and female slaves became central to a developing African American literary tradition.

brownPlease note this new interview with Ruth Nicole Brown, author of the UIP book Hear Our Truths: The Creative Potential of Black Girlhood and co-founder of Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths (SOLHOT).