Richard Porton, the author of Film and the Anarchist Imagination, shares the inspirations and discoveries behind the expanded second edition of his exploration of anarchism’s images, ideas, and influence in cinema.

Q: Why did you decide to write this book?

 When I began researching the first edition during the 1980s, I realized that there wasn’t a comprehensive, book-length survey of a subgenre that could be labeled “anarchist cinema.”  So, to a certain extent, writing the book involved mapping a tradition that few thought even existed.  Radical cinema was usually associated with non-anarchist movements such as Soviet montage and post-revolutionary Cuban cinema. Even erudite cinephiles couldn’t conceive of an explicitly political and historical notion of anarchist cinema. The British critic Alan Lovell had, some years before, published a very brief monograph called Anarchist Cinema, which was basically a study of three filmmakers: Jean Vigo, Luis Bunuel, and Georges Franju. That, and some scattered articles and reviews in anarchist periodicals, was about it. So, in many respects, the book was meant as something of a corrective—or an antidote to conventional modes of thinking.

Q: Who were your biggest influences?

Although there are a number of critics and historians I admire, it would be arrogant to cite any as tangible “influences.” Instead, I’d just say that there are a number of writers I admire, but whose talent and insight I could never hope to replicate.  In terms of this project specifically, I ‘ve always been impressed with the way that the late Paul Avrich, the leading American chronicler of anarchism, synthesized great narrative sweep with historical commentary. Activist theorists/historians such as Murray Bookchin and David Graeber were constant inspirations. Since the book is as much a work of film criticism as film history, I’m indebted to a plethora of film critics and academics. But some of these critics and academics are friends and I’d be loath to name any of them in the event of inadvertently slighting someone I’ve overlooked.  

Q: What is the most interesting discovery you made while researching and writing your book?

While working on the second, expanded edition of the book, I was heartened by the fact that there’s now a burgeoning community of filmmakers who are knowledgeable about anarchism and unashamed to say so. During the 1930s, the CNT, an anarcho-syndicalist trade union, produced explicitly anarchist films during the Spanish Civil War (or, as the anarchists like to say, the “Spanish Revolution”). In 1999, when the first edition was published, New York’s Pacific Street Film Collective (now called Pacific Street Films) was one of the few surviving groups with a similar mission. Shortly after the publication of the first edition in 1999 and the rise of anti-corporate globalization movements, anarchism was no longer regarded as a quaint nineteenth-century creed. Filmmaking followed suit and a selection of relatively recent anarchist films are discussed in the new edition’s Afterword.  Perhaps that’s not precisely a “discovery.” But working on a second edition confirmed that the climate of opinion concerning cinema and anarchism had changed.

Richard Porton is an editor at Cineaste and has taught film studies at the College of Staten Island, Hunter College, Rutgers University, and New York University.

Q: What myths do you hope your book will dispel or what do you hope your book will help readers unlearn?

As with the first edition, I wanted to dispel cliched assumptions about anarchism and anarchists, particularly the conviction, which has now resurfaced with Trump’s incendiary rhetoric, that anarchists are nothing but violent, irrational terrorists. Of course, it would be a mistake to go in the other direction and claim that anarchists have always been pacifists. But a nuanced treatment of the extremely complex history of anarchism, and its relationship to cinema, encompasses advocates of propaganda by the deed as well as Tolstoyan pacifists— and individualists and syndicalists as well as anarcho-communists. Dwelling on these distinctions inspired a bemused reviewer in Sight & Sound to refer to me as a “hair splitter” in 2000. But neither anarchist politics nor anarchist cinema are monolithic entities.

Q: What is the most important idea you hope readers will take away from your book?

 I’m quite ecumenical in my conception of anarchist cinema and include many films by directors who are not self-identified anarchists but whose work reflects what I’d call an anarchist or anti-authoritarian impetus. As the late, great Stuart Christie, the founder of the invaluable Anarchist Film Channel, observed some years ago in The Guardian, “films made by anarchists can be very boring indeed”…one should also consider lots of anti-authoritarian films made by non-anarchists.” So, even though I’ve been criticized for refusing to define “anarchist cinema,” readers should reject rigid assumptions that the cinematic anarchist imagination has to conform to a particular aesthetic or sectarian tendency. That’s probably the primary “takeaway.” As I maintain, to the irritation of some critics, the anarchist aesthetic is “elusive.”

Q: What do you like to read/watch/or listen to for fun?

Although I attended online editions of the Toronto and New York film festivals during the pandemic and saw some films I liked, I’ve derived the most pleasure from re-screening some classics on DVD. I was particularly intrigued to revisit some vintage Hollywood films such as Mitchell Leisen’s Hold Back the Dawn and Billy Wilder’s The Apartment and concluded that they hold up quite well in 2020. As far as reading material is concerned, I’ve been sampling several rather lengthy books that I’ve yet to finish—Mike Davis and Jon Wiener’s Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties and Roberto Calasso’s The Celestial Hunter. For cinephiles, Bill Krohn’s recently published Letters From Hollywood, 1977-2017 is a fun anthology to dip into at one’s leisure. And I might eventually get around to reading Elena Ferrante’s new novel, The Lying Life of Adults.

Welcome to the University of Illinois Press virtual exhibit for the 2020 American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature conference! While we wish this could be an in-person event, we’re still excited to show you new research in religious history and practice, sacred music, Mormon studies, philosophy, and ethics. Browse books, journal articles, author interviews, and more in this virtual exhibit! Also, make sure to use promo code AARSBL20 for 50% off all of our religious studies titles from November 29th to December 10th. Buy three books and get a free copy of the Spring 2021 issue of American Journal of Theology and Philosophy.

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The American Journal of Theology & Philosophy is a scholarly journal dedicated to the creative interchange of ideas between theologians and philosophers on some of the most critical intellectual and ethical issues of our time. Check out the podcast below with editor Gary Slater for more info about the journal.

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Alison Syring is the new acquisitions editor at the University of Illinois Press. She was the Press’s first “Round the Press” intern and was hired as an assistant acquisitions editor in 2017. She handles a variety of fields including radical studies, Appalachian studies, religion, and Mormon Studies!

Click here to read an interview with her on the blog.

Click here to read about her interview with the Juvenile Instructor.

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We’re pleased to announce that Cara A. Finnegan’s forthcoming book, Photographic Presidents: Making History from Daguerreotype to Digital, has been given a National Endowment for the Humanities Open Book Award, a special initiative for scholarly presses to make recent monographs freely available online.

The NEH said, “The books that will be made available through this award range from studies of Russian libel to Song dynasty paintings and the birth of the Reformation, and were all written with previous support from one of several NEH fellowship programs.

During a time when so many of us are doing research remotely, the value of digital editions like these that can be freely accessed from anywhere in the world is more apparent than ever.

All awardees will receive $5,500 per book to support digitization, marketing, and a stipend for the author.”

Photographic Presidents will be published in April 2021. Stay tuned for an announcement of when the open access edition will be available.

Congratulation’s Cara!

Cara A. Finnegan is a professor of communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

It’s that time of year again! Use Promo Code HOLIDAY50 to get all books for 50% off in our annual holiday sale! Need some ideas? Browse our Fall catalog here to get some ideas!

We are pleased to announce Traveling with Service Animals: By Air, Road, Rail, and Ship across North America by Henry Kisor and Chris Goodier won Silver (second place) in the 2019-2020 Society of American Travel Writers Foundation Lowell Thomas Competition in the Guidebook category (119).

Winners of the awards, the most prestigious in the field of travel journalism, were announced October 16, 2020, at the annual conference of SATW, the premier professional organization of travel journalists and communicators. This year’s gathering was a virtual event.

The competition drew 1,299 entries and was judged by faculty at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. This year, the SATW Foundation presented 99 awards in 26 categories and more than $21,000 in prize money to journalists. The awards are named for Lowell Thomas, acclaimed broadcast journalist, prolific author and world explorer during five decades in journalism.

Author of Madam C.J. Walker’s Gospel of Giving: Black Women’s Philanthropy During Jim Crow, Tyrone McKinley Freeman, answers questions about his inspirations, motivations and what he wants readers to know about his book.

Q: Why did you decide to write this book?

I wrote this book because the public conversation and historiography about philanthropy in America has neglected people of color as givers. The deeply-rooted tradition of African American philanthropy is all too often ignored, and that has to change. Black women are central in this tradition, so Madam Walker became the perfect vehicle for telling this larger history. Prior to doing this work, I thought I knew Madam Walker. But by centering philanthropy, the book provides a new and fresh look at Walker herself so that readers emerge with a deeper understanding of who she was and with a deeper appreciation for Black women’s historical generosity. As a historian trained in philanthropic studies, I also wrote the book to demonstrate the power of using philanthropy as an analytical lens for pursuing questions and conducting research—something that I hope more historians will do.

Q: Who were your biggest influences?

Madam Walker was a churchwoman and a clubwoman. My mother is a churchwoman and a clubwoman. Pretty much all of the women in my family going back generations are or were churchwomen and clubwomen. They are this history that I write about in the book. Their service and giving of themselves is the reason why I am here today. This is why I was able to recognize such behaviors and actions in the archives as philanthropy even though the larger historiography has not typically engaged them in that way. I’m heavily influenced by generations of Black women’s historians whose scholarship and direct conversations are foundational to my book. And, one of my undergraduate professors, Dr. Sheila M. Foor, from Lincoln University (PA) is a huge influence because 25+ years ago she told me I could write a book. It may seem like a small thing, but her planting that seed meant everything and is indicative of what I write about in the book as education as a form of philanthropy. As a graduate of an HBCU, I benefited from this type of education that helped me develop and step into a vision for myself in spite of what society said about me as a Black person.

Q: What is the most interesting discovery you made while researching and writing your book?

In addition to being an entrepreneur and a philanthropist, Madam Walker was also an educator. She opened a national network of beauty schools in the early twentieth century and offered a curriculum to Black schools in the South. The schools lasted into the 1970s. Given the constraints on Black education during Jim Crow, it is important that she created an alternative educational pathway for Black women to develop themselves as professionals and to earn a living that enabled them to take care of their families. In the book, I tell the story of her schools and how Walker impacted Black education during this time period, which is one of the book’s contributions.

Q: What myths do you hope your book will dispel or what do you hope your book will help readers unlearn?

Tyrone McKinley Freeman is an assistant professor of philanthropic studies at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

Previously, I worked as a professional fundraiser for several nonprofits. I have seen the ways in which Black donors and donors of color, more broadly, have been ignored and not valued in the field. So, there are several myths that I hope to dispel, such as Black people do not give and they do not have a history of giving. That Black people are recipients of white people’s philanthropy, but not agents of their own. That their philanthropy is “new and emerging” in the modern world because it has only been recently that they developed wealth through sports and entertainment in order to become philanthropists. These ideas are patently false and have no basis in history. They are extensions of the racist ideas that undergirded slavery and Jim Crow. Black generosity goes back to the early days of the Black experience in America, and has its origins in pre-colonial West Africa. Historically speaking, it is so much more than a response to American racism and sexism, and is indicative of a deeper humanity and dignity that predates America itself.

Q: What is the most important idea you hope readers will take away from your book?

I hope that people will unlearn the idea that philanthropy belongs to the wealthy elite, and that they cannot do anything meaningful or helpful for others because they might not have a lot of money to give away. Madam Walker’s gospel of giving is an accessible form of philanthropy available to the rest of us which says anyone can be a philanthropist because anyone can give from what they have at any particular moment. So, the most important idea I hope readers take away is that philanthropy does not generate from wealth, it comes from generosity. We do not have to wait to give, be helpful to others, and challenge systems. We can start right now. And as we acquire more, we can do more.

Q: What do you like to read/watch/or listen to for fun?

Ok, so I love reality TV. Yeah, I said it! The yachting shows, the business shows, the medical shows, the marriage and wives shows. I am regularly horrified by some of the antics, but, for me, they provide much needed respite from the heaviness and absolute horror of the current political times, and the rigor of intellectual work. I also love music. I’m old school hip hop and R&B from the 80s and 90s—Tribe, Boogie Down Productions, Salt n Pepa, Luther, SWV, etc. I love the Neo-Soul folks, Erykah Badu, Maxwell, Jilly from Philly.  I like new folks coming through now, too, like Daniel Cesar, H.E.R. and Jhene Aiko. I’m a huge New Edition fan, as well. I know the dance steps and everything. I’m still mad at Johnny Gill for taking my spot in the group after Bobby Brown left. But don’t get me started. LOL!

Author, GerShun Avilez, of Black Queer Freedom: Spaces of Injury and Paths of Desire answers questions about his familial influences, discoveries and purpose for writing his book.

Q: Why did you decide to write this book?

The work of Black queer artists was not an explicit part of my undergraduate or graduate education, and I wanted to learn about and to be able to explain what Black queer art has been and is—not simply as a part of other traditions but as its own area of study. I wanted to write a book that showcases the work of Black queer artists but that did so by thinking across national borders. I wanted to help people understand how we can think about queer desire and identity throughout the Black Diaspora. Ultimately, I wrote this book for the reason that Toni Morrison says one should write: “If there is a book you really want to read, but it has not been written yet, then you must write it.” I wrote Black Queer Freedom because it is a book that I wanted and needed to read for myself and a book that I wanted to offer to my students and to all communities everywhere as we are coming to understand better the social and cultural significance of queer people to society.

Q: Who were your biggest influences?

My biggest influence has been my mother. It is through her that I learned what Black Feminism is in practice, and witnessing these actions has impacted all of my work even though she is not an academic. My graduate advisor, Thadious M. Davis, continues to influence my approach to talking about Black life and culture. It is because of her that I could imagine a place in the profession for myself. I think I am always writing to her. All of the artists I write about greatly influence me, but especially the poet Cheryl Clarke. I keep returning to her work, and I learn something new every time. 

Q: What is the most interesting discovery you made while researching and writing your book?

I would say that the most interesting discovery or the biggest surprise for me in developing this project was the writing by Black gay men in prison. I was surprised to find the writing that had been published and completely excited by the kind of ground that gets covered. When I began the book, I did not know much about this material—or even that some of it existed, and now the third chapter is focused on prison writing by Black gay men and on how they seek to define their identities radically within the space of incarceration.

GerShun Avilez is an associate professor of English at the University of Maryland. He is the author of Radical Aesthetics and Modern Black Nationalism.

Q: What myths do you hope your book will dispel or what do you hope your book will help readers unlearn?

Because of the realities of racism, sexism, and homophobia, some people have trouble talking about Black queerness outside of notions of social restriction: to be a Black queer person means to have to deal with restraint. Other people stress the power attributed to being queer: being outside of the norm as beneficial and empowering. For me, Black queer life is not an either-or situation. In Black Queer Freedom, I offer a way to think about the devastating nature of different kinds of discrimination while also showcasing how Black queer people make a life in the context of such devastation and constant attacks. The ideas of life and freedom within the context of social restraint is the focus and primary lesson of the book I want to share.

Q: What is the most important idea you hope readers will take away from your book?

The most important idea that I want people to take away from the book is that there is an amazing range of writing by Black queer artists from across the Diaspora. There are certain people that often get discussed when we consider Black queer art, but there are a lot of others artists that we should keep in conversation such as Pat Parker or Makeda Silvera, who are important to considerations of Black queerness and the Diaspora. 

Q: What do you like to read/watch/or listen to for fun?

I love autobiographies, biographies, and memoirs, so I read a lot of them. Here are some of my favorites:  Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped, Alan Cummings’s Not My Father’s Son, Assata Shakur’s Assata, Farah Griffin’s Harlem Nocturne, and Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness. I also just finished George Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue, which was good.

I watch a little bit of everything from reality television to dramatic period pieces. I especially like any kind of mystery/thriller or science fiction (e.g., Locke & Key, Broadchurch, Stranger Things, and Vera) as well as comedies/dramas (e.g., Insecure, Atlanta, and You’re the Worst).

Author Danielle Fuentes Morgan answers questions about the inspirations, influences, and discoveries behind the writing of her new book, Laughing to Keep from Dying: African American Satire in the Twenty-First Century.

Q: Why did you decide to write this book?

I had long been a fan of the satiric mode but I became really interested in what I saw as a recent resurgence in African American satire. When narrowed the scope to think about the role of satire as self-making and as a form of social justice, it was critical to think about the real-life implications of comedy in a way that was accessible and demonstrated not just what happened in the past but in this particular cultural moment. I remember finishing the first draft of the book in 2016—Obama was still president and Dave Chappelle had made a few moves back to the comedic stage but was generally MIA. By the end of that year, Trump was elected and Chappelle made his first broadly public televised return as the host of Saturday Night Live in the first episode after the election. The end of 2016 and the start of 2017, to my mind, signaled an overt return to satire and raised the stakes for how we articulated our own identities. In that sense, I wanted readers to understand the trajectory of African American satire and why we return to the satirical mode again and again as a matter of survival in the face of potential bodily and spiritual deaths. In this post-Obama moment, it feels more critical than ever.  

I can’t remember a time where satire wasn’t central to my life. On a personal level, writing about comedy and satire more broadly connects me to my Uncle Kevin, my mom’s brother, who passed away in 1997. He was always willing to talk to me and listen, really listen, even when I was a kid. He told me once that if he had 100 nieces I’d still be his favorite. Fortunately, I was his only niece, but he made me feel like it was the most obvious, logical conclusion; I still smile when I think of his sincerity in saying it. He was the first person to make me think critically about laughter—why timing mattered, the backstory of a joke, the foreshadowing and the callback in a story—and how all of these ideas influenced our understanding of what “funny” was. When he was 13 or 14 he mailed in (unrequested by the show and unbeknown to his family!) a full script to the sketch variety show, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, along with a note that they could have his entire script and the suggestion of a color television as fair payment. Unbelievably, the producers read his script, aired two of his jokes, and sent him a check! My mom, her other brother, and my grandparents were all watching the show with him and were stunned to hear, “Thanks to Kevin McMillan of Stockton, California!”. When he suddenly died, I was about the same age as he was when he wrote to Laugh-In. I struggled with his death and what I felt was his unlimited potential at age 13 juxtaposed against the fact that he was no longer there when I was 13. 

He introduced me to the stand-up of Eddie Murphy and Flip Wilson (fast forwarding through the risque parts of the VHS). We would go to Blockbuster and get “Best of” The Twilight Zone—a series that brilliantly and intentionally enacts the satiric mode to address race in America through its use of otherness—and talk about the plot and its connection to the world around us. I have vivid memories of sitting on the kitchen counter while he did the dishes and talking about the latest (latest to me, but actually emerging from his childhood or young adulthood in most cases) comedy sketch or Twilight Zone episode. He taught me that popular culture matters—not only does the social realm influence the popular, but the popular is fundamentally important to our understanding of the social realm. So, I think my relationship with my uncle primed my interest in satire and the sociopolitical upheaval of this contemporary moment made analyzing our more subtle modes of resistance through satire feel necessary and urgent.  

Q: Who were your biggest influences?

Certainly Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin were the two writers whose work is foundational in my own writing. Hurston’s unapologetic and insistent interdisciplinarity inspires me to take up all the lenses in my arsenal to formulate new ways of reading the world around me. She serves as a reminder that it is not only wise to engage with my own ancestral memory but it is necessary. Baldwin’s foresight inspires me to think critically about what this moment means for future generations of Black people. The emotional precision and exacting language of his prose is aspirational and encourages me to write about my current cultural moment with a love framed by accountability—accountability to myself, to others, to future generations. If we’re lucky, what we leave behind might encourage someone else to take up these ideas and answer the questions we cannot. 

More contemporarily, I am inspired by the authors who merge the popular and the scholarly in conversations about satire today: Daphne Brooks, Margo Crawford, Dagmawi Woubshet, Darryl Dickson-Carr immediately come to mind. I am grateful for the contemporary frames provided by writers like Glenda Carpio and Mel Watkins. And, of course, I admire writers like Brittney Cooper and Tressie McMillan Cottom who remind us that there is a place for passion, for love, and for unflinching truth even in academia.  

Q: What is the most interesting discovery you made while researching and writing your book?

Two discoveries shaped the direction of this book. The first was coming across Jourdon Anderson’s letter written to his former master in 1865. The letter has been critically under-examined, and I believe it is one of the first written examples of overt satire in African American cultural production. It is brilliant and brave and it pushes back against the contemporary exceptionalism so many people hold as a protective measure when they think about the past. We often hear people disparagingly say about the enslaved, “That would never be me” or “I would’ve fled. I would’ve started a rebellion.” It’s comforting, I suppose, to imagine enslaved people as fundamentally weaker or lacking some sort of inherent revolutionary quality you imagine yourself to have but not only is it immensely disrespectful, it’s just not true. Anderson’s letter serves as a tacit rebuttal to this line of thinking in its sarcasm and revolutionary tone. In speaking to his former master, he couches his argument in terms that lean on plausible deniability in moments, but ultimately breaks through and unequivocally refuses to honor his former enslavers’ request that he return to the plantation to work. His language is so incisive, and demonstrates the myriad nuanced and bold ways the enslaved did in fact resist.

Morgan - Laughing to Keep From Dying.jpg
Danielle Fuentes Morgan is an assistant professor in the Department of English at Santa Clara University.

The second discovery was hearing Chris Rock talk about his decision to address and even criticize hip hop on the stand-up comedy stage in W. Kamau Bell’s documentary Cultureshock: Bring the Pain. Rock says he felt open to discuss and critique hip hop because he loved hip hop. In some ways, this was freeing for me and opened me up to feel more comfortable in critiquing comedy—I write out of a deep, abiding love of comedy and the belief that satire, at its very best and most precise, is world changing. I also feel an obligation to discuss ways the satire should be challenged or reframed. If I love satire and believe it can be life saving, as I do, then critique isn’t the same as condemnation—it’s ultimately hopefulness, a certainty in what satire can be at its best.  It can be a challenge to think critically about subjects you love and people you admire. Hearing Rock talk about the same struggle freed me to write from a place of loving critique. 

Q: What myths do you hope your book will dispel or what do you hope your book will help readers unlearn?

I hope readers will unlearn the belief that comedy is easy or natural, or that it emerges from a vacuum of “just jokes”. While writing, I became very interested in the public assumptions surrounding satire and this sense that comedy and laughter are sorts of naturalized for Black people—this assumption that Dave Chappelle’s comedy, for instance, must come easily to him, rather than that Chappelle works at his comedy and is skillfully designing jokes not only to make us laugh but to force us to interrogate the social realm. It’s precise and intentional. The mainstream has naturalized this idea of comedic ease, particularly in the realm of African American satire and comedy, in the same way the mainstream naturalizes the idea of African American athleticism or musical prowess—as if these are the terrain of inborn ability rather than the result of skill, effort, hard work, and calculation. This distinction is important not only because it’s critical not to essentialize Blackness into an inherent ability to entertain, but also because believing African American satire and comedy to be “just jokes” is a way to dismiss its significance—it rests on the same old antiquated “happy slave” mythology. If you imagine that African American satirists aren’t thinking critically about the sociopolitical realm, it’s easy to extend that and imagine that no Black people are thinking critically outside of “just jokes.” And then, of course, it’s a short jump to an idea that no one needs to think critically—least of all the people who would be otherwise indicted and convicted by the satire itself.   

I also hope readers will unlearn the belief that the “post-racial” is attainable, or even desirable. In the twenty-first century, particularly after the election of Trump, very few rational individuals are holding tight to the idea of the United States being “post-racial.” Racial significance, let alone racial disparities, are all too obvious. However, I hope that my book makes clear that the “post-racial” mythology was never going to save us. What can be lifesaving, instead, is a better understanding of the multitudinous ways of being Black, of understanding Blackness, and of articulating Blackness that not only exist in the twenty-first century but have always existed in Black communities. 

Q: What is the most important idea you hope readers will take away from your book?

This answer is connected to what I hope readers will unlearn. I want readers to understand the continuing significance of satire in the context of Black communities. If readers unlearn the idea of “just jokes,” I hope it is replaced with a clear-eyed understanding of satire as life saving. African American satire is a significant mode of critique, and through this critique it is a realm of Black self-making, a realm for the opening up of Black interior space, and a realm for Black autonomy. In this way, I hope readers will also recognize that while this contemporary moment is certainly unique in many ways, it is also thanks to our ancestors and the frameworks that they’ve provided that we are able to resist, to protest, and to self-actualize in the ways we do—satire included. I bristle at the “I am not my ancestors” ideology because it is only as a result of our ancestors’s resistance that we have frameworks and templates and strength for our own resistance today. I hope one day to do enough and be strong enough to be worthy ofmy ancestors’s hard work.

Q: What do you like to read/watch/or listen to for fun?

With two small kids at home, I very seldom watch anything that’s completely frivolous—everything feels connected to my current or future research! I’ve been thinking a lot about the line between horror and comedy, our expectations and the uncanniness of this present moment, and so I’ve been watching a lot of television shows that investigate that terrain. I’m curious about where, if anywhere, Black women might go—in the past, in the future, or in another dimension—to be free and so I’ve been especially drawn to Lovecraft Country and I May Destroy You. Similarly, I finished the first two seasons of Jordan Peele’s reboot of The Twilight Zone and I return often to Rod Serling’s original series. The Twilight Zone in all its iterations is my happy place. I also find a great deal of comfort in shows about Black women and Black female friendships—Insecure and A Black Lady Sketch Show are two of my favorite shows right now. These comedians are absolutely brilliant. And I’ve been bingeing Living Single (again). I honestly don’t think there’s ever been a show as perfectly cast and as lovingly acted; you can see the camaraderie and trust among the actors—it’s Black friendship and Black love in action.  

Happy University Press Week! This year’s theme is “Raise UP” which emphasizes the role that university presses play in elevating authors, subjects, and whole disciplines that bring new perspectives, ideas, and voices to readers around the globe. This year for the UP Week blog tour, we wanted to give you the opportunity to get to know our acquisitions staff to honor the invaluable contribution that acquisitions editors make in the dissemination of scholarship. This week, we’ll be featuring interviews with Laurie Matheson, Daniel Nasset, Alison Syring, and Ellie Hinton. Make sure to check out the other posts in the UP Week blog tour and browse the #RaiseUP gallery here.

Check out the interview with University of Illinois Press director and music and folklore acquisitions editor, Laurie Matheson below. You can find interviews with the other editors here.

Q: How long have you been at Illinois Press and how did you get into academic publishing?

I have been at Illinois Press since 1996, when I came onboard as a graduate assistant to Judy McCulloh as her development associate. Judy was then music editor with a third of her time devoted to serving as the Press’s development officer. The grant proposals I wrote, mostly on behalf of particular subject areas at the Press, brought me to the attention of the director, Dick Wentworth, and when a full-time job came open as the marketing copywriter in early 1998, he encouraged me to apply. I started that job in February and defended my dissertation and completed my DMA degree in choral music that spring. I never went on the academic job market, as I was finding quite a lot of satisfaction in my full-time work at the Press. So, I came in by a side door and moved through opportunities as they arose. After seven seasons as marketing copywriter I became an acquisitions editor for history, later also for music, and eventually became editor-in-chief and then director.

Q: What types of projects are you really excited about acquiring right now? 

I am very excited about the work that is going on right now in African American music, much of it by talented young Black scholars. Also, it is very exciting to see the field of musicology continue to turn from close analysis of musical texts toward contextualizing music in a broader social landscape. This turn not only moves the field continually more in the direction of Illinois, it also offers great potential to reveal the vital roles of minority music creators and to interrogate structures that have, for example, systematically channeled Black talent into popular idioms and away from classical music.

Q: What do you wish potential authors knew about your job or publishing?

What do I wish potential authors knew about my job? One thing is that I’m not their dissertation advisor. Some authors are in need of close editorial remediation, but that is not my role. That is the role of other professionals, like developmental editors and copyeditors. My job is to see the potential of the project to contribute both to the Illinois list and to broader scholarly conversations; to help authors shape their work, find their voice; and to encourage and guide them through the peer review and revision process.

Q: Of the many projects you’ve been involved with at the Illinois Press, do you have any favorites or any that are most memorable?

Well, no parent wants to favor a particular child over another. But I will say that the some of the most satisfying projects were those that took the longest time to come to fruition, and in some cases struggled the most to navigate the review and revision process and find their final shape. Many of these became award winners, and some of them shifted scholarly discourse into a new path. A few examples are Nancy Rao’s Chinatown Theater in North America; Sandra Graham’s Spirituals and the Birth of a Black Entertainment Industry, Naomi André’s Black Opera, Christopher Smith’s Dancing Revolution, and Lydia Hamessley’s Unlikely Angel: The Songs of Dolly Parton. But again, these are only a few of literally hundreds of projects in whose publication I’m very proud to have had a role.

Q: How would you describe the current role and mission of the university press community?

The role and mission of the university press remains to facilitate the publication of significant original scholarship; to serve the host university; and, for presses with a regional identity, to connect the University through its publications to the region and state in which it is located. Another aspect of our mission is access, both access to transparent and current information about best practices in publishing and access to reliable scholarly content. Open access has the potential to transform the accessibility of scholarly content, especially important for less resourced institutions and for readers outside of the academy’s gated community. The sustainability of open access formats depends on sustainable financial models (of which many are in development). Alternate formats like audiobooks also extend the reach and impact of our work.

Q: In your view, what defines the type of books that the Illinois Press publishes?  What sets the UI Press apart from the other presses within the AUPresses community?

Illinois Press publishes essentially social history and cultural studies: books and journals that document and interrogate humanistic activity, with focus on African American studies, women’s studies, labor, music, sports, film, media and communications, Mormon studies, folklore, Midwest and Illinois history, and Appalachian studies. Our list remains largely US focused, increasingly with important interventions into global studies, especially in terms of the politics of gender and race and of media and communications infrastructures. I think what sets our Press apart is the very close integration of many areas that speak to each other and mutually reinforce each other: African-American studies with music, for example; sports with women’s history; labor with Appalachian studies. In addition to subject area integration, the Press has very strong integration between our book lists and our vibrant journals program.

What do you do in your spare time (if you have any)?

My sources of joy apart from work always include music, although in this current environment my music making is restricted to my own piano playing, where in other times it would include singing with others, directing choirs, and playing the organ for church services. The past few months have given me a lot of joy in my postage stamp-sized garden, as well as exploring some of the state parks in our area. I look forward to future travels, and to the renewed opportunities to view art and listen to music, as that is so restorative for me.

Happy University Press Week! This year’s theme is “Raise UP” which emphasizes the role that university presses play in elevating authors, subjects, and whole disciplines that bring new perspectives, ideas, and voices to readers around the globe. This year for the UP Week blog tour, we wanted to give you the opportunity to get to know our acquisitions staff to honor the invaluable contribution that acquisitions editors make in the dissemination of scholarship. This week, we’ll be featuring interviews with Laurie Matheson, Daniel Nasset, Alison Syring, and Ellie Hinton. Make sure to check out the other posts in the UP Week blog tour and browse the #RaiseUP gallery here.

Check out the interview with Assistant Acquisitions Editor, Ellie Hinton below. She assists Daniel Nasset and Laurie Matheson with their projects. You can find interviews with the other editors here.

Q: How long have you been at Illinois Press and how did you get into academic publishing?

            I have been with the Illinois Press as an employee since January of this year, however, I began my stint at the Press when I was an undergraduate at Illinois. The Gender and Women’s Studies department offered an internship program, and one of the organizations they offered an internship with was the Press. After I worked alongside our publicity manager, Heather Gernenz, and our previous senior acquisitions editor, Dawn Durante, for a semester I was excited to stick around!

Q: What types of projects do you enjoy working on the most? 

            Honestly, it depends on the week. There are some weeks that I am sure you could catch me saying I couldn’t stand to look over another permission, and other weeks that I appreciate the opportunity to completely focus in on such a detail-oriented task during the day. Every title and every author has different needs, and I thrive when I am adapting to each project and problem solving as we move forward.

Q: What do you wish potential authors knew about your job or publishing?

            As an assistant editor, in a week’s time I can go from being virtually clueless about a project, to being one of, if not the most, informed individuals at the press about the status of a project. It never ceases to amaze me.

Q: Of the many projects you’ve been involved with at the Illinois Press, do you have any favorites or any that are most memorable?

           One opportunity that stands out from my internship was working on Jillian Baez’s book, In Search of Belonging: Latinas, Media, and Citizenship in the spring of 2018. At the time I was taking a course called Sex and Gender in Popular Media with Professor Valdivia and she mentioned Baez’s work, as Jillian Baez had been a student of hers. A few weeks later I was assigned to work on her book. It reminds me how small of a world scholarly publishing can be.

Q: How would you describe the current role and mission of the university press community?

            We aim to produce the highest quality scholarship we can to help continually advance our knowledge and hopefully, with that, the human condition. We advocate for our scholars and their scholarship every step along the way, appreciating what their curiosity can set in motion.

Q: What do you do in your spare time (if you have any)?

I spend a lot of time catering to the demands of my dog, Winston, and my cat, Dennis. I love to stay active so you can often find me spending time outside, practicing yoga, or lifting weights. I am trying to improve my green thumb. Lately I have been getting pretty excited about my orchids!