Meet the Press: Laurie Matheson

During University Press Week, the UIP is joining other members of the university press community for a blog tour.

Individual presses will blog on a different theme each day, including profiles of university press staff members. Today we feature a Q&A with Laurie Matheson, Editor-in-Chief at the University of Illinois Press.

UPDATE: Find a 2020 interview with Laurie Matheson here:

Laurie’s acquisitions list includes the subjects of History, Appalachian Studies, Labor Studies, Music, Folklore. As you’ll read below, Laurie’s experience at UIP has been a diverse one, as he has worked in Acquisitions Editorial, Marketing and even fundraising.

Q: How long have you been at Illinois Press?

Laurie Matheson: I came to UIP in 1996 as an assistant to Judy McCulloh in her capacity as director of development (fund raising), which she had taken on as part of her duties alongside acquiring in music, folklore, and Appalachian studies. I was finishing my doctorate in choral music at Illinois at the time. By the time I did finish, I was working full time for the Press as marketing copy writer. In 2001 I moved into acquisitions, initially taking over much of the history list. When Judy retired in 2007, I took over her areas and rebalanced some of my history load. I love working in multiple fields and with a variety of kinds of writers and scholars, but it’s a special joy to work on the music list.

Q: How did you come to work in the field of academic publishing?

LM: I was lucky enough that the university where I did my doctorate had a university press! My initial publishing experience, right out of college, was with a commercial press (Charles Scribner’s Sons, in NY). I had a great experience there, but I’m much more at home in scholarly publishing, where we publish for the long term, rather than the flavor of the week, and where we have the support of a community of scholars who serve as peer
reviewers and then consumers of our books.

Q: How has academic publishing changed since you first entered the field?

LM: One change of course is the shrinking of the library market. Sales to libraries used to be just about sufficient to cover the costs of publishing most monographs. That is no longer the case. Now it’s more important to publish books that also will be purchased by individuals, as we rely so much more on sales beyond the libraries to cover our costs. Some fields, like music, lend themselves more to this kind of broader market than others. And expanding avenues of dissemination, including ebooks, is another way to broaden the reach of our books.

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?

LM: For every one I could mention, there are ten others that are also memorable and favorites in their own way. But I will mention it has been a particular pleasure to work with Craig Gill (University Press of Mississippi) and Sheila Leary (University of Wisconsin Press) as partners in a Mellon-funded book series that also includes a workshop component. Squeeze This! A Cultural History of the Accordion in America by Marion Jacobson was the first volume published in this initiative, called Folklore Studies in a Multicultural World, and we’ve just published the fourth series volume.

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

LM: I think our role and mission have not changed. Our primary mandate is still to bring new knowledge to light, to nurture excellent new scholarship and disseminate it as broadly as we can, so that it can advance the scholarly conversations of a given field. It’s also central to our mission to provide the vetting, copy editing, and other quality control that ensures the integrity of the books we publish.

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 AAUP community?

LM: In some fields, such as African American history, Asian American history, American music, and sports history, Illinois played a foundational role in publishing in areas that had not yet gained credibility in the academy. As a publisher, UIP helped these fields establish that scholarly credibility, and that long term commitment in turn supports our credibility as publishers in those fields.

In terms of publishing profile, UIP has an unusually well integrated list, meaning many of our fields of strength are kin to each other. I would say there is an ongoing emphasis on social activism and its history that goes across our lists, from Appalachian studies to women’s studies to Asian American and African American history to labor history to gender and sexuality studies. In keeping with changes in scholarly emphasis, that focus is stretching out more now to activism in international and contemporary contexts.

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

LM: I’m a professional musician. I play the organ and direct a church choir, compose choral and vocal music, and direct a community choir. Last winter I composed a set of songs for a production of The Tempest a colleague of mine put on at St Mary-of-the-Woods College. I do as much music as I can!

photo credit © 2012 by MaryE Yeomans

About michael

Marketing & Sales Manager since 2012