We are very happy to announce that two NYU Press titles have been selected for inclusion in the 2014 AAUP Book, Jacket & Journal Show! The show recognizes meritorious achievements in the design and production of books, jacket, and covers by members of the university press community. Here are the honored titles.
Th. Emil Homerin, editor-translator of the recently-published The Principles of Sufism (NYU Press, 2014) has long been interested in the work of ‘A’ishah al-Ba’uniyyah, who is perhaps the most prolific and prominent woman who wrote in Arabic prior to the modern period. Homerin, a professor of religion and former chair of the Department of Religion & Classics at the University of Rochester, previously translated a collection of al-Ba’uniyyah’s poems as Emanations of Grace, and likens her work to that of the famous Persian poet, Jalal al-Din Rumi.
In his interview with M. Lynx Qualey, Homerin talked about how he found al-Ba’uniyyah’s manuscripts—which was like finding “a needle in a haystack”—and what changes when you can read Sufi poetry alongside the author’s own spiritual guidebook.
M, Lynx Qualey: Before translating The Principles of Sufism, you worked on translating a collection of ‘A’ishah’s poetry, Emanations of Grace. How did you come to these works?
Th. Emil Homerin: One of the times I’d gone over to Egypt, I was working on the poetry from the Mamluk period, basically 1250-1517.
I was looking for all sorts of poets, but part of my concern was to see if I could find women poets. I had read about women poets, I had their names—hers I did not have—but of others. People would say, ‘Oh, such-and-such a woman wrote poetry,’ but you could never find it. Or you might find one or two poems, or a few verses in a death notice.
So basically I was spending time at Dar al-Kutub and its manuscript collection in Cairo, and I would just go through the titles list, looking though books of poetry and hoping that I could find one by a woman. It was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Then I saw an elderly gentleman walk over to a wall I hadn’t really noticed before. And there was an old card catalog over there. I went over and asked him, ‘Sir, what is this?” And he was kind of surprised, here’s this blond kid talking to him in Arabic. He said, “This is the card catalog from the 1920s.” And I said, “You don’t use the catalog by title?” And he said, “Yes, I use that too, but this one sometimes is better, but I hate to tell you this, it’s by author.” And I just smiled and said, “Thank you so much.”
And then I start writing down women’s names in Arabic.
And then I went into the card catalog, and after a while, lo and behold, I find ‘A’ishah. And that led me to the manuscripts.
You were working with a number of other poets at the time. But you focused on ‘A’ishah. Why?
First of all, I had a collection of poetry by a woman. It still may be one of the only ones by a woman in Arabic. There’s also one by Wallada [bint al-Mustakfi], who was a Muslim in Andalusia who wrote in the eleventh century.
Then I started reading, and I found out it’s Sufi verse, and that’s my specialty, and I thought, “This is great.” And then I found her guide book, and I thought, “Good Lord, I’ve got the ability to read what her mystical doctrines are and compare them to her poetry.” Because so many mystical poets never wrote a guidebook, or anything in prose; you’re always trying to tease out what they may or may not believe, or what school of Islamic mysticism they belong to, and so forth, according to their poetry. But here I had sources that told me exactly what she believed.
What’s sustained your interest in ‘A’ishah’s work?
‘A’ishah is one of the very few women mystics in Islam who wrote and spoke for herself prior to the modern period. That gives us some important perspectives from the viewpoint of a woman on her society, on Islamic mysticism, and on Islam in general.
Do you read ‘A’ishah’s writing as somehow gendered? Are there particular markers that tell you “this is a woman”—stylistically, tonally, word choice?
The short answer is: No.
The one exception would be that, in many of her mystical love poems, she assumes the role of a woman with God or the prophet Muhammad as her lover. This is “lover” in the sense of her beloved, but not necessarily in any kind of passionate sense. And so she will keep, in her better poems, an ambiguity, so you don’t know if she’s talking about her husband or her Sufi master or Muhammad or God. There’s a nice ambiguity there.
In one of the articles that I have written, I took a look at how Aisha was viewed by her contemporaries. And they basically viewed her as they viewed a male Sufi master—using the same epitaphs and so forth, only in the feminine form. And looking at her work, for instance The Principles of Sufism, it is very much in the classical mode of a Sufi guide. And I really can’t say that I see any particular emphasis that I ascribe to gender.
What about the encouraging positivity in which the book is suffused? Would you find a similar positivity in a work by a male mystic?
Sometimes. It depends on the mystic. The person who I would compare her to is Jalal al-Din Rumi, the great Persian poet. He was always an optimist, and he was living in trying times up there in Anatolia in the thirteenth century. He was always confident of God’s mercy, of God’s love, and we see that in ‘A’ishah’s work as well.
You can have other male mystics who are not nearly as optimistic, who are maybe a little more droll or concerned with divine chastisement. Although ‘A’ishah quotes a range of authors, overall though, in the end, she’s got that positive aspect. And I think that’s another thing that made her endearing to me to spend time translating. I’m not one who’d want to translate the blues all the time.
Is that positivity part of what made her popular in her time?
That was probably something that attracted attention to her. Another thing that really attracted attention to her is that she is a very fine poet, and she really understands the Arabic poetic tradition. So in some of her other works, for instance one of her poems called “The Clear Inspiration,” she quotes or refers to fifty other classical poets. That’s a showing-off, too. But it really shows her skills.
Her uncle, Ibrahim, was considered one of the best Arab poets of his generation. According to some sources, she studied with him. So I think that her poetic ability, and it comes over into her prose, was very attractive to her contemporaries.
But, in The Principles of Sufism, there’s really no way to see that she’s a woman. If you didn’t know her name, would there be something about her work that you’d find particularly female?
I don’t think I’d know that, no.
What’s noteworthy about The Principles of Sufism is she’s very careful to quote her sources. Now, this is also rare. Part of it may be that she’s writing a little later than many others who wrote Sufi guidebooks.
She’s very careful to quote her sources, and almost all of the sources are books by men. There are stories of pious women, but there are no quotations from other women, because this may be the first Sufi guidebook written by a woman.
Growing up in Damascus in the fifteenth century, would her education have been different from her brothers’?
No, her education was not different. We know for a fact it was exactly the same as her five brothers. Her father was the chief judge of Damascus, so this was a very prominent family. That’s oftentimes the trend, when you find learned women—and there are a quite a few of them throughout Islamic history—most of them come from elite families that could afford to give their daughters the same education, or an education, as they did their sons.
So that wouldn’t have been unusual, to educate a daughter of the family exactly as the sons?
You wrote elsewhere that it wasn’t usual for women to teach and be scholars in the Mamluk regions, but that they rarely—as ‘A’ishah did—composed their own original work. Why do you suppose? What is the line?
Well, I can only speculate. Did they have the time? Did they have the ambition? ‘A’ishah comes off as a very strong, very confident person who was not afraid to write and put things down. Again, she came from a family that did that. And we do have some bits and pieces of poetry from other women, but just not complete collections. So we do have poems for sure. And, to be blunt, there could be things out there by other women and we just don’t know it. The manuscript collections are immense.
Who read ‘A’ishah’s work during her lifetime? Both men and women? More often men?
We don’t know that much about what women were doing at this time–this is why she’s very important. But she probably recited these poems to other women, and that could’ve included the sultan’s wife, because they had mutual friends when she was in Egypt.
Certainly her poems would’ve been recited among men. She exchanged poems with male scholars when she was in Cairo; we have the exchanges. So they’re writing poems back to each other. Oftentimes poems of praise, and they’re being clever with their plays on words and names and so forth. It’s a kind of educated pastime among the elite, sharing poems.
And there’s no reference to men writing or saying, ‘A woman shouldn’t be doing this sort of thing.’
Oh no. When she’s in Cairo and she’s having these exchanges, she’s a widow. She’s probably in her fifties. Her son is with her, and he’s working as a secretary for the Sultan, and she’s living in the quarters of a family friend with his wife. Certainly somebody’s going to take exception, you’re always going to have conservative elements, but we don’t know of it.
So The Principles of Sufism, her guidebook: Do we have a sense of how many people read it and used it and how readers used it?
No. So far, the manuscript I use is the only complete manuscript I know about. There are parts of it in another manuscript in Cairo, but it’s not complete. Because of the civil war in Syria, I haven’t been able to get there to find out what they might have, because she spent most of her life in Damascus. I did look when I was in Istanbul, and they have some books by her father and her uncles, but they don’t have this one either. That’s not totally surprising, because they have more Turkish than Arabic, but for a while they controlled Cairo.
That might tell you that it wasn’t used that much, because we don’t have that many copies. Whereas her poetry, we have quite a few copies of those. But that could just also be chance.
But in general, ‘A’ishah wrote for a broad audience?
I believe so, yes. Literacy was probably fairly high in Cairo and Damascus because of Qu’ran schools and so forth, so that people could read. We know for instance that merchants and artisans could read, not just the scholarly cadre. But also, people would read these things out loud. So that’s another teaching mechanism. So I think she saw herself as having a broad audience.
In translating the work, were there parts you found particularly challenging?
Sometimes the meaning of the words, or she’s using obscure forms. Other times she’s using colloquial elements, which can be fun. That’s where we usually can bring in contractions and more American English to translate. That can be enjoyable.
It took you around ten years of working on and off on the translation of ‘A’ishah’s poems, Emanations of Grace. Does translating her poetry take more time that translating ‘A’ishah’s prose?
When I was working on Aisha’s poems, I had to edit them first, because they were still in manuscript. After I translate a poem, I don’t really want to publish it for two years. I want to be able to come back and work it over and think it through.
So right up until the time of publishing, as it went to the press, I was still tinkering with translations. The prose is more straightforward. It doesn’t mean that there weren’t issues there that I didn’t have to go through and work over. That’s usually less of a problem.
Beyond specialists, who do you imagine as the audience for this book?
I would hope that those interested in feminist literature would read it. We’ve got a number of people who’ve been interested in women in Islam, and ‘A’ishah’s work is an amazing resource for looking at a woman scholar, and issues regarding women and religion, certainly in classical Islam, but I would also say Islam and religion in general.
The Principles of Sufism is important for two additional reasons. One, here we have a woman writer, so you can at least get some idea of what she believed, and what her background and sources were. Secondly, in terms of Islamic mysticism in general, Principles of Sufism is a valuable book for showing us what sources and resources were available. What part of the tradition is she tapping into? Because she quotes her sources, we know that she’s reading the classics of Islamic mysticism, like the epistle by al-Qushayri and reading contemporary poets, or poets who were nearly contemporary with her, and quoting them. So you can see what she’s reading. And I think that’s important for seeing, at least in her case, how that tradition is manifesting and developing itself in Cairo and Syria in a very important time in Islamic history.
In terms of history, you have an educated woman, and here’s what she studied, and here’s who she interacted with. Also—she’s interacting with men. We don’t see any sign of anyone being upset about this in the circles in which she operated in Cairo and Damascus. This is telling you something about social relations. She is a singular source, for if you want to understand an educated woman, who are you going to read? You can read men talking about women, and historians have used these. But here you have a woman talking about herself.
Are there other audiences who would be interested?
I would think, too, that you do have a lot of men and women who are looking to their own self-help or spiritual development. And if they’re concerned with Islam, this is an invaluable resource.
Or even for those who aren’t specifically interested in spiritual guidance, it is certainly uplifting.
What I like about the Library of Arabic Literature is that we’re editing and translating the text and it’s in its complete form. We’re not dumbing it down, we’re not editing it out, we’re not eliding certain elements a general readership wouldn’t like or appreciate. And I think that’s very important. Because ‘A’ishah was a scholar, she is writing for other scholars, but she’s also writing for the spiritual novice who wants to understand what to do in order to let go of selfishness and find grace.
[This interview originally appeared on the Library of Arabic Literature blog.]
Happy University Press Week! We are thrilled to once again be kicking off the final run of the university press blog tour—this year, with a post by Chip Rossetti, Managing Editor of the Library of Arabic Literature.
After reading the piece, head on over “from the square” to the Princeton University Press blog, where today’s tour continues! [The tour also stops at Columbia University Press, John Hopkins University Press, Georgetown University Press, Indiana University Press, University of Wisconsin Press, and Yale University Press. For a complete schedule, click here.]
Global reach of university presses: The Library of Arabic Literature at New York University Press
New York University Press has a long history of championing cutting-edge scholarship, and for many readers and scholars, it is associated with books on contemporary life. Certainly, the Press publishes outstanding books on the modern world, but as part of its contribution to University Press Week, I would like to highlight a global initiative the Press has launched over the last few years that I hope showcases the broad scope of its commitment to disseminating scholarly work. Specifically, I am the managing editor for an NYU Press series, the Library of Arabic Literature, that publishes pre-modern Arabic texts in facing-page bilingual editions. The series is supported by a five-year grant from the New York University Abu Dhabi Institute, and its general editor is Professor Philip Kennedy, who since 2009 has been based in Abu Dhabi as a faculty member at the new university of NYU Abu Dhabi.
I began work on the series in January, 2011. Along with Kennedy and an eight-member editorial board consisting of scholars of Arabic and Islamic studies, I spent much of my first year laying the groundwork for the series, such as coming up with a wish list of key Arabic texts the editors wanted to see in translation; hiring a digital production manager to set up our XML-first workflow; designing an interior template and series book jacket design; and working out the technical difficulties of publishing books with both right-to-left and left-to-right texts.
Since December, 2012, we have published seven books, with several more in production, twenty more under contract, and a number of others under review. The series aims for a broad range of genres, including poetry, belles lettres, biography, travel and geographical literature, theology, and law. It has been enormously gratifying over the past year to see these books take shape, and to realize that we are taking this enormously rich and varied written heritage and making it accessible to a broad swath of readers who would otherwise be unfamiliar with these works. Most of them have never been translated into English before (or if they were, they are available only in partial 19th-century versions.)
Take, for example, The Epistle of Forgiveness by the blind, ascetic, possibly heretical Syrian poet Abu l-‘Ala’ al-Ma‘arri (d. 449 H/1057 AD): a sardonic, literate tour of heaven and hell (and the famous poets, scholars, kings, and others who inhabit them), it has sometimes been claimed as the inspiration for Dante’s Divine Comedy, possibly via a no-longer-extant Latin translation. Or take our recent publication of Leg Over Leg, by the 19th-century Lebanese reformer and pioneering journalist Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq. Often compared to Tristram Shandy, it is a tour de force of language, an “untranslatable” text that touches on everything from modernity to women’s rights, gender relations, freedom of religion, and relations between Europe and the Arabs. Needless to say, neither of these LAL books was available to English readers before the Library of Arabic Literature.
It has been a steep learning curve for all of us, and many of our editorial discussions have revolved around laying down series-wide rules: can we insist that technical or cultural terms in Arabic be translated in a certain way? Or do we allow individual translators the leeway to make their translation their own, even at the expense of consistency across the series? What is the best way to translate archaic poetry coming out of a very different cultural and literary milieu into comprehensible, lucid English? (And as with any poetry, is it still poetry after it’s been translated?)
All of those questions are well worth tackling in and of themselves, but they are in the service of a greater goal that New York University Press is aspiring to for a translation series like this: ultimately, we want non-Arabic-speaking readers to view these authors and their texts as part of their global cultural heritage, so that an educated reader is as familiar with the names of Ibn al-Muqaffa’ and al-Ma’arri as she is with Homer, Tolstoy and Confucius.
“The American Literatures Initiative, the first of the university press collaborative publishing grants awarded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, approaches 100 book mark.”
To learn more about this exciting news, read an excerpt from the press release below! [The full version appears on the ALI website here.]
In 2007, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, looking for ways to encourage presses to collaborate more on basic publishing operations, and looking to support the more economical publication of first scholarly books in what they called “underserved” fields, issued a call for grant proposals to the University Press community. The call for grant proposals was open-ended: there was no definition of an underserved field, nor were any guidelines provided about the potential size of a grant, the timeframe, or the number of presses needed in the collaboration. However, each proposal had to address several key issues, including providing evidence of an underserved field, identifying more economical and transformative processes for the publication of first books, and providing a plan for long-term sustainability of publishing monographs in the discipline.
The American Literatures Initiative (ALI) was the first such grant awarded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 2008, to be followed by a half dozen additional grants during 2008 and 2009. The ALI allowed five similarly-sized university presses—NYU Press, along with Fordham University Press, Rutgers University Press, Temple University Press, and the University of Virginia Press—to collaborate on the publication of 125 first books in the field of literary studies over five years, with a grant of $1.3 million.
As the ALI approaches the publication of its 100th book, the many skepticisms voiced at the beginning—that presses could not effectively collaborate in these ways—were unfounded. To find out more about the participating publishers and the project’s goals, the Directors of the ALI presses were asked to provide a candid assessment of their progress to date, with the hope that some of the successes of the ALI might be adapted by individual university presses, or scaled onto other university press collaborations.
What’s the future of the ALI after the next grant period ends? “We’re exploring several options,” said Steve Maikowski, Director at NYU Press. “We see the ability to make a strong case to continue funding the most successful, transformative parts of the program, scaling back the big marketing spend, continue our experimentation in collaborative production methods, and focusing on the core plant costs, which will make these niche monographs a bit more viable on our lists. Without such outside support, some of the ALI presses may have to again significantly reduce the titles published in this field.”
In spite of the new financial challenges faced by the ALI, for new scholars in literary studies, the ALI is a beacon of hope in an otherwise dreary publishing landscape for first books for scholars in the humanities. And the ALI has indeed achieved many of the original goals in the grant proposal to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Perhaps most gratifying is the number of prizes won by the ALI to date, most recently the top book prize of the American Studies Association. These distinguished prizes fulfill one of the most important goals: that ALI would become the destination point for the best, award-winning original scholarship in literary studies.
It’s belated news, but another intern at the Press has joined the team as a full-time staff member! Here’s a quick Q&A to introduce you to Gemma, editorial assistant for the Library of Arabic Literature.
Tell us about yourself. Where are you from? What are your interests?
This always feels like a trick question! I’m from Barcelona, although I spent a fair share of my childhood moving around. One of my interests, as a consequence, is language: I grew up speaking Catalan and Spanish at home, English at school, and then a farrago of tongues that I picked up on the way, from Dutch to Arabic (unfortunately, retaining linguistic abilities is a whole different story). I also collect keys from around the world, possibly a sentimental testament to my peripatetic origins. So if you have any old or spare keys, donate them to my cause!
And your role at NYU Press? What’s the most exciting part of your job?
I work with Chip Rossetti on the Library of Arabic Literature series, which is a trailblazing, ambitious venture in the field of translation that I feel immensely lucky to be a part of. Now that the first published books are amassing on the shelf, in their glorious cobalt blue covers, you really get a sense of what a commanding collection this will be.
Why did you go into (academic) publishing?
Despite having largely abandoned any PhD aspirations, I was wary of straying too far from academia, and my love of literature made publishing a self-evident choice. I also like being around and/or part of conversations about current and trending topics, which the academic publishing industry is always anticipating. The answer, in short, is: to further my education.
Most preferred way of reading? Good ol’ book or fancy schmancy e-reader?
At the risk of sounding absolutely ridiculous, I thoroughly enjoy the smell of books. The dustier and older, the better. Basically, it’s not reading if you’re not literally burying your face in the pages. Smelling an e-reader, on the other hand, is creepy and unhygienic. (That’s my answer and I’m sticking to it.)
What are you reading these days? Got a favorite NYU Press book?
I’ve been perusing a collection of Henrik Ibsen’s plays and revisiting Denis Johnson’s irreverent short stories in Jesus’ Son to get through particularly misanthropic mornings. As far as new fiction, I can’t wait to get my hands on She Left Me The Gun. I’ve also been known to lurk — actual words of an employee — in the philosophy section of The Strand.
In our NYUP catalog, I’m looking forward to Unclean Lips and, of course, the next volumes of Leg Over Leg, which cover a variety of titillating topics from marital relations and poetry to the sexual aberrations of Europeans. I’ve also been eyeing Arranging Grief in the backlist, which whets my scholarly interest in trauma theory. The list is infinite and overwhelming!
Any insider tips to tackling the great city of New York?
The G line is an unsettling lime green color on the map for a reason. Stay away from the G. Everything else is fair game.
What are some of your hobbies?
Beyond the expected (reading, writing), these days I’m toying around with a Diana+ camera, an analog from the 1970s that produces very neat, raw lomographic photos. I also spend a little too much time in thrift stores; my favorite is Pippin’s in Chelsea. I recently rescued an orphaned 19th-century full-length mirror that took eons to drag home on the subway. I’m verging on Hoarders territory, but it’s all vintage, so that doesn’t count, right?
Have you ever received any great advice about your jobs from a colleague or a mentor?
My first ever employer had a fertile archive of idioms he liked to share gratuitously (I say this with maximum affection). One saying that always resonated with me went: “A mucha hambre, no hay pan duro,” which more or less translates to… for a good appetite, there is no hard bread. In other words, all work is good work. I don’t generally subscribe to mottos, but this would be the closest thing to a guiding principle in my professional life.
We’ve got quite a few gems in our NetGalley catalog this fall, all available for advance review now. Book reviewers, journalists, bloggers, librarians, professors, and booksellers, we welcome you to submit a request!
Not familiar with NetGalley? Learn more about how it works.
Buzz: Urban Beekeeping and the Power of the Bee by Lisa Jean Moore and Mary Kosut (September 27, 2013)
We think Booklist said it best: “In this fascinating blend of sociology, ecology, ethnographic research, and personal memoir, the authors range through all of the aspects of the human relationship with the honeybee.”
+ Ever thought of honeybees as sexy? You might after watching Mary Kosut discuss the sensual nature of beekeeping.
In Cut It Out, Theresa Morris offers a riveting and comprehensive look at this little-known epidemic, as well as concrete solutions “that deserve the attention of policymakers” (Publishers Weekly starred review).
+ C-sections are just as safe as vaginal births, right? Not true, says Theresa Morris. Watch her discusses this and other misconceptions on our YouTube channel.
Hanukkah will fall on Thanksgiving this year for the first time ever—and the last time for another 70,000 years. Brush up on your knowledge of the holiday in time to celebrate the once-in-an-eternity event. Publishers Weekly, in another starred review, promises a “scholarly but accessible guide to the evolution of the Festival of Lights in America.”
+ Stay tuned for our interview with the author!
Browse all of our e-galleys available for review on NetGalley.
All editors love books. At some point in our lives we fell in love with words, sentences, and stories. It happened early for me. In elementary school I never wanted to leave the library; I hid between the stacks. If you don’t like to think about the wellchosen word or the lyrical power of language, then you probably wouldn’t make a good editor.
And that’s okay. But as a scholar looking to write a book, you should take a moment to think about the craft of writing. For here is a secret that editors know: great books aren’t written, they’re re-written. Many authors have done impressive research and spent years (even decades) interviewing, transcribing, and culling data. But if that scholarship is going to make an impact, then there is more work to do. You have to transform your ﬁndings into a well-told narrative. You have to draw your reader in.
You must be inventive, creative, and lively with your prose. Introduce us to new ideas, new phrases, new ways of thinking. This is what great writers do. This is what you, the author, must do.
Professors are expected to research, teach, and write. The writing may be last on the list, and there may not be any love for it. Great writing is hard. Great writers make reading easy. The words sing, the sentences ﬂow, the pages turn. That’s hard work. Most great writers are talented, but the process of creating a worthwhile book is laborious. Words can be elusive, awkward, tripped over, clunky, monotonous, pedantic, and clichéd. To paraphrase, words don’t bore people, writers bore people.
Revision, editing, and re-writing must happen in order for a great book to get written. This is what editors do. We poke, we pick, we pluck. We move the words around in the sentence. We move the sentences around in the paragraph. We move the chapters around in the book. We re-phrase, we ask for more, for less, for a different direction. There is an art to editing. I like to think that as the years have passed and hundreds of manuscripts have now crossed my desk (or gone through my computer), I have gotten pretty good at editing. I have never seen a case where a manuscript has not been improved through editing—either from my comments or from the academic reviewers kind enough to take a publisher’s modest sum in exchange for their priceless feedback. A thoughtful and challenging review can transform a book.
I suppose I can be tough on authors sometimes. I still edit by hand, on paper with a pencil. I know that receiving these marked up pages with words circled, crossed out, and underlined, with the margins full of questions and comments like, “say more,” “slow down,” and “repeating,” is perhaps not always the most pleasant experience. But it does make for a better book.
Most of the authors I publish say the same thing, “I want to reach a wide audience with my book.” This is often quickly followed up by, “How can I do that?” The answer is easy: Write. Edit. Revise. Re-write.
Here are a few tips: Start with a good title. Pick one that is intriguing, short, and clear—as opposed to vague, long, and complicated. For example, “Parenting Out of Control,” instead of “The Complexities of Family Dynamics in Risk Culture.” Guess which gets a higher Amazon ranking? The same goes for your chapter titles. Always use deliberate, compelling phrasing. Avoid jargon. Accessibility is not the enemy of complexity; in fact, I would argue that easily read prose is more difﬁcult to produce and more likely to convey meaning accurately. Next, pull your reader in from the start by using vivid chapter-openers: begin with a story, an event, a counterintuitive fact, a staggering statistic. Describe. Do not begin a chapter with, “In this chapter I will show….” Please, don’t do that. Say something new and don’t be shy about highlighting your unique perspective. Be able to answer the question, “So what?” I sometimes ask this after a scholar has spent ten uninterrupted minutes earnestly explaining her project. “So what? Why should anyone care? Why is this important?” Map out the stakes for what or how or why your research is signiﬁcant. Only you can tell us—that is, after all, why you are writing the book.
Just don’t forget to re-write it, too.
Ilene Kalish is Executive Editor for the Social Sciences at NYU Press. Read her bio here.
[This article appeared in the Summer 2013 edition of Contexts, a publication of the American Sociological Association.]
Being an intern at NYU Press is a one-of-a-kind opportunity. Not only do our interns play a significant role in every department, but they also have the chance to work in the heart of Manhattan. Most importantly, they get a (very) hands-on introduction to life in academic publishing! As part of our Meet the Interns series, here’s a chance to get to know a few of our members, and what they’re up to at the Press, with a Q&A.
Today: Meet Brittany.
Education: I’m a rising senior at NYU due to graduate next May! I’m in NYU Gallatin [School of Individualized Study], studying a mix of journalism and pop culture studies that I call ‘Storytelling, or Popular Culture as a Narrative Force.’
Hobbies/interests? I’m obsessed with music. I attend a ton of concerts and festivals and love reading biographies and memoirs about musicians. I also used to collect CDs so I have close to 500 at home!
How did you hear about the internship and why did you decide to intern with NYU Press? I found the internship on Wasserman, NYU’s student career services website. I had been interested for some time in exploring publishing, and I’ve loved quite a few of the books the Press has published that my classes have utilized. It was a perfect fit!
Any previous internships you’d like to note? What’s your dream internship?
I interned at Allure magazine in the fashion closet in the Fall of 2011. September 2012, I started interning at the Village Voice in the listings department and transferred over as a music editorial intern at the publication in January, which is where I’ve continued to intern through the summer! It’s extra cool because I get to write for them every week, so that’s already fulfilling my idea of a dream internship!
Tell us about your experience thus far.
I love how friendly everyone in the office is. They don’t treat the interns like interns but just like fellow employees who offer important contributions to the Press. Plus, everyone has gone out of their way to be welcoming and learn names, which is extremely sweet. While here, I’ve learned how to balance multiple projects efficiently. I’m excited to continue helping with projects I’ve been participating in!
Subject area NYU Press publishes in that most interests you: Cultural and Media Studies! I also love many of the titles related to Gender Studies. Those are usually the subject areas that the classes I take center on and the Press has such a wonderful collection of titles in those areas.
Any books you’re looking forward to getting your hands on? (NYU Press or otherwise): I’ve been meaning to read all of Cruising Utopia by José Esteban Muñoz. We read an excerpt in one of my courses so I’d love to finish it. Mixed Race Hollywood is another title that I’ve been working through and obsessed with. Spectacular Girls is forthcoming from the Press but right up my alley so I’m probably going to eat it up when it comes out.
Outside of titles from NYU Press, I’m determined to read more titles from Milan Kundera outside of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which I read in the spring and immediately determined is my favorite book. On the guilty pleasure side, I’ve been dying to find time to finish Mindy Kaling’s book Is Everyone Hanging Out With Me? (And Other Concerns)!
Is this your first summer in the city? Any advice for survival, or must-do recommendations? This has been my first summer in NYC! I’ve been going to so many concerts and festivals. A recommendation is to find out all the free concerts throughout the summer! There are so many fun, free or cheap events around all five boroughs and they’re definitely worth exploring.
What do you love most about working in NYC? Such a cliche to say, but everything is just chaotically busy! It’s such a motivator for me. I come from a small Midwestern suburb, so I feel like I work much harder in NYC just because the pace is so much faster.
Being an intern at NYU Press is a one-of-a-kind opportunity. Not only do our interns play a significant role in every department, but they also have the chance to work in the heart of Manhattan. Most importantly, they get a (very) hands-on introduction to life in academic publishing! As part of our Meet the Interns series, here’s a chance to get to know a few of our members, and what they’re up to at the Press, with a Q&A.
Today: Meet Emma.
I went to NYU and just graduated in May. I double majored in English Literature and Art History.
I love to draw. And I devour art—illustration, design, contemporary art, fashion, film ad music. I also have a weird obsession with archaeology and ancient history.
How did you hear about the internship and why did you decide to intern with NYU Press? I was looking for a job through NYU for the summer. I really wanted to work in publishing because it sounded like a great combination of my interests. Luckily, NYU Press had an opening and I jumped at the chance to work here.
Any previous internships you’d like to note? What’s your dream internship? This was actually my first internship experience. I have worked a lot of customer service and retails jobs, which I have decided are not my dream jobs. It’s a little cheesy, but I have always dreamed of interning at the Metropolitan Museum. I think I would do just about anything for them to be in one of my favorite places everyday day and just getting to admire beautiful, old things.
Tell us about your experience thus far. What has surprised you most about the work environment here? Have you learned anything valuable? Or, what are you most excited about doing/learning during your summer with NYU Press? I think I was surprised how relaxed and friendly the environment is here at the press. Of course, I should have known it would be this way the moment I walked into the office for the first time to interview for my position and saw an a bunch of adorable dogs running around the office. That is my idea of a nice work environment. I have been really lucky in that I have had the opportunity to work in many NYU Press departments. It’s given me the opportunity to really get a handle on the process of getting a book published.
Subject area NYU Press publishes in that most interests you: I am definitely most interested in Cultural Studies, although I find myself increasingly intrigued by the Gender Studies titles that are being published.
Any books you’re looking forward to getting your hands on? (NYU Press or otherwise): Spectacular Girls by Sarah Projansky sounds fascinating. I have been meaning to read Single by Michael Cobb for ages, because he is opening up a whole new dialogue about what it means to be single. As for non-NYU press titles, I am dying to get my hands on anything by Chris Ware, particularly his first book Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. His latest book, Building Stories, is a visually stunning, groundbreaking book that has inspired me to go further with my own drawings and illustrations. Not to mention the fact that it is one of the most poignant stories I have read in a while.
Is this your first summer in the city? If yes, what are you looking forward to the most (events, activities, whatever)? If no, any advice for survival, or must-do recommendations? This is my second summer in the city. My advice: get an air conditioner because it means you will actually be able to sleep. Other than that, the summer is a great time to be in the city. I spent most of my first summer here on the Coney Island beach and in my neighborhood parks (Tompkins, Washington Square), and it was pretty wonderful.
What do you love most about working in NYC? My days here are never dull. I am bound to end up seeing something strange walking around this strange city, which I absolutely love!
We’re so excited to have a wonderful group of interns with us this summer (once again)! Sure, our interns gain invaluable experience supporting every team, from editorial to production to marketing—but they’re also kind of incredible to start. Here’s a chance to get to know a few of them, and what they’re up to at the Press, with a Q&A.
First up: Meet Kerrigan. (Note: We encouraged a goofy picture from her. It’s safe to say she delivered, yes?)
Name and role at the Press:
Kerrigan Dougherty, Intern in Sales and Marketing
St. John’s College, Annapolis, MD, Class of 2016
Cake baking and decorating, tasting coffee, making budgets and schedules
How did you hear about the internship and why did you decide to intern with NYU Press?
Through a string of connections: Smelling of pepperoni after a shift at my pizza store, I arrived at a neighbor’s boxing day party. In truth, I was hoping to find some free dinner and bounce right out of there. I was starting to think about summer plans, though, and knew that adult friends of the family would have good advice or contacts. Someone there sent my name along to a few professional friends. Through one of these folks, I got into contact with Mary Beth Jarrad.
I love the books that NYU Press works with. History is not my thing, but contemporary books on race, class, gender, history of food and fair trade are.
Any previous internships you’d like to note? What’s your dream internship?
I worked for State Senator Leanna Brown as a senior in high school. She and I drafted my first serious resume and discussed the value of networking and forming meaningful, professional relationships. Also, I had the pleasure of organizing materials from her many years in office. There is a great deal to be learned from reading materials like this; each document contained interesting information. This internship with Senator Brown was supremely educational and has set me up with good skills and a good outlook!
My dream is to work in coffee. I love the process from tree to cup. I love how many people are involved getting the precious fruit from its equatorial origin across the world. Once it is roasted, the longest part of the journey has passed. However, a bag of nicely roasted beans does not have a sealed fate. These “beans”, actually seeds of a coffee fruit, have so much potential! Hot or iced. Espresso, French press, pour over. Single origin for a distinct flavor or a blend for a well-rounded feel. Brewed cold or brewed hot. Perhaps the addition of milk, if artfully steamed. I am so excited by it all and my dream internship would bring me from farm to cup.
Tell us about your experience thus far. What has surprised you most about the work environment here? Have you learned anything valuable?
As a fan of organizing and extensive cleaning up, I have cleaned the storage room and alphabetized a few shelves in the office. Our display books needed some dusting. I would not have guessed that book dusting would be a part of my work here! This crowd has been incredibly warm and leaves me excited to enter the real world when my college days come to an end.
I have learned something about this office, perhaps about offices in general: a certain amount of tasks and projects will come my way. I can stick to those, have a mellow day and make good progress. I can also keep my ears and eyes open to things that could be done or improved and ask if I can be of help. This satisfying and a great way to get to know people!
Any books you’re looking forward to getting your hands on?
I spent all year reading original texts, mostly from the Greeks. All of the work at school is reading the originals and analyzing for myself. After a year of that, I am delighted to have someone else make connections for me. It is a great way to take a break and ramp back up for another year of classics and oldies. I love picking up one of our books, finding and reading the most interesting chapter, reshelving the book, and starting the process again. This gets me learning about a number of things very quickly.
What do you love most about working in NYC? Have you found a good smoothie spot yet?
I love the commute on most of my days. I was wiped out in my first few weeks. Now, I am trying to stay out and enjoy New York after work. I have taken it upon myself to seize all of the coffee opportunities around me.
I have been to quite a few shops, taking my coffee journal along to record descriptions of distinctive drinks and doing my best to articulate what my coffee tastes like. Easier said than done, describing coffee.
Tell us about your favorite summer vacation.
I hope to spend next summer in Antigua, Guatemala. Antigua coffee has, what I think, is a balanced flavor. Someone recently said that if he had to have one coffee for the rest of his life, it would be a Guatemalan. I agree! My love of the drink and the process originates in visiting beautiful Antigua, a city in Guatemala, and seeing where it all begins. I hope to set myself up in a Spanish school in the city, volunteer with From Houses to Homes (a sweet organization which I love dearly), live with a host family, and get to as many coffee farms as I can.
Yesterday, the Library of Arabic Literature blog featured an interview with LAL‘s General Editor, Philip F. Kennedy. In the interview, conducted by literary blogger M. Lynx Qualey, Kennedy explains how the Library of Arabic Literature project came about, and a few of the challenges the editors and editor-translators have faced in the process.
Here are a few of the highlights:
M. Lynx Qualey: So, how did this all begin? How did you get involved?
Philip F. Kennedy: I’ve always felt, as long as I’ve studied Arabic, that there’s a situation where the texts available in translation are very messy. And I expect I noticed that as a student, but then you get used to it. From time to time you come back and you ask yourself: “Well, why is this available, and why is that not available?” And you’d find some old fascicles of the Journal of Asiatic Studies and you’d stumble across some installment of a translation and you’d say, “Oh, there’s that here.” I became aware really early that there is stuff, and it’s all over the place.
Then when I came to work with NYU Abu Dhabi, part of the reason I got involved was because there was this possibility of applying for a grant to do this kind of thing. There are other [classical and pre-modern Arabic translation] projects, but they’re limited in scope. They just don’t have the resources that you need in order to do something comprehensive.
We sold it quite easily from the start as a translation project, but the idea that it be a parallel text translation project is something else. People agreed that’s what was needed, fortunately — preserve the Arabic and have the English. It seemed to me the project could do two things: make you discover the Arabic, as well as the English giving you access to the Arabic. Or, if you’re not an Arabic speaker, you’re able to read the English. So there’s this sort of multi-functionality about it.
How do you go about finding the right people?
Once we actually came to working on the project, and the rubber hit the road, it became apparent that the Arabic needs a lot of thinking about. It needs editing, and the editing is not as easy as that, because people don’t do it that much. Every scholar involved in one of these translations needs to be able to guarantee the text as a viable, credible Arabic text. You look through all the published editions, you look through the main manuscripts, and you produce a text that one can trust.
That varies enormously from genre to genre and text to text, but if the textual tradition is complicated, then the person doing it should be able to do it.
How do you find qualified editor-translators with the time to devote to this project?
[The editing] is not so easy, and it slows things down enormously. In some cases, it’s put people off. They’ve been willing to do a translation, but when they’ve been faced with what we’re really asking for, in terms of editing, and being familiar with the manuscript tradition, then they think twice, because there’s a time commitment.
That’s the other thing that stands in the way: It’s the fact that the academy in the West, in the States, doesn’t recognize this kind of work. And I think it should. You know, you have to produce monographs, and articles in peer-reviewed journals, but producing a critical edition or a credible edition of a translation counts for nothing, and I think that’s appalling. I think most of the people on the team think it’s appalling. It really is wrong.
Obviously it’s not going to change soon, but hopefully this can help change the way the kind of work we’re doing is evaluated for tenure purposes and promotion purposes, because that’s how people decide how they’re going to devote a semester of their time. “I’ve got a promotion coming up, so I can’t do this, because it doesn’t count.” For whom doesn’t it count? For the field it counts. So why are we doing what we do? Who are we working for?
So our hope is that if this has legs in ten years’ time, and we’ve really established what we wanted to establish, that this can help change the way that scholars in the field are evaluated.
What have been the most challenging sorts of translations?
With poetry, we have an issue. Poetry’s obviously extremely important, but it’s the most difficult thing to translate.
Last May when we met, after doing the business of reviewing what’s contracted and what stages those works were at, we decided to have a workshop on poetry. So we invited Peter Cole to come and talk to us about his views about the translation of medieval Hebrew and Arabic and translation in general. And it was a very useful, very practical, very hands-on workshop.
Some people say classical Arabic poetry is un-translatable?
Some people say that, but then you have to qualify that: because you either do it or you don’t. And we’ve decided you do it; you have to do it. But are you just producing a crib or are you producing an attempt at a poem? We could do both. There is a case to be made for doing both.
[When we had our workshop, there were] twelve people around the room. Robyn Creswell. Richard Sieburth, who’s a superb translator. Peter Cole. We listened to Peter, we listened to Richard, and there certain bullet points emerged that seem like very good practical advice. To what extent each individual can apply that advice when you actually do it is—well, that’s tricky. Some people are good at it, and some people are not.
Some people around the room were doing some really great work. We took a random poem and went line by line, around the room. And the idea was to have an overarching sense of what you want to do with this poem — basically an idea of what this poem is conveying to you emotionally, and also a formal stylistic idea of what you want to convey — and then stick to that. And it worked. Because around the room, every poem was consistent within itself.
And I did the worst one, because my idea was just to do the prose crib, so I just went line by line, and produced a block. Other people did these really lean poems. It was like haiku, which means you weren’t translating every detail of the poem, but conveying some essence. Successfully. Somehow, because we did it so methodically, it worked by steps, and the process was very enlightening. I think we decided that’s really the way to go.
Read the full interview here.
Last month, the marketing team at NYU Press bid farewell to an adored colleague and friend, Bernadette Blanco, who left to join the world of trade publishing. Luckily, we were able to snag a familiar face to take her place: Tom Sullivan (hitherto, and likely always to be, known to us as Intern T). Here’s a quick Q&A to introduce you to Tom, the newest member of NYU Press!
Can you tell us a little about your role at NYU Press and how you got here?
As the Marketing Associate/Exhibits Coordinator, I make sure that NYU has a strong presence at all of our annual conferences, that awards are sent out, and that our marketing materials are as up to date as possible. I was originally an intern at NYU Press for two years—followed by one year at Oxford University Press—and now I’m back!
Why did you decide to pursue a career in (academic) publishing?
My first foray into publishing was kind of spontaneous. I needed a work study job while studying journalism at NYU, and I applied for a job as a Marketing Intern here at NYUP. I ended up enjoying it so much, that I decided to pursue a career in publishing after I graduated.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished an edited collection called Against Equality: Don’t Ask to Fight Their Wars, which contains various radical queer critiques of the LGBTQ community’s obsession with repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. A lot of the viewpoints were very controversial, so naturally I enjoyed every moment of it. I enjoy a good queer studies book that pushes your buttons and makes you think. GRR, rage, argument!
Good ol’ fashioned print or fancy schmancy e-book?
Print all the way. When I started at OUP, I purchased a Kindle so I could carry around Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 without my arm dislocating and falling off, and I haven’t touched it since. I can see the appeal, but for me there’s nothing like holding a book in your hand. Also, you can’t browse the shelves of a bookstore with a Kindle. Gross.
What are some of your hobbies?
In my spare time, I aspire to watch lots of movies and try new kinds of food, but I mostly sit in my room eating Chinese food and browsing Tumblr. Just kidding, sort of. Now that it’s getting warmer here in New York, I love exploring new neighborhoods, going to museums for free, and reading in the park by my apartment. Basically movies, books, food, and “cul-chah.”
You’ve lived in New York for awhile. Any insider tips to navigating this crazy city?
For the love of God, please move away from the subway doors so people can get off the train. Also, explore as much as possible. There’s so much to see and do outside of Manhattan below 96th Street.
We know you’re kind of a foodie. Got any favorites you’d like to share?
I could go on and on (and nobody wants that), so here’s a few neighborhoods: Flushing for Korean, East Harlem for Mexican, Jackson Heights for Columbian and Indian, and Parkchester for Bangladeshi.
We *also* know that you’re pretty media savvy. What’s your social media network of choice, and what are you #obsessed with right now?
Have I mentioned that I’m addicted to Tumblr? I don’t post as much as I used to, but I can browse it for hours. I think it’s the combination of cats, pretty photos of food, .gifs, and unhinged social justice crazy that draws me in. Please send help.
Check out Broadist, an amazing body positive fashion blog, and Bon Iver Erotic Stories, which is not really sexual as opposed to ridiculous. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go pick apples with my beard-y future husband.
What are you most looking forward to this summer?
I have a ton of day trips planned. I love getting out of the city when it’s warm out, sometimes the heat and the crowds are just too much. Also ice cream. Eating all of the ice cream.