All Tomorrow’s Parties

Peter Coviello’s new book, Tomorrow’s Parties, launches an innovative (and often
unexpected) exploration of nineteenth-century American sexuality through the lens of literature. Here, we talk with him about Joseph Smith, the Velvet Underground, and how he came about his cover image. 

NYU Press: Tell us a bit about your book.

Peter Coviello: Tomorrow’s Parties considers the strange forms pleasure, desire, and carnality could take in the writing of the American nineteenth century, just before these aspects of sex came to be reassembled under the sign of something called “sexuality.” It looks closely at imaginings of erotic life that can seem, to modern eyes, weird and unlikely, hard even to recognize as sex at all.

So I’m interested – when I’m reading Henry James or Harriet Jacobs or Joseph Smith – in
what a modern notion of sexuality might prevent us from seeing clearly, might mute or distort. In this way I think of the book as in dialogue not only with scholarship about sex in the American nineteenth century but with new queer work that worries over the adequacy of “sexuality” itself as a cherished bit of conceptual terminology. It’s my sense that a lot of us doing queer work today are wondering afresh at the misapprehending, sometimes colonizing tendencies of “sexuality” even in its queerest registers; so Tomorrow’s Parties tries to tell a story about how the emergence of that sexuality came to happen, and at what cost.

NYUP: Why the title, Tomorrow’s Parties? Are you a Velvet Underground
fan?

PC: I am. So there’s that. I also found a curious commonality across a lot
of the writers I was reading: a tendency to transform their own uneasiness with the
cramped, narrowing conceptual languages of erotic life that were available to them
into this ardent, yearning investment in futurity, and what might be possible there.
Again and again I encountered authors who, when gripped by one or another kind
of sensual intensity or bodily captivation, would begin dreaming of the future, of
some as yet unripened set of conditions under which those pleasures might find for
themselves a different kind of legibility, and perhaps even a way of living them out
in concert with a range of other people. The more I thought about that – and I do a
lot of my thinking surrounded by music – the more the phrase “tomorrow’s parties”
became inevitable.

NYUP: How did you find such a captivating image for the cover?

PC: This would’ve been in Brooklyn, I’m guessing, in the early 2000s. I was being led around a mazy gallery and feeling, I confess, a little out of my depth. Then I turned a corner and found myself abruptly transported.

Julie Heffernan’s paintings are strange without being surreal, classical but not imitative, painterly without being ironic. You look at them and feel unnerved, as though you’re seeing not a deft citation of classical style but that style as appraised
at a somehow estranging distance. There’s an eerie kind of rupture being staged in Self-Portrait in the Bedroom by the central figure – painted in outblown nonrealist extravagance – but of what? And by what? Of the antique Tintoretto-esque framing gestures by a present, or a future, that confounds it? Of an inherited order by all that fractures it: bodiliness, imagination, their pairing in sex?

Tomorrow’s Parties is about rupture: about all that might be lost – all the
extravagant ways of imagining the very parameters of sex – with the ascent of
modern languages of sexuality and sexual identity. So when my great editor Eric
Zinner asked about images for the cover, I didn’t hesitate: I could think of no image
that performed that interplay between capture and excess, legibility and erotic
obliquity, more beautifully than Heffernan’s. I’m delighted to have it for the book

Peter Coviello is Professor of English at Bowdoin College, where he specializes in nineteenth-century American literature and queer studies, and where he has served as Chair of the departments of English, Africana Studies, and Gay and Lesbian Studies. His book, Tomorrow’s Parties: Sex and the Untimely in Ninteenth-Century America is out now from NYU Press.

Our designs at the 2013 New York Book Show

On April 9, 2013, the Book Industry Guild of New York held its annual New York Book Show celebrating excellence in book design and production. NYU Press went home with three awards and a copy of the show’s catalog, where our books shared the spotlight with many of the year’s best in book-making from publishers, large and small.

Below is a glimpse at an interior page from the 2013 New York Book Show catalog showcasing the First Place Winner in the Scholarly Series category: our very own City of Promises.

View more of our designs in the 2013 New York Book Show catalog here.

Two covers for Two Presidents?

NYU Press takes a different path to publishing a book on the political gridlock in Washington DC

When NYU Press decided to publish a provocative new book, Two Presidents Are Better Than One: The Case for a Bipartisan Executive Branch, by David Orentlicher, arguing in favor of two Presidents, rather than one, it had a number of major challenges, according to Steve Maikowski, Director of NYU Press. “First, we had to ensure that the final manuscript made a very convincing and well-grounded case for such a controversial idea, and the author, a Professor of Law at Indiana University, did indeed ground his argument forcefully in both law and American history. Otherwise, we feared the book would be dismissed out of hand as implausible by pundits and the review media.”

The Press saw the book, which advances this idea of a bipartisan executive branch, as a way to break the political gridlock between the Republicans and Democrats—and especially timely and worthy of serious review attention, given the endless budget impasses and the ongoing fiscal cliff negotiations in Washington.

A far-fetched argument? Not according to the author, or to the early reviewers of the book, including Sanford Levinson, an acknowledged expert on constitutional law and professor of government at the University of Texas School of Law. Levinson wrote, “Can Orentlicher be serious in calling for a plural executive? The answer is yes, and he presents thoughtful and challenging arguments responding to likely criticisms. Any readers who are other than completely complacent about the current state of American politics will have to admire Orentlicher’s distinctive audacity and to respond themselves to his well-argued points.”

The Press was further encouraged by the very favorable pre-publication buzz the book (or rather, the idea behind the book) received from the Washington Post and Boston Globe. What seemed to be an implausible argument of a plural executive branch was called by the Globe, “a fresh lens on a problem we all complain about—and may offer useful guidance for how we should go about trying to reform our government.” Orentlichter went on to appear on ‘Fox and Friends,’ where he was met with just a twinge of cynicism, but also a whole lot of encouragement.

The book also received several excellent pre-publication reviews, including the following praise from Publishers Weekly: “As unlikely as the thought may sound, Orentlicher makes a surprisingly persuasive case for this radical change. Orentlicher delivers a compelling explanation of how such a system would better align with the framers’ original conception of the executive branch… the author has an incisive eye for the problems of contemporary government.”

With the very positive buzz circulating the book, the next challenge was how best to package and market the book to draw attention to the author’s controversial proposal. The NYU Press design and marketing team met the challenge head on, and immediately found a way to encapsulate the author’s argument in an innovative and exciting design.

In a launch meeting for the book, the discussion turned to how best to evoke visually such a two-headed being. Adam Bohannon, a designer at the Press, and Mary Beth Jarrad, marketing and sales director, decided to publish the book with two different covers—one to appeal to Democrats, and another to appeal to fans of the GOP. The Press then commissioned an illustration that would show the pairing of the Democratic donkey and Republican elephant. The result: two covers that look very much the same, but each features one of the iconic partisan images, the donkey or the elephant.

The book was released to the trade in February, with an equal number of copies of each edition in each carton shipped to wholesalers and retailers. The Press decided it would be too burdensome to track sale of each book, which would have required separate ISBNs and increased management of two titles rather than one. “We’ll probably never know which of the two editions sells the best, and as long as we sell them all, we probably will not care to know,” said Jarrad. “The next big question is, when we publish the paperback in 2014, which of the two covers should we use then.”

NYU Press award-winning book designs!

We are so excited to announce that the NYU Press has won three design awards in the 2013 New York Book Show!

Sponsored by the Bookbinders’ Guild of New York, the New York Book Show celebrates excellence in book design and production. The event is a North American competition, with only five awards given per entry category. Thus, we have some prestigious company, including Alfred A. Knopf, McGraw Hill, Oxford University Press, Penguin, Princeton University Press, Random House, and the Smithsonian Institution.

Congratulations to our design team! Here are the winning book designs:

Winner in Scholarly/Professional Book Design
Designer: (our very own) Adam Bohannon

Winner in Scholarly/Professional Cover Design
Designer: Charles B. Hames (also from NYU Press)

Winner in Scholarly/Professional Book Set Design
Designer: Kathleen Szawiola