October Brings Much to Celebrate at University Presses

National Book Awards and Nobels Highlight the Importance of Not-for-Profit University and Scholarly Publishers

october09prizesOctober 20, 2009: Five members of the Association of American University Presses (AAUP) made a showing when the finalists for the 2009 National Book Awards were announced on October 14. Coming so shortly after the announcement of the Nobel Prizes, which honored a number of authors published by AAUP members, these honors are a clear reminder of the value university presses put into scholarship, literature, and preserving culture and knowledge for the public.

University presses are regular presences on major award shortlists, and are no strangers to the National Book Awards as both finalists and winners. Poetry has long found one of its most supportive homes at university-based publishing houses. Three of five poetry finalists— Rae Armantrout’s Versed (Wesleyan University Press); Open Interval by Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon (University of Pittsburgh Press); and Keith Waldrop’s Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy (University of California Press)—hailed from AAUP members. In the non-fiction category, the National Book Foundation recognized Adrienne Mayor’s masterful combination of storytelling and scholarship in The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy, published by Princeton University Press.

 Of particular note was the showing in the fiction category: American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell, a story collection published in the Wayne State University Press “Made in Michigan Writers Series.” Publishing great new and regional fiction is a point of pride for many university presses. University presses are also one of the few regular outlets for great contemporary foreign fiction. In 2009, as in previous years, this has meant suddenly finding a Nobelist in the back catalog.

Several of 2009 Nobel Laureate Herta Mueller’s novels are available in translation from the University of Nebraska Press (Nadirs) and Northwestern University Press (The Land of Green Plums and Traveling on One Leg.) “This is reminiscent of when Imre Kertesz was named Nobel Laureate in 2002, or Le Clezio just last year,” said AAUP Executive Director Peter Givler. “American readers have been able to find writers of international importance and cultural resonance from university presses—from editors who recognized literary excellence and were in a position, at a mission-driven press, to value that above bottom-line considerations.”

Many AAUP members can be proud of having published the work of Elinor Ostrom, the first woman to be honored with the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. Cambridge University Press published one of Ostrom’s key theoretical works, Governing the Commons, in 1990. Since then she has authored, co-authored, and edited books from Princeton, the Russell Sage Foundation, MIT, Oxford, Island Press, the National Academies, and Michigan.

While much of the work that Nobel laureates in Physiology or Medicine are specifically honored for is published in specialist journals, AAUP members are known for publishing accessible accounts of noteworthy scientific and medical discoveries, disseminating a wider understanding of the science and technology that is changing our world. This year readers newly curious about the science of telomeres—the basis of the work for which Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider, and Jack Szostak have been recognized—can turn to Catherine Brady’s Elizabeth Blackburn and the Story of Telomeres: Deciphering the Ends of DNA (MIT, 2009.)

We congratulate these presses, along with the many other AAUP members who every day publish works honored and valued by scholars, associations, and prize committees. We look forward to the November announcement of the 2009 National Book Awards and wish all of the authors on the shortlist the best of luck.

The Association of American University Presses is an organization of nonprofit scholarly publishers, dedicated to the support of creative and effective scholarly communications. Through its programs and information resources, AAUP helps its members fulfill their common commitments to scholarship, the academy, and society. Visit the AAUP Web site, www.aaupnet.org, to learn more about the Association, its programs, and members. Learn more about prize-winning books from the members of AAUP.

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