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March 2, 2001
Volume 38, No. 12


The UI Press: Where good writing becomes good books
Iowa offers deals on wheels
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InSite: Meet Iowa's legal team

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The UI Press: Where good writing becomes good books

The Kuhl House, located on Park Road, is the home of the University of Iowa Press. One of the oldest residences in Iowa City, the building dates from the 1840s. It takes its name from English professor Ernest P. Kuhl, who bought the house in 1927. The University purchased the home in 1977, and the UI Press has been in residence since 1987. Photo by Rex Bavousett.

No, the local newspaper isn’t published here. It’s not a private home or a museum. And books aren’t printed in the basement.

Staff members at the University of Iowa Press are used to clearing up these common misconceptions about their environs and what doesn’t happen there. But explaining exactly what a university press does is a little trickier.

"We’re here to make the results of scholarship available to readers, both nationally and internationally, and to publish works of general interest," says Holly Carver, who’s been the director of the UI Press for two years.

To make that happen, Carver and her seven colleagues seek out manuscripts, work with authors to shape a book, take on the design and production of each volume, and market the book by gaining readers’ attention through advertising, readings, and reviews. They do this with 35 books a year.

"We’re not a big press," Carver says. "But per employee we publish as many, if not more books than any university press."

University presses are a natural development of the academic world, in which sharing the results of research and scholarship is part of achieving academic recognition. Unlike major publishing houses whose authors are household names (think John Grisham or Stephen King) and who sell millions of books, a typical press run, (the number of books printed), is much smaller at most university presses. At Iowa, a press run can vary from 800 to 5,000 copies.

"Sales are one measure of success, but it’s not all about the numbers," Carver says. She is proud of the high standards achieved by the press, both in copy-editing and proofreading, which are increasingly being neglected at other presses as a cost-containment measure, and in design: UI Press books are still designed individually, while many presses use a "one-design-fits-all" approach for series books.

"Our books look better and better by comparison," she says.

These books rack up an impressive number of awards. This year alone, UI Press poetry books have earned four major awards, and Visiting Emily: Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of Emily Dickinson, is currently nominated for a Minnesota Book Award.

In addition to receiving awards, the press also bestows them, including the Iowa Poetry Prize, the Iowa Short Fiction Award, and the John Simmons Short Fiction Award (named for the first director of the UI Press, who was at the helm from 1969 to 1984). The award includes publication of the author’s winning manuscript.

UI Press staff members gather in the former living room of the Kuhl House for a weekly meeting. Photo by Rex Bavousett.

"Part of our mission is to launch new writers," Carver says. The recipients of the 1999 and 2000 John Simmons Short Fiction Award, Thisbe Nissen, author of Out of the Girls’ Room and into the Night, and John McNally, author of Troublemakers, have both signed contracts with major publishing houses, subsequent to their publication by the UI Press.

Poetry and fiction seem like natural subjects for the UI Press to publish, given the proximity of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (and its assistance in administering the short fiction awards). But the press also has established niches in other areas: history, anthropology and archeology, natural sciences, autobiography, American studies, theater, and regional books.

"We have a very well-reviewed list in Andean archeology, of all things," Carver says. "It’s a small field, but we’re very proud of it."

Authors of UI Press books come from around the country and the world, but plenty of University of Iowa scholars are on the list of authors and editors who have published books with the press in the past few years: Lynn Alex, Office of the State Archaeologist, Jeffrey Cox, professor of history, Lorraine Dorfman, professor of social work,

Carolyn Dyer, professor of journalism and mass communication, Carl Klaus, professor emeritus of English, Marc Linder, professor of law, Connie Mutel, Iowa Institute for Hydraulic Research, David Reynolds, professor of geography, Shelton Stromquist, professor of history, David Schoonover, Special Collections librarian, and Robert Weir, professor of medical ethics.

In addition, Klaus and writer Patricia Hampl are editing a new nonfiction series, Sightline Books, for the press. Ed Folsom, professor of English and a UI Press author, will be editing a new series of books on poet Walt Whitman. Former Writers’ Workshop faculty member Jorie Graham and Mark Levine, assistant professor of creative writing, are editing a new poetry series, Kuhl House Poets. The first volumes will be available in the fall.

In addition to these new series, the press is publishing foldable, lightweight pocket guides. The first, Prairie in Your Pocket: A Guide to Plants of the Tallgrass Prairie, illustrated by Mark Müller, came out last year. Under consideration is a guide detailing regional butterflies.

The press also has signed on with two electronic publishing services. NetLibrary, which sells electronic books to libraries, has added more than 250 UI Press titles to its catalog, and students will be able to access UI titles on a page-by-page basis through Questia. Both services make UI titles fully searchable and readable on-line.

These kinds of changes keep things fresh for Carver, who’s taken pleasure in the growth of the press since she arrived as managing editor in 1985.

"We’ve grown from a staff of four to eight full- time people, plus a host of fabulous student workers," she says. "Our progress is a real team effort."

For more information on the University of Iowa Press, visit their web site at

Article by Linzee Kull McCray


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