After 39 years of distinguished scholarly publishing focused on African-American life and history around the world, the Howard University Press is closing its doors. The university has reached an agreement with Baltimore-based Black Classic Press, an African-American independent press and print-on-demand vendor, to acquire a selection of the press’s backlist of more than 175 scholarly titles with plans to reissue most of them in new editions under BCP’s new line of Howard University Classic Editions.
W. Paul Coates, president of Black Classic Press, is a former Howard University librarian and a former street book vendor who began his publishing career selling books on the streets in front of Cramton Auditorium on the Howard campus. “It’s humbling to have the opportunity to extend the awesome legacy of the books created by Howard University Press because, for decades, Howard was the ‘gold standard’ that advanced Black publishing beyond the realms of any other press,” Coates said.
Howard University provost and chief academic officer Dr. James H. Wyche, said the closing of the press is “related partly to the significant changes that have transformed the publishing business,” and said, “after nearly four decades of unparalleled service to the scholarly publishing field, we have made a difficult decision.” But he also said, “This is a win-win proposition for Howard, HUP, Black Classic, and the many scholars, faculty, and students around the world who have benefited from the insightful and much-needed scholarship published by Howard’s scholarly press over the years.”
In a phone interview with Coates he outlined big plans for Howard University Classic Editions and said he plans to “immediately incorporate the titles into Black Classic Press’s digital database.” BCP will acquire about 84 of HUP's 175 backlist titles. John Hopkins University Press will continue to distribute HUP Classic Editions and the press will begin rejacketing about 6 titles a month in preparation for uploading them into the Black Classic Press’s POD database for reprinting. BCP is short-run and print-on-demand publishing house that specializes in reprinting classic works of African-American literature and keeping them in print. Coates said he expected to upload “the best selling titles first. We’ll eliminate on-hand titles through sales and remaindering.”
Founded in 1972 under the director of Charles Harris, at the time a former editor at Random House, the Howard University Press published about 12 titles annually during its best years. Among the press’s best known and best selling titles are Walter Rodney’s 1981 How Europe Underdeveloped Africa; and Dr. Joseph Harris’s 1993 seminal work, Global Dimensions of the African Diaspora.
HUP Press also sponsored the HUP Book Publishing Institute, an annual summer workshop that specialized in training African Americans, other minorities and women for careers in magazine and book publishing. Coates plans to revive the work of the publishing institute through an intern program at Black Classic Press.
“There will be an opportunity for Howard University students to intern at BCP to provide experience in print and an increasingly digital world. Students can grow as we grow in this sector,” Coates said. Coates also intends to extend the HUP’s publishing legacy by continuing to publish scholarly works by Howard’s and other faculty, particularly in the field of black/African studies as well as works on Africa and on African diasporan life in Latin America, the Carribean and elsewhere. “The acquisition will strengthen the BCP list in those areas and make BCP visible to everyone as a place to submit manuscripts,” he said.
Noting a long association with Howard University that dates to the 1970s, Coates said his acquisition of the list is the culmination of a dream to become a publisher that began on the campus of Howard University when he used to go to Founder’s Library to warm up on cold days when he was a street book vendor. “My whole idea to be a publisher began at Founder’s Library,” he said, “that’s where the idea that I would develop a press and be a publisher began. This is a unique opportunity. HUP is the only black academic press to turn its titles over to an independent black publisher and we will work to maintain an important black legacy. “