It’s been almost three weeks since the University of Missouri announced on May 24 that it would cease its $400,000 annual allocation to the University of Missouri Press, and opposition continues to spread. The Facebook page launched by commission publishers’ rep Bruce Joshua Miller has to date generated 1,700 “likes” and an online petition produced by Florida State University professor Ned Stuckey-French and posted a week ago has garnered to date 2,400 signatures. The latest salvo in the ongoing battle to save the 54-year-old press comes from 10 scholars who edited the seminal 16-volume Collected Works of Langston Hughes, which was published by the University of Missouri Press in 2001, who issued a joint statement in support of the press’ importance to their work and to future research.
The professors, all of them renowned experts on the African-American poet’s life and literary legacy, state that “great universities define themselves by what they publish, and how those publications influence other scholars and readers. A major research university that ceases operations of its press indicates that it has lost interest in a crucial part of its mission.” The professors “admonish President [Tim] Wolfe,” and declare that the decision to close down the press is more than a “local budgetary decision.” The closing will have a significant impact upon future scholarship concerning African-American literature, they insist, including the scholarship on Hughes, a native of Joplin, Missouri, of whose writings the University of Missouri Press is “arguably the publisher of the most definitive collection of the kind to date.”
The University of Missouri Press “challenges narrow perceptions and misreadings of Hughes as a simple, folksy writer by bringing back into publication texts that reveal a profoundly broad and intellectually engaging understanding of twentieth-century U.S. culture and the role of race in world affairs,” the 10 scholars declared.
“From the start,” Stuckey-French wrote in an e-mail to PW, “the administration has made noise about re-opening the press on the model of the Missouri Review,” which is a press managed by students that publishes poetry chapbooks and story collections. “Such a little press is fine, but it is not a university press,” Stuckey-French said, “It’s not a scholarly press that publishes a substantial list in a number of disciplines and offers peer review of manuscripts.”