Teachers College Press, a scholarly, professional and trade publisher focused on the theory and practice of teacher education, has reached agreement on a two-book deal with William Ayers, the University of Illinois at Chicago professor, lauded educational theorist and former leader of the radical 1960s Weather Underground. And, yes, Ayers is indeed the same figure dragooned into the 2008 presidential race in a controversial attempt to use his background in radical politics and a minor acquaintance with Barack Obama to undermine Obama’s presidential run.
In spring 2010, TCP will publish a graphic novel adaptation of To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher, a much-praised memoir of Ayers’s life as a teacher, tentatively to be called To Teach: The Graphic Memoir with art by Xeric Award-winner Ryan Alexander-Tanner. More than a simple memoir, To Teach is also a peer-reviewed work of scholarship on Ayers’s teaching precepts as well as a vivid recollection of his adventures in the classroom. At the same time, TCP will publish a new and revised third edition of the original prose To Teach: The Journey of a Teache. One of TCP’s all-time bestselling titles, To Teach was originally published in 1993 and has sold more than 75,000 copies over three printings, the last one released in 2001.
“For an academic/scholarly press, that’s a major bestseller,” noted TCP acquisitions editor Meg Lemke, who “co-acquired” the book with TCP director Carol Saltz, who will edit the new prose edition. Lemke will oversee the production of the graphic edition. Despite the media hoopla over his radical past, Ayers is a serious and much respected Chicago-based educational activist and theorist who has been with TCP for years and published at least five books at the house. Ayers is also the series editor of TCP's Teaching Social Justice series of titles. (Fugitive Days, Ayers's memoir of his past as a radical political activist, is published by Beacon Press.) The idea to produce a graphic novel version of Ayers’s book came after TCP contacted him about an updated edition of To Teach, which was revised in 2001. “It was a collaborative idea among Carol, myself and Bill,” Lemke said.
The artist for the project, Alexander-Tanner, has won a Xeric Award (a grant presented in support of self-published comics). A former student of Ayers’s brother Rick, Alexander-Tanner had done interviews with William Ayers for a series of cartoons about him and was an easy pick to illustrate the project. Alexander-Tanner, who lives in Portland, Ore., even moved to Chicago to live in Ayers’s house for five months to fully collaborate on the adaptation.
Lemke called the graphic novel adaptation “well-written and drawn, serious but still funny and inspiring,” and compared it to such graphic nonfiction works as Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. She said To Teach is “a popular course adoption text and we think the graphic adaptation will pair with this for courses at the high school as well as college level, and become an even more widely loved 'gift book' for aspiring progressive teachers and anyone working with youth.”