New York University Press is poised to launch a new series of nonfiction books whose scholarly authors will address cultural topics from personal perspectives. Geared toward a general trade readership, Avidly Reads is a partnership between NYU and the digital essay site Avidly, which is a channel of the Los Angeles Review of Books. Avidly editors Sarah Blackwood and Sarah Mesle will edit the series, along with in-house editorial support from NYU Press editor-in-chief Eric Zinner.
Zinner said the series creates an opportunity for authors to, “marry traditional scholarship and personal voice in a way that makes a compelling cultural critique.”
The first books in the series will be released on October 8. Making Out, Theory, and Board Games explore kissing, human relationships, politics, and complex philosophy in ways that integrate memoir, poetry, and even memes. The titles will be trade paperback originals, with small dimensions. None of the three surpasses 155 pages.
While they are shorter than many books, the titles are a longer format for Avidly editors Blackwood and Mesle, who typically publish pieces that are 1,000-1,500 words. The two approached Zinner about creating the series as a way to expand articles that might be constrained by Avidly’s digital format.
While Mesle and Blackwood’s intent is to publish books that use scholarly techniques, not all of the authors in the series will be academics, nor will the books tend toward becoming scholarly monographs. “Each book needs to be about a recognizable cultural phenomenon,” said Mesle. “We wanted something where anyone could hear a titles and say ‘oh I know what that is.’”
Both editors are academics themselves—Blackwood is an associate professor at Pace University and Mesle is an assistant professor at the University of Southern California—and they expressed hope that the books will be uplifting at a time when, as Blackwood said, “academia and higher education are in a state of crisis.” In response to that feeling of crisis, she said, “We’re going to make a space of joy.”
For NYU Press, the non-peer-reviewed books are a departure in terms of audience and the press is turning to independent bookstores in the hopes of reaching those readers. To do it, Zinner said the press is undertaking “different and more aggressive sort of marketing campaign,” than is customary for NYU, including special promotional terms for bulk orders as well as totes and branded sticky note pads.
From an editorial standpoint, Zinner is looking to the series to help enhance the stature of cultural criticism for general readers. “As a country we don’t trust cultural criticism and haven’t since Susan Sontag, but this space of inventive cultural criticism is a sweet spot,” he said. “Ideas overwhelmingly come from the academy but they don’t always get taken up accurately, and this is a chance to do that.”