This fall, university presses are at the forefront of the debate on many of today's front-page issues. In fact, one book, Poems from Guantánamo, actually made the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Iraq, the Guantánamo detainees, the environment, the role of religion in America today: these are the subjects of lead titles from several presses. Niko Pfund, vice-president and publisher of trade and academic books at Oxford University pPress says, “What I'm always struck by is how things percolate up in the academy and then spread out into the broader culture. University presses are often the vehicles through which that happens.”
Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak
Edited by Marc Falkoff, preface by Flagg Miller, afterword by Ariel Dorfman
Univ. of Iowa, July 27; $13.95; 10,000 first printing
Pre-pub media attention has already been tremendous for this collection of 22 poems by 17 Guantánamo detainees, edited by an attorney for several detainees: two mentions by David Letterman, who read excerpts, in addition to articles by the Wall Street Journal and Associated Press and interviews with several public radio programs and the BBC, among others. Human rights groups will organize supporting events. Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, says, “These poems have had a very torturous route toward daylight—they've actually struggled through a network of government censorship.” Jim Harris, of Prairie Lights in Iowa City, is orchestrating events for Banned Book Week (September 29—October 6) at indie booksellers around the country. The press's marketing manager, Jim McCoy, says, “Although we anticipated great interest, the advance buys have been above and beyond what we expected.” All royalties are being donated to the Center for Constitutional Rights.
A Contract with the Earth
Newt Gingrich and Terry Maple
Johns Hopkins Univ., Nov.; $20; 50,000 first printing
The incongruity of conservative Newt Gingrich joining Al Gore on the environmental front is flummoxing some booksellers, but others think Gingrich(with environmentalist Maple) can reach a different audience. Borders's Steve Moore says, “It's good to have a book that doesn't just preach to the choir but addresses that portion of the reading public wary of leftist environmental rhetoric.” Other booksellers think a university press gives the book credibility it might not otherwise have. The Tattered Cover's Cathy Langer sees promise in the fact that “the environmentalists and the Christians are starting to really work together on environmental issues”; she predicts that the book could do well at the Highland Ranch store, which “has a more conservative Christian customer base.” Johns Hopkins is going all out for this: the publisher gave away 500 galleys at BEA and has 500 more media copies; Gingrich's own team will be involved in a three-city launch in Atlanta, New York and Washington, D.C. (where the press has also hired publicist Gene Taft).
The Secular Age
Harvard/Belknap, Sept.; $39.95; 30,000 first printing
Taylor received extensive media coverage in March when he won the 2007 Templeton Prize “for progress toward research or discoveries about spiritual realities” (the prize is worth more than $1.5 million). Starred reviews in PW and Kirkus are the beginning of what will undoubtedly be major review attention. Harvard Bookstore's Carole Horne says, “He's a major philosopher on a timely topic. This should be one of our bigger sellers from university presses.” Another buyer adds, “That's the kind of book that should get looked at now. I can imagine Bill Moyers sitting down with him.”
Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite
Oxford Univ., Oct.; $24.95; 75,000 first printing
As the role of religion in public life continues to incite debate, Oxford sees an opportunity for this study of the rise of evangelicals to power by Lindsay, a sociologist at Rice University and columnist for the pastor-oriented Rev! magazine. An eight- to 10-city tour will be supplemented by outreach to Christian media and booksellers; print ads in the New York Times, Atlantic Monthly, Christianity Today, Wall Street Journal and Commonweal; a 1,000-copy “Bigmouth” campaign; and cross-promote with select corporations and special interest groups. This title received a starred PW review, and Horne of Harvard Bookstore says, “This looks like one of the best of a number of books on the topic.”
Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice
Yale Univ., Sept.; $25; 20,000 first printing
If there's one top title from university presses for the fall, this is it; booksellers are excited by the combination of writer and subject. Janet Malcolm, a venerable journalist, often stirs up controversy and is bound to do so again with this brief dual biography revealing that Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, both Jewish, survived WWII in France with the help of an influential Nazi collaborator. PW gave this title a starred review (July 16), and Ingram's lead buyer for university presses, Ron Watson, says, “I'm crazy about it. I think it's a wonderful book. It might be too literary for everybody, but she's such a good writer and a good literary detective that it's fascinating.” Carol Horne of the Harvard Bookstore agrees: “I think this will be one of the big books from university presses for the fall, one of the major literary biographies of the season.” Many already have a taste of Malcolm's approach to Stein and Toklas from the excerpt that ran in the New Yorker. Malcolm will promote the book in New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C., where she's already booked for The Diane Rehm Show.