Monthly Archives: December 2015

January 2016 News, Reviews, and Events


Michael Nylan is winner of the 2013-2014 Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for a Translation of a Scholarly Study of Literature for her translation of Yang Xiong’s first-century philosophical masterwork Exemplary Figures / Fayan. Printed with the English version facing the original Chinese text, Nylan’s deft translation reveals Yang’s complex writing—at turns wise, cautionary, and playful. The Modern Language Association (MLA) awards the prize biennially.

The late Billy Frank Jr. was named one of seventeen recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. The awards were presented at the White House on November 24. UW Press has published biographies on Frank’s life and work including Where the Salmon Run by Trova Heffernan with the Washington State Heritage Center Legacy Project and Messages from Frank’s Landing by Charles Wilkinson.

Reviews and Interviews

Alaska’s Skyboys author Katherine Ringsmuth answered questions about aviation history and Alaska-related topics in a reddit Ask Historians Ask Me Anything (AMA), r/AskHistorians: “My theory is that the Skyboy images (as well as Alaska’s Last Frontier image) was cemented during the Great Depression. At this time the American public worried about the future—they clung to the nostalgia of the past—often the period that defined American greatness—the movement West.”

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From the Desk of Rachael Levay: Sales Conference

As part of a series of guest posts from the desks of UW Press staffers, Marketing and Sales Director Rachael Levay walks us through her recent sales conference trip to New York City:

Sales conference happens twice a year, like clockwork. The University of Washington Press announces our new forthcoming titles twice a year, Spring and Fall. That announcement includes a great deal of internal work, the final step of which is sales conference, when I meet with our sales representatives in New York City to discuss the list and our sales opportunities.

Our U.S. reps are based at Columbia University Press and I meet with them in person at their offices. These meetings are a crucial part of the announcement process because we get the opportunity to talk about the books in depth, ask questions, and share ideas for non-traditional sales. (And meeting in NYC lends a touch of that three-martini lunch, Algonquin table, Bennett Cerf era of publishing.)

IMG_2161Our reps, Catherine Hobbs (sells the Mid-Atlantic), Conor Broughan (Northeast), Kevin Kurtz (Midwest), William Gawronski (West), and Brad Hebel (New York City), have worked with books for decades and bring a wealth of experience to our lists. They also sell books for at least a dozen university presses, which means that a visit from one of our reps is highly appealing to buyers at independent bookstores as they can see lists from a dozen publishers at once.

Because our reps also work with so many other university presses, many of my colleagues from other publishers are in town during the same stretch of time, which allows for the opportunity to get together and talk more about what’s happening in publishing. Luckily this year, two of my favorite colleagues (Brian Halley, Senior Editor for University of Massachusetts Press, and Emily Grandstaff, Sales and Publicity Manager for the University of Virginia Press) were in NYC at the same time so we were able to talk about trends we’re seeing in academic fields and in terms of sales.

Preparation for sales conference is mostly a mental exercise—we publish approximately 75 books a year and distribute another 250 or so, which means there are a lot of books for which I need to know not only what the book is about in a sentence or two, but also its unique sales opportunities, where the author is from, what bookstores the author has recommended as sales outlets, what the editor suggested for sales possibilities, and what backlist books might also pair well alongside the new title to keep those older titles fresh.

In addition to bringing catalogs for our reps, I also prepare “tip sheets,” which are just what they sound like—a one-page document that synthesizes all the info I prepare for this meeting, but also shares our marketing plans so that reps can know where we’re pitching to media and when, advertising plans, and when direct mail plans will send either through snail mail or email. This can help buyers see where the strongest trade investments are being made at our end and ensure they can meet demand.

Luckily our reps are a friendly bunch! What might be a stressful meeting is in actuality an enjoyable and fun get-together—we’ve worked together long enough that before we get down to business, we always spend a few minutes sharing baby pictures, talking about recent travel, and chatting about the current state of publishing. Our reps have a particularly enjoyable point of view—they can tell us what’s happening on the ground in independent bookstores all across America.

Our Spring 2016 list is particularly interesting in that we have a very strong trade list—a number of titles that will resonate not just in the Pacific Northwest but also on a larger scale. Books like Warnings Against Myself and Unpleasantries will have traction on a national and international scale, which is always fun for our reps—it’s a challenge in the best sense of the word to have books that can be sold into any store in the country. There’s also an exciting range of academic books in new disciplines and within new series, like Power Interrupted (Decolonizing Feminisms) and Indian Blood (Indigenous Confluences), that will appeal to buyers at venues with a highly educated and social justice emphasis customer base.

Our distributed art titles are also very popular. In addition to independent bookstores, our reps work with museums all around the country and one of our strengths is our art books. This year, we have two excellent copublications, Endeavouring Banks and Bhupen Khakhar, both of which will have significant appeal in these markets.

We part knowing that the real bulk of the work is still ahead of us—actually selling the books. Announcing them and working through sales conference is always a daunting task but it’s energizing to reach the point at which it’s time to start hitting the pavement, or the email as it’s increasingly become, and see how those back orders start to shape up!

Behind the Covers: ‘Classical Seattle’

BehindCover-ClassicalSeattle-3dThe past 50 years have seen a tremendous arts boom in Seattle, which has given the city not only internationally recognized classical music institutions but also great performance halls to showcase their work and that of visiting artists. In Classical Seattle: Maestros, Impresarios, Virtuosi, and Other Music Makers, Melinda Bargreen documents the lives of prominent figures in the local classical music world. In this guest post, UW Press Senior Designer Thomas Eykemans walks us through his creative process in designing the book’s cover.

This cover design presented a challenge that we frequently encounter: how to visually capture the essence of a rich book full of varied stories, photographs, and personalities in a singular and striking image. Though a collage approach is often tempting, it tends to dilute the composition and lessen the impact of any one image.

I looked to musical notation for inspiration in my early concepts. A musical staff with its clefs, notes, and other symbols provided a rich collection of shapes and forms from which to draw. Upon reflection, however, this direction felt a little cold and detached from the warmth of the people and stories contained within.


An early concept using abstracted musical notation.

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Q&A with ‘Humanizing the Sacred’ author Azza Basarudin

In her new book Humanizing the Sacred: Sisters in Islam and the Struggle for Gender Justice in Malaysia, Azza Basarudin shows how the Malay Sunni women activists of the Sisters of Islam (SIS), a nongovernmental organization promoting justice and equality, are working to reform Islamic law and public policies to address key issues of gender justice in Southeast Asia and beyond.

By weaving together thoughtful interviews and histories of the lives of SIS members, feminist interpretations of Islamic texts, and Malaysian cultural politics, Basarudin ties into global discussions about how women in communities of Muslims are revitalizing Islam by linking interpretation of religious ideas to the protection of rights and freedoms.

We spoke with Basarudin about the book, published this fall in the new Decolonizing Feminisms: Antiracist and Transnational Praxis series.

Q: What was the biggest challenge involved with bringing Humanizing the Sacred to life?

Azza Basarudin: The women activists I researched have dedicated their lives to struggling for self-determination and transforming the ways that Islam is understood and practiced in their community, which is no small feat given the historical marginalization of women from the processes of producing and transmitting Islamic knowledge. The biggest challenge was conveying the passion and dedication of these women through an analytical lens that centralizes gender and power politics and does justice to their activism without subscribing to the politics of Muslim exceptionalism. I wanted the women activists to come alive in the book and to have their words tell the stories of their intimate lives and professional commitments but at the same time be very clear that it is a combination of their class and educational background, Malaysian cultural politics, the historical tradition of Southeast Asian Islam, and Malay culture that has enabled (and constrained) their activism.

Q: What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?

AB: The book’s main contribution is that it highlights how women’s activism destabilizes the historical monopoly of textual interpretation in Malaysia and, consequently, the state’s authority to define and legislate Islam. Islam, in this context, becomes a central site for feminist dissent and political activism. The choice that the women activists made to study Islam rather than to reject it shows the depth of their passion for their religion and the strength of their conviction. More importantly, their refusal to surrender Islam to patriarchal interpretations that have compromised the rights of Muslim women has produced significant implications for themselves, their families and society, as well as the Islamic tradition itself.

Q: Who do you see as the audience?

AB: Specialists and non-specialists alike will find Humanizing the Sacred highly accessible. It can be utilized in undergraduate courses and graduate seminars in Women and Gender Studies, Asian Studies, Anthropology, Religious Studies, Sociology, and Area Studies. It is ideally suited to teach either specifically about Islam and gender, women’s activism, social justice, religion and politics, Muslim societies and cultures, and ethnographic encounters, or more generally about gender and religion, transnational feminisms, anthropology of Southeast Asia, law, and human rights.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

AB: I hope readers will be more aware of the diverse interpretations of Islam and the complex realities of Muslim lives. There is no monolithic interpretation of Islam or homogenous Muslim identity. Muslim practices are historically and contextually situated. At the same time, it is important to avoid understanding Islam as an overwhelming and predetermined force in the lives of Muslims. This is because Islam is one of many factors (e.g., gender, sexuality, class, nationality) that intersect to inform people’s existence.

More importantly, I want to normalize the knowledge that women in communities of Muslims are active interpreters of the faith and agents of social transformation. If someone reads this book and rethinks their savior complex, I have done a small part in dismantling stereotypes and caricatures of Islam and Muslims. At this juncture in our history, rife with Islamophobia and xenophobia, there is nothing more dangerous than willful ignorance, misinformation, and stereotypes.

Q: How did you come up with the title?

AB: I wanted a title that conveyed the foundation of women’s activism, that is, how they humanize various aspects of Islamic knowledge that have been taken for granted as divine and therefore considered infallible and outside the scope of human comprehension. “Humanizing the Sacred” seems to capture what the book is about.

Q: What are you reading right now?

AB: I am reading My House in Damascus: An Inside View of the Syrian Revolution by Diana Darke. It’s a poignant story of Syria and its people by a woman who purchased and restored an Ottoman-era courtyard house in a mixed Sunni-Shia quarter of the Old City of Damascus. Darke skillfully weaves together Syria’s architectural and turbulent political history and sectarian conflicts to humanize the daily struggles of ordinary Syrians living under extraordinary circumstances. Her personal connections and interactions with Syrians provide much-needed insight into the human condition of the conflict: the resilience of citizens struggling to survive in spite of the relentless violence that has engulfed their lives, fragmented their families and communities, and destroyed precious historical sites.

Q: What would you have been if not an academic?

AB: I would most probably been an interior decorator, landscape designer, or travel writer.

Q: What is your next project?

AB: I am working on a collaborative project that examines the gendered and racial dimensions of the War on Terror in Southern California. This project focuses on a local organization of professional Muslim women that is collaborating closely with local law and federal enforcement agencies as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s new “Countering Violent Extremism” (CVE) initiative. I am interested in how the state identifies Muslim women as key actors in “counter-terrorism/counter-radicalization” programs and how it deploys the politics of American exceptionalism to enfold Muslim women as surveillance allies.