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University Presses: Telling Stories That Wouldn't Be Told

November 13, 2012

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We are pleased to have OSU Press author Brian Doyle join us as part of the University Press Week blog tour.  A complete blog tour schedule is available here.

Brian DoyleI have been delighted to be published by a university press for many reasons, some of them egregiously selfish, like a superb editor who let my headlong style alone and only caught my many errors and narrative crimes; but the deepest reason has nothing to do with finally getting to vote on my own book covers, or the immediate and personable response I get to the usual authorial neurotic wheedling and mania. It has something very much to do with community, and with responsibility to the stories that matter, and with giving children of all ages in my region the best opportunity to encounter and digest and savor stories they would never get in any other way than the graceful way they are celebrated by university presses.

The university press that publishes me, bless its taste and discernment, is consciously and deliberately and happily a regional press. It takes its place in the community quite seriously. It wishes to catch and share history here. It wishes to sing and salute the natural world, which is to say our neighbors of all species. It wishes to speak clearly and eloquently of the moist grace of this place, and no other, for I believe its visionaries know full well that if this press does not speak those stories they will be lost.

I have great respect for commercial presses of all sorts; to recruit and promulgate story is generally a positive thing in this universe, and those men and women who bet their livelihoods on publishing are brave souls. But I have a higher respect for university presses, when they turn their capacious talents and resources to communal responsibility and not merely the driest of academic ephemera. To live well in a place is to be a student of its character and characters, its stories and tales, its tumultuous life and stunning possibilities; if we do not share stories of what we were and who we can be, we are merely visitors in a region, not residents. It seems to me that university presses like the one that publishes me are most attuned to story as, no kidding, no exaggeration, food for the soul, both individual and civic. They tell the stories that would not be told otherwise; and the fact that my university press is backed and supported and encouraged by a university that is, in the final analysis, in the business of waking lanky children to their best and most generous and creative selves is doubly cheering.

It would be so very easy, so reasonable, so sensible, to measure the effect and impact of university presses only by the usual stick, cold cash. But that is a small stick by which to measure the good they do. The much larger measurement is the community itself, the lanky children of all ages. Are we more informed, enlightened, instructed, even humbled, by the stories caught and shared by our university presses? Absolutely so; for which I think we ought to bow gently this week, and say thanks, for extraordinary and crucial work, done very well indeed.

Brian Doyle, November 2012

Brian Doyle is the author of three books with Oregon State University Press: a novel, Mink River, and the nonfiction works The Grail and The Wet Engine.

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