Announcing a new partnership with Aeon Magazine

Aeon Magazine logo

Princeton University Press is excited to announce a new partnership with Aeon Magazine. Since September 2012, Aeon has “been publishing some of the most profound and provocative thinking on the web. It asks the biggest questions and finds the freshest, most original answers, provided by world-leading authorities on science, philosophy and society.” Aeon’s publishing platform is an excellent place for showcasing our authors’ thought leadership. When one of their articles takes off, it does so in style: Robert Epstein’s recent essay about why the brain is not a computer received over 375,000 views in just 4 days. In addition Aeon viewing statistics are counted by Altmetric, so they contribute to any measurement of academic impact.

Starting this June, Princeton University Press authors, past and present, will be contributing regular essays to Aeon’s Ideas section, and participating in various discussions that will be featured on a new, dedicated partnership page that features PUP authors and their work. We will be simultaneously featuring these essays on the PUP blog – a growing outlet for intellectual discourse. Check out the inaugural essays in this partnership by philosopher Jason Stanley and political scientist Justin Smith here. We hope you’ll follow us on Aeon.

–Debra Liese, PUP Social Media Manager & blog editor

Look what we found: Vintage PUP catalogs

You never know what you might accidentally come across at 41 William Street. Recently we unearthed copies of a variety of our older catalogs, dating all the way back to 1914! These vintage covers were a great find, showcasing printing and marketing styles throughout the century and proving just how much has changed design-wise over the years at PUP. Spanning nearly the entire 20th century, the covers past and present were a true buried treasure at the press.

Take a look through the gallery below to see some of the best covers, featuring images from 1914 up to Spring 1998. Do you have a favorite?

 

 

Ken Reed on the Princeton Legacy Library

The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since our founding in 1905. Using the latest print-on-demand technology, we have been making this important scholarly heritage available for a new generation of readers. The effort has been particularly relevant in developing nations, where access was not previously available. Over 2,300 titles are currently back in print and over 27,000 have been sold, with the top selling titles hailing from a wide range of disciplines. And now, all the existing Princeton Legacy Library titles have been released in hardcover format as well.

Today PUP sat down for a Q&A with our Digital Production Manager, Ken Reed, who has been overseeing the monumental effort to reconnect readers to this treasure trove of scholarship.

What is the Princeton Legacy Library (PLL) project? How was it conceived?

For years, the press had been interested in bringing out-of-print titles back into print. After much discussion among our senior management, the project received approval and the Press moved ahead with a massive digitization project. The project had two primary goals: bringing as many out-of-print titles back into print as possible, and a much more ambitious goal to create digital assets for all our publications, no matter the status.

To that end, nearly 3,000 titles will end up in the Princeton Legacy Library project. So far we have brought nearly 2,400 titles back into print, both as paper and now as hard case. We are also creating web PDFs for each title for library aggregators.

The titles in the project range from 1915–1999—nearly 100 years of the Press’s scholarship is represented in this series.

Can you explain some of the production details for the PLL titles? How did PUP go about digitizing the books and bringing them back into print?

All of the titles were scanned at a high quality, but our goal was to preserve the text as is. So, we haven’t made any revisions to the original content. Every title has been reviewed for quality prior to publication—a very time consuming process, indeed.

Since in most cases we did not have access to the original covers in print-ready format, we decided early on to have a series design cover created. This was done by the distinguished graphic design firm, Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv.

Our partnership with Ingram was crucial in bringing these titles back into print. We have set up these titles at Ingram through their print-on-demand (POD) technology. Additionally, the covers were auto-generated from our metadata by Ingram, except in some cases where we had to manually adjust them.

Of course, the book interiors and covers were only part of the process. Reviewing and updating the metadata was a key task that had to be undertaken.

Can you explain the metadata process in more detail?

Since we have titles going back to 1915, we had to ensure that we had all the necessary metadata. This includes confirming the bibliographic information—title, subtitle, author—as well as subject codes for the book industry and our web site.

Perhaps more importantly, we had to ensure that we had book descriptions for all of these titles. We digitized seasonal catalogs going back to the 1960s from our own records, and the archives at the Princeton University Library had seasonal catalogs going back to 1914. The Library digitized these catalogs for us, and have been very supportive of the project overall. In fact, from time to time we need to re-scan pages from book interiors, and we often use Library books for this purpose.

Finally, we reviewed all the titles for rights information before publication. Since we were dealing with titles that have been out-of-print for years, in many cases rights have reverted to the authors.

Browse the Princeton Legacy Library here.

The Best of 2015 in PUP books

The Princeton University Press “Best of 2015” list is a testament to those recent PUP titles that have resonated with a broad array of readers in prominent publications around the world. Congratulations to our authors. —Peter Dougherty

Browse the impressive selection of books that were honored in over 40 “Best of 2015” lists:

 

The Digital Einstein Papers: An Open Access Story

EinsteinA year ago in December, Princeton University Press rolled out an unprecedented open access initiative: the ongoing publication of Einstein’s massive written legacy comprising more than 30,000 unique documents. The Digital Einstein Papers, one of the most ambitious publishing projects ever undertaken, launched to widespread fanfare from the scientific, publishing, and tech communities, with enthusiastic coverage from The New York Times, (which hailed the papers as “the Dead Sea Scrolls of Physics”), to Inside Higher Ed, The Guardian, and far beyond. You can watch Diana Buchwald, editor of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, launch The Digital Einstein here.

A year out, what has the success looked like in terms of traffic? Ken Reed, Digital Production Manager at Princeton University Press takes us behind the scenes:

The Digital Einstein Papers site launched on 5 December 2014, and in the past year has had over 340,000 sessions, with over 3.2 million pageviews.

Site traffic has been worldwide, with the top five countries in order being the United States, Germany, India, Canada, and Brazil. The site is mobile optimized, especially for the iOS, which accounts for 50% of mobile traffic to the site. This is vital for global users, since by some accounts the mobile share of web traffic is now at 33% globally.

The Papers features advanced search technology and allows users to easily navigate between the original languages in which the texts were written and their English translation, as well as extensive supplementary material. But the Press is always looking to make technological improvements. In the past year, Princeton University Press has worked closely with the developer, Tizra, to monitor traffic and continually tweak display issues, especially around mobile devices. We have recently added a news tab, and the future will hold more enhancements to the site, including added functionality for the search results, and the addition of a chronological sort.

At present, the site presents 13 volumes published by the editors of the Einstein Papers Project, with a 14th slated to go online in 2016. Here is just a sampling of the included documents:

“My Projects for the Future” — In this high school French essay, a seventeen-year-old Einstein describes his future plans, writing that “young people especially like to contemplate bold projects.”

Einstein’s first job offer — Einstein graduated from university in 1900, but had great difficulty finding academic employment. He received this notice of his appointment as a technical clerk at the Swiss Patent Office in June 1902 and would later describe his time there as happy and productive.

“On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” — Einstein’s 1905 paper on the special theory of relativity is a landmark in the development of modern physics.

Keep an eye on this exciting open access project as it evolves in 2016 and beyond. Explore for yourself here.

Economist Diane Coyle on the role of the global University Press

We were thrilled to see that noted economist Diane Coyle mentioned Princeton University Press in a new post on her blog, The Enlightened Economist that touches on the role of the globalized university press, the coming “disruption” in higher education, and open access:

Last week I attended the European Advisory Board meeting of Princeton University Press, the theme of the discussion being the role of university presses in the globalized 21st century. A while ago Sam Leith had an interesting article in the Guardian praising university presses for their stewardship of non-fiction publishing at a time when many commercial publishers have become fearful ‘me-too’ merchants. It could seem paradoxical: the university presses’ freedom from short term commercial pressure has created the conditions for longer term success, at least for some. Happily, Princeton University Press is one of those that’s thriving. There is a huge appetite for ideas, and the scholarly presses publishing books that address a wider audience than only academics and their libraries have been there to meet it. The appetite is also global, and again a small group of university presses have addressed the global market (much of PUP’s recent growth has been outside its home market in the US).

The other question is what will the ‘university’ part of ‘global university press’ look like in a decade or two? Higher education is ripe for disruption. It seems clear now this will not take the form of MOOCs, although they will have their market. Yet who knows what shape exactly it will take. One of my advisory board colleagues suggested publishing could be able to provide the true interdisciplinarity modern global issues require, whereas traditional university departmental silos discourage it. My hunch is that keeping a clear focus on the ‘product’ being the provision of ideas and scholarship to readers of all kinds around the world, and being agnostic about the exact means of delivering those ideas, will be the way to ride out disruptive technologies. A ‘freemium’ approach looks a good bet too: for example, the open access Digital Einstein website alongside the Quotable Einstein along with many other of his books for sale. (I note by the way there’s a holiday discount at the moment on purchases via the PUP website!)

My latest three books have been published by Princeton, and I’m delighted to be associated with such a distinguished purveyor of ideas to the world.

Thanks, Diane! Suffice to say, we’re delighted too. Read more on The Enlightened Economist.


 

Diane Coyle is the author of a number of books, including GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History, The Economics of Enough and The Soulful Science: What Economists Really Do and Why It Matters (both Princeton). She holds a PhD in economics from Harvard and is a visiting research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.

 

University Press Week Blog Tour Day 5: Author Conversations

thanks to authorsThe final day of the University Press Week blog tour focuses on presses in conversation with their authors. Here at Princeton we would like to take a moment to thank all of our wonderful authors across many disciplines, without whom our esteemed publishing program could not exist. In the past year, PUP has been fortunate enough to publish multiple Nobel Prize winners, up-and-coming stars, renowned scholars and cultural critics. Our authors range from game theorists to astrophysicists, from art historians to professional ornithologists.

Each week on the PUP blog, we feature conversations with our authors about our books. These conversations, such as this one with n+1 co-founder Mark Greif, this one with classics professor Josiah Ober, or this one with biologists and bee experts Olivia Messinger Carril and Joseph Wilson, always provide wonderful behind-the-scenes glimpses of the writing process the origins of our authors’ research.

Today, these university presses share conversations with their own authors:

Temple University Press
Columbia University Press
University of Virginia Press
Beacon Press
University of Illinois Press
Southern Illinois University Press
University Press of Kansas
Oregon State University Press
Liverpool University Press
University of Toronto Press

University Press Week Blog Tour day 4: #TBT

UpWeekThe University Press Week blog tour continues with day four, aptly themed Throwback Thursday. Delve into the fascinating past of university press publishing with new featured posts from these presses:

Project Muse celebrates their 20th anniversary by offering some highlights from their 20 years of university press content.

University of Minnesota Press shares infographics highlighting their 90th birthday this year.

University of Chicago Press offers a TBT written as a letter from the past…from the year the PDF was introduced in 1991.

University of Manitoba Press shares books, catalogs, and book launch photos from the 48 years UMP has been publishing.

University of Washington Press celebrates their centennial by featuring highlights and photos from 100 years of UW Press history.

Duke University Press brings us a special throwback to all of their surprising journal covers.

University of Texas Press offers a look back on the street style of 1970s Pennsylvania through the lens of seminal street photographer Mark Cohen.

University of Michigan Press describes the evolution of their book, “Michigan Trees” through the more than 100 years the publication has been maintained and edited, with a screen shot of the original cover.

University Press of Kansas takes a trip through their list via a “Today in History” theme.

Minnesota Historical Society Press shares Mike Evangelist’s Downtown: Minneapolis in the 1970s, which captures a memorable time and place in the past.

University of California Press remembers their Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 publication in 2010: A media cause célèbre.

University of Toronto Press highlights the various cover designs their journals have had over the years (some journals have been publishing for hundreds of years, so expect some interesting ones!)

Fordham University Press features What Might Have Been… A trip through New York City’s Unbuilt Subway System.

Publishing for a digital age: A word from Peter Dougherty #UPWeek

UpWeek

Scholarly Kitchen ran a terrific article yesterday on the important contributions of university presses, and how many are redefining their role in the digital age. At Princeton University Press, the past year has brought the successful launch of a major intellectual, digital, and global undertaking. A word from our director, Peter Dougherty:

EinsteinProbably the most stunning development at Princeton University Press is the successful launch of our Digital Edition of The Collected Papers of Albert EinsteinThe Digital Einstein Papers has given scientists and historians alike all over the world free access to the first thirteen volumes of the Einstein Papers, one of the most important intellectual archives in all of scholarly publishing.  According to Kenneth Reed, PUP’s Digital Production Manager, usage statistics suggest that the Digital Einstein Papers has been a truly successful global project:

“Since its launch, there have have been 2.7 million page views from across the world. Outside the United States, Germany and India represent the second and third most visitors to the site. Visitors view an average of over nine pages per visit, and returning visitors are 75%. Mobile users account for over 30% of the site usage, which is not surprising given the global appeal of the site.”

The Digital Einstein Papers also represents a global success by way of being a great international and cross-institutional collaboration, drawing on the talents and effort of colleagues not only at PUP, but at our partner institutions, The Einstein Papers Project at Caltech, the Albert Einstein Archive at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and the online platform firm, Tizra.  PUP will add new volumes as they appear roughly every eighteen months.

—Peter Dougherty

Read what these other university presses have to say on the future of scholarly publishing, from the value of acquisitions work and the meaning of gatekeeping in the digital era, to how university presses are picking up the slack left by trade publishers:

Indiana University Press

Oxford University Press

George Mason University Press

University Press of Colorado

University Press of Kansas

UNC Press

West Virginia University Press

Johns Hopkins University Press

University of Georgia Press

University Press Week Blog Tour: What’s Surprising? #ReadUp

UpWeekThis week, Princeton University Press will be participating in the University Press Week blog tour. Stay tuned for our featured post on Wednesday from our Design department on the launch of an exciting new social media initiative.

Today, in keeping with the online gallery theme, check out posts from other university presses on what projects they’ve found particularly surprising. Our own biggest surprise of the year is a foray into children’s literature with the 150th anniversary edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, including illustrations by Salvador Dalí. You can read more about that at the online gallery, and on the PUP blog later this week.

So, what’s surprising in university press publishing this year? #ReadUp!

  • University Press of Florida blogs recipes and photos from recent UPF cookbooks that have changed how people view the Sunshine State, highlighting a thriving food scene that has often gone unnoticed amid the state’s highly-publicized beaches and theme parks.
  • University Press of New England reflects on the unusual success of a book from their trade imprint, ForeEdge. The book is titled Winning Marriage by Marc Solomon, and traces the years-long, state-by-state legal battle for marriage equality in America. Surprises came in many forms: from the serendipitous timing of the book’s publication with the Supreme Court ruling to the book’s ability to resonate with general readers and legal scholars alike—and many others surprises in between.
  • University Press of Mississippi, Steve Yates, marketing director, describes how the Press has partnered with Lemuria Books in Jackson and writers across the state to create the Mississippi Books page at the Clarion Ledger.
  • University Press of Kentucky features a pop quiz of some surprising facts about AAUP Member Presses.
  • University of California Press will discuss their Luminos and Collabra OA publishing platforms.
  • University of Wisconsin Press writes about how mystery fiction is a surprise hit, and a surprisingly good fit for their publishing program. Their sleuths in several series include a duo of globe-trotting art history experts, a Wisconsin sheriff in a favorite tourist destination, a gay literature professor, and a tough detective who quotes Shakespeare and Melville.
  • The University of Nebraska Press is more than their books! Find out about the UNP staff and who they are.
  • And check out surprise posts from University of Michigan and University Press of Kansas as well.

 

A Letter From Your Publicist

book

Happy pub date to you, happy pub date….

Congratulations on your new book! Whether you’ve just put the finishing touches on your first book or have been down this road before, you’re probably eager to see what you can do to help to give your baby a proper send-off into the wild world of book critics and Amazon reviewers alike. Though I may not be your publicist, here’s hoping this guide can address the publicity questions you have, but were hesitant to ask.

Will you send my book out for review?

Absolutely! We are as invested in seeing your book land in the right hands as you are. Many months ago you should have filled out an Author Promotion Form (APF). Every press calls these forms something different, but this is an opportunity for you to share any suggestions for publications or special contacts that should receive a copy of your book. Didn’t fill it out? Don’t fear. You can contact your publicist at any time with leads for reviewers. Your publicist has also been familiarizing herself with your book and compiling a list of contacts that are just right for the target audience. Your book will be sent to a well-curated list. We also send out press releases and targeted email pitches.

My book is out and I haven’t seen any reviews in journals. What’s going on?

Don’t despair. Reviews in scholarly journals can happen at a glacial pace. Often they appear many months (or even a year) after publication date. This is also the case for major publications like the New York Review of Books, The London Review of Books, and the Times Literary Supplement.

What can I do to help?

writingA lot. One of the best things you can do after writing a book is… write some more! If your book’s research can be leveraged to comment on current events and you’re able to write a short (750 words) piece with a definite argument, you can pen an op ed positioning yourself as an expert, mentioning your book in the byline. Your publicist can help you  to get this into the hands of the right people. Never written an op ed before? Start by reading them.

Notice they are free of jargon, written for a general audience, and feature a strong point of view. Here’s a good place to read about the dos and don’ts of op ed writing.

Take advantage of other writing opportunities too. Guest blog if you are asked. Respond quickly to reporters who solicit your expertise. Reach out to personal contacts and colleagues who may have an affinity with your work and be interested in covering it.

Should I promote my book on Facebook/Twitter? Something else?

If you’re already active on social media, get more active now. The three months following the publication of your book is no time for modesty. You can follow people working on or writing about similar topics, retweet your book’s reviews or your own opinion pieces, use twitter to engage with others on your topic, or simply tweet ‘thanks!’ at someone for sharing your piece. If you know of an organization or individual that might be interested in your book, you can tag them in tweets to let them know about it.  But whatever you do, make sure to use your twitter feed to do more than self promote. Pay attention to what others are writing and be generous. If you share someone else’s work, there’s a good chance they’ll pay attention to the next thing you write as well. Finally, don’t worry about jumping onto every social platform there is. Use whatever is most comfortable for you, and where you have a natural following.

Should my book have its own hash tag?

Probably not.  Instead, use a popular tag on a topic you cover (like #edchat or  #behavioraleconomics).

I’ve never used social media and feel silly tweeting. Do I have to?

dislike buttonThere is no pressure at all to engage in these activities. If you’re on the fence about social media, now might be a time to give it a whirl. But if social media use is painful for you, forcing yourself into that territory it isn’t likely to benefit you or your book. No need to worry. Your publicist and press’s social media manager will be pushing out posts on your book themselves. Just sit back and enjoy the show.

Can my university help?

Definitely leverage the power of your university. Be in touch with your communications office to see what resources or plans they may have to promote your book. Some will share special features on social media, put out a press release on your book, post interviews with you their own website, or even be willing to produce a video interview or book trailer. Make sure to keep your book publicist in the loop about any plans to avoid duplication of effort, and offer both your university and your publisher opportunities to cross post.

I was interviewed, but the reporter used my quote without mentioning my book. How can I make sure my book is mentioned next time?

Just ask. Most reporters are amenable to referring to you as ‘author of…’ when using your quote. Don’t be shy about making the request.

Help! My book got a bad review! Should I respond?

angry manSome reviewers may draw conclusions about your research that you think are off base; in rare cases, they may even write caustic takedowns. There is no absolute rule covering how or whether to respond, though in many cases, the best response is no response at all. At times, we may counsel authors to reply, especially in the New York Review of Books, which has a long tradition of spirited exchanges between reviewer and author in their “Letters” section. Above all, if you do respond, you should keep it respectful and stick, as much as possible, to correcting errors of fact. Avoid the polemics the reviewer may have engaged in. You’ll come off better if you take the high ground. Kill’em with kindness.

I still feel frustrated.

troll signCompletely understandable. Post the offending review to your personal Facebook wall if you’re inclined, where no doubt your friends and colleagues will rally to your cause. But don’t feel the need to reply to everything, rectify every misunderstanding, or haunt the comments section under your own op eds. Remember the old chestnut that even bad publicity is good publicity? It’s true. The interest of readers and other reviewers is likely to be piqued by the very controversy that has you steaming, and that can only be a good thing.

Thanks for the tips, but I wish I could talk to another author. Someone who’s traveled this road before.

Jane Austen, Game Theorist cover artYou’re in luck! For another perspective and more ideas on how you can get creative with book publicity, check out this post by Michael Chwe, whose exuberant, hands-on efforts helped his book, Jane Austen: Game Theorist, to garner widespread attention. This is a man who said he’d stop at nothing—not even Jane Austen kitten memes—to get his scholarly book out there.

If you’re not as proactively disposed as Chwe, don’t worry. Successful publicity campaigns come in many forms. Remember, too, that your book is supported by the collaborative efforts of multiple people and departments. Although every new author’s journey comes with a bit of anxiety, take a deep breath, set up a Google alert for your name, and raise a glass to yourself. Whatever you do, try to enjoy the ride.

Sincerely,
Your Publicist

 

 

 

An interview with Jesse Zuba, author of “The First Book”

Literary debuts both launch and define careers, and have a unique impact on the literary marketplace. In The First Book, Jesse Zuba has written a cultural history and literary analysis of “first books”, focusing on poetic debuts, that will intrigue writers and publishers alike. Recently, Zuba spoke to PUP about his first book, The First Book:

The First Book jacket“First books” hold such a special place in the public imagination. How did you come up with the idea of writing about first books?

I was interested in how poets came to see themselves as poets, and be recognized as such by others, before they had anything more than their unpublished writing to show for their efforts, and at a cultural moment when poetry generally didn’t count for a whole lot. I tried to write a research paper about this in college. I remember checking out Wallace Stevens’s Harmonium and John Ashbery’s Some Trees from the library, and re-reading Gary Snyder’s Riprap. But I didn’t follow through. I was fascinated by Stevens’s “Earthy Anecdote,” but I didn’t have any idea what it meant, let alone how to link it to other debut poems.

Eventually I saw that my questions about vocation were exactly what poets usually brooded on as they began their careers. I also noticed the improbable amount of fuss made over debuts in reviews, essays, advertisements, and elsewhere, and I got curious. Four dozen annual first book prizes? For poetry? I liked that the topic gave me a chance to discuss a wide range of poets handling vocational anxieties in different ways, and also to talk about the first book as a complex artifact that is more central to the poetry scene than you might expect.

What does “The First Book” have to do with “Twentieth-Century Poetic Careers in America”?

The first book anticipates others to come. I couldn’t discuss it without placing it in the context of the poetic career. But what was that? Was the classic sequence of pastoral, georgic, and epic still relevant, or was it just a series of books? How did jobs, relationships, and receptions get factored in? And what about the oppositional bent of modern poetry, with its ambivalent relation to the very forms of success that conventional careers aim to achieve?

By focusing on the representation of career, I followed the lead of the poets themselves, who obsessively address questions of self-fashioning in their debuts. That they talk so much about it, both obliquely and sometimes quite explicitly, suits the occasion, since the poetic career – always precarious, and especially so in twentieth-century America – is bound to be radically uncertain at the outset, when it’s all still to do.

What were some of the challenges you faced as you worked on the book?

One challenge was the complexity of the career notion I just mentioned. Most of the criticism dealing with it comes out of Renaissance studies, which has only an indirect relevance to my project. I gradually found my way to books like Edward Said’s Beginnings, and sociological studies of art and professionalism, which helped me to find the handles on the issue. But in the early going, it was sometimes tough to work with a concept that was at once so hazy and yet so pervasive in literary criticism.

In a similar way, the idea of the first book itself proved more difficult to pin down than I expected. If Stevens’s Harmonium, published in 1923, was his first book, was the expanded 1931 edition of Harmonium his second book, or the definitive edition of his first? Was Observations Marianne Moore’s debut, or was Poems, which was published three years earlier by her friends, without her say-so? What about early publications whose authors later destroyed them, like Lyn Hejinian’s The Grreat Adventure, or omitted them from collected editions, like Robert Hayden’s Heart-Shape in the Dust? It was a while before I learned to look at examples like these as evidence of the interest poets and publishers have taken in debuts, which are often staged and re-staged in tellingly energetic ways.

In the book you list lots of debut titles that deal with beginning, from James Merrill’s First Poems and Amiri Baraka’s Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note to Eleni Sikelianos’s Earliest Worlds and Ken Chen’s Juvenilia. Is this part of the secret formula for getting published? Do poets write for prizes?

I don’t see much evidence of any formula, though there are some interesting similarities among first books, and I’m sure many poets have considered current trends and judges’ tastes in the hopes of increasing their odds. There are too many constantly-changing variables involved for a formula to be more than minimally effective, and the checklists you sometimes see in prize advertisements with qualities like “willingness to take risks” and “formal virtuosity” not only raise more questions than they answer, but are much more easily said than done: they might as well say “write like W. B. Yeats” or “write like Frank O’Hara.”

Only Chen’s book won a prize out of the titles you mentioned, and plenty of debuts are published and win prizes without drawing on the theme of beginning in their titles or elsewhere. I see the emphasis on beginning that pervades post-1945 poetic debuts as part of a complex response to the increasingly institutionalized environment in which poetry is often written, published, and read these days, not as a subtle advertisement of a poet’s promise, designed to win over editors.

What are you reading?

I just finished recording a reading of Emerson’s Nature for Librivox – a great volunteer organization that makes audio versions of public domain texts available online for free. At the moment I’m in the middle of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, Langdon Hammer’s James Merrill: Life and Art, A Bernadette Mayer Reader, and Gillian White’s Lyric Shame. I’m looking forward to James Richardson’s During and the newly translated early novels of Haruki Murakami. I’m always re-reading Philip Roth.

What’s next for you?

A new project dealing with what I think of as “the scandal of authorship” has roots in reading Roth. Why is the author seen as a bad guy in a novel like The Counterlife? How is it that fiction elicits such harsh judgments? What does it mean that writers sometimes take pains to forestall such judgments – by judging themselves guilty in advance, for example, or through sheer tact? I’m casting a fairly wide net for now: Roth, Raymond Carver, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, Junot Diaz, Vladimir Nabokov. I’d like to explore tensions between social responsibility and the autonomy of the aesthetic in the post-1945 period, think some more about literary careers, and hopefully tell some good stories along the way.

Jesse Zuba is assistant professor of English at Delaware State University.

Read the introduction to The First Book here.