What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
I tend to warn authors against thinking too much in terms of trends. The timeline of publishing—and especially of university press publishing—from pitch to publication is substantial. I get nervous when I see the word “timely” in a proposal because what’s timely now may not be so when the book comes out. It also just doesn’t tell me much about how and why a book is significant.
That said, we can see some shifts in the publishing landscape—shifts that, I hope, are not merely trends but mark more systemic changes. When I joined SUNY Press in 2017, I was attracted to its history of publishing work with a strong social justice bent. In the last year and a half, we’ve built on that, starting three new series—in education, gender studies, and Latin American and Latinx studies—that center on issues of race and racism. Next year, we’ll be publishing an English translation of Les Immortelles, the first work of fiction by the Haitian writer Makenzy Orcel. It’s a short work—very lyrical but also quite stunning and stark—about the 2010 earthquake. It will be part of our Afro-Latinx Futures series and, I think, reflects a much wider and welcome move to publish stories and experiences of Afrolatinidad. We published a biography of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg by Vanessa K. Valdés (also the editor of the Afro-Latinx Futures series) called Diasporic Blackness that deals with this.
I’m also thinking about books like Elizabeth Acevedo’s award-winning YA novel, The Poet X. And I’m looking forward to more work at the intersection of Latinx and queer studies—like Joseph M. Pierce’s Argentine Intimacies, about the fundamental queerness of family formations.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I acquire in approximately 1 million areas, so the topics of potential interest are endless. I do think there is far more important work to be done on labor issues in higher education, including the fact that over 70% of college instructors are in non–tenure track roles. We’re seeing unionization efforts by graduate students nationwide that merit more discussion and attention. I am a sucker, I suppose, for work about work, and that applies across fields. For example, we have a great book coming out next year by Andrew Strombeck called DIY on the Lower East Side: Books, Buildings, and Art After the 1975 Fiscal Crisis.
In education in particular, I’m always excited to see a solid, engaging ethnography that can bring an institution to life—the way it works and doesn’t work, the people trying to make it work differently. It could focus on higher ed, K-12, a school district. I would love a good book about town-and-gown relations.
What do you want to change about publishing?
What I really want to change is people’s perceptions of university press publishing. I think many people, including academics, don’t have a full sense of the kinds of books they can potentially publish with a university press. Many presses—like SUNY—have trade imprints and publish not only nonfiction, but also fiction, poetry, books of regional interest, and far more. This fall, we’re publishing an anthology of Cuban American writing, Let’s Hear Their Voices, edited by Iraida H. López and Eliana S. Rivero. And next year, we’re publishing a collection of poetry by Rachel Feder called Birth Chart that blends astrology, ’90s music references, and thoughts about maternal labor. (See? I’m always a sucker for work about work.) It’s a smart book, and scholarly, but also fun, funny, and accessible. I think there’s a hunger for—and certainly a desire to create and, on my part, a desire to publish—more hybrid work.
What’s unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
No one really goes into publishing for money, but university press publishers especially don’t. It’s a nonprofit industry—one that’s rooted in principles of academic freedom instead of financial gain. That sounds very abstract but what it means, above all, in my view, is that ideas are the heart of the work, and I think this applies to the books we publish for broader readerships, too. For me, university press publishing represents a chance to experiment, to pursue ways of thinking about and seeing the world that may not always be self-evident. We believe ideas matter.
As an editor at SUNY Press, Rebecca Colesworthy acquires in education, gender studies, queer studies, Latin American and Latinx studies, and 20th- and 21st-century studies. She is also the author of Returning the Gift: Modernism and the Thought of Exchange, published by Oxford University Press in 2018, and the co-editor with Peter Nicholls of How Abstract Is It? Thinking Capital Now. Before joining the press, she worked for four years in fundraising and communications at a New York City–based education nonprofit and has taught at New York University, SUNY Albany, Skidmore College, and Cornell University, from which she also received a Ph.D. in English. You can find her on Twitter way, way, way too much at @RColesworthy.