As a part of the University Press Week blog tour, UNP's Bison Book manager, Tom Swanson, explains why university presses matter to their region. The tour continues today at Syracuse University Press. A complete blog tour schedule is also available here.
The University Press is a haven for those authors and books that may be lost in the world of big house publishing. It’s not that the big houses ignore our region, it’s more a matter of we know what we want and we need outlets to provide it. The University of Nebraska Press came to the idea that while they are dedicated to promoting the scholarly mission of the University, they should publish great writing from the best of the region’s authors. From this idea Bison Books was born.
Mari Sandoz, Willa Cather, Bess Streeter Aldrich, David Lavender, A.B. Guthrie, (to name a few) were able to provide a glimpse into the history of the region. Writers like Ted Kooser, David Wishart, Bill Kloefkorn, and Ladette Randolph showed us what life is like here in the Great Plains.
But the one who always drew my attention was Fred Manfred. I grew up in a small town in South Dakota and sometimes (actually often times), I wanted to know more about where I was living. I wanted to know the history, what my neighbors were thinking, and know the world just outside my door.
Fred brought the history of my home alive. He captured the details of my Sioux land within his Buckskin Tales and, specifically, Lord Grizzly. I bet I read that book ten times over the course of my life and I cannot think of any of those times when I was not left exhilarated. See…this guy gets mauled by a bear, left by his friends for dead and literally crawls two hundred miles to exact revenge….but I digress. The point is this book has been kept alive and a part of the literary landscape through University of Nebraska Press and its imprint, Bison Books. Who better to represent who we are and what we are?
Bison Books was a gamble, changing people's views of paperback books and made literature accessible and affordable to everyone from truckers to school kids. Editors selected books for their accessibility, popular appeal, and lasting value. Consumers were used to seeing pulp novels and dime-store Westerns on paperback racks, not serious literature. It was risky.
Our Press matters because, without it, we lose a voice for our place. The generations of readers since Sandoz’s time deserve to see the prose that she created in Old Jules and Crazy Horse. It is our obligation to make sure that the books like this exist.
Our Press matters to our University, our State, our Region, our Country and the World, but for me it’s the region that counts. It needs representation and the University of Nebraska Press provides a source of literature and prose about the land and people of the wide open.
And that’s just part of what University Presses do every day. We are a voice.-Tom