Fired Technical College President Hired By Alabama State Bookin’ It
Clark Atlanta prepares to open what will be the second University press operated by a Historically Black University
By Ernie Suggs
ATLANTA — This summer, Clark Atlanta University (CAU) will enter a world that only one historically Black college has entered: the world of book publishing. Freedom’s Odyssey, a collection of African American history essays, will usher the new Clark Atlanta University Press into existence on July 15, making CAU one of about 100 universities in the country that operates a publishing house.“I see this as a milestone. This is a very good direction that we are taking with the establishment of the press,” says Dr. Alexa Benson Henderson, dean of undergraduate studies at CAU and co-editor of Freedom’s Odyssey.University presses provide faculty members, like Benson, a voice in expressing and shaping the scholarly image of the university, according to Peter Givler, executive director of the 114-member Association of American University Presses (AAUP) — an organization of university, institute, and scholarly presses. And perhaps most importantly, they publish the vast results of post-doctoral work in the humanities that wouldn’t otherwise see the light of day.“That is the most significant thing that a university press does for its university,” says Givler, who has headed up presses at the University of Wisconsin and Ohio State University. “It is a chance for a university to get its name out and have it affiliated with scholarly work.”
Market AwarenessCAU will be only the second historically Black college or university (HBCU) in the country with a press, following Howard University which founded its press in 1972. Ed Gordon, director of the Howard Press declined to be interviewed for this article saying that while he was happy that Clark Atlanta had realized its goal, he did not want comparisons drawn between the two presses. As Howard was the first and only Black university to publish scholarship by and about African Americans, with almost half of its faculty producing works for the press, there remains a significant void in Black presses devoted to such scholarship.Dr. Charles F. Duncan, an English professor at CAU for 31 years and now editor of the CAU Press, says he has long noticed that void in Black presses and wanted to address it.“I thought we had the opportunity, if not the mandate, to do something,” he says. “What it means to us is that it enhances the university’s visibility as a research center.”Duncan wants to start the press off modestly, then gain enough momentum to attract noted authors and be considered a legitimate, self-sustaining press. Two books and three journals are scheduled for publication in 1999. He wants to double that by the year 2000 and within 10 years, publish about 24 books and five journals a year.“Most university presses are intensely aware of the marketability of their works,” Duncan says. “Any book we choose has to have scholarly and humanistic value and be a book that there is a need for.”Duncan says the press will attempt to attract African American works, since he contends minority scholarship is underrepresented.“If the intention of the press is to make themselves an outlet for minority scholarship exclusively, that is unique,” Givler says. “My general reading is that most, if not all presses, are open and do publish minority scholars.“But for a myriad of reasons, Black colleges haven’t jumped into the publishing game. One is obviously the cost of starting and maintaining a press. Another revolves around the school’s mission. For the most part, HBCUs are teaching institutions,” Duncan says. “Most Black schools have an obligation to the classroom.”Financial Considerations The spark to get the press running came from an annual $100,000 grant from Title III of the Higher Education Act, a federally funded program for HBCUs, says Elton Hugee, business manager of the press and CAU’s Title III director.“This has been a huge undertaking by the university,” he says. “Just laying the groundwork has been a chore. There are a lot of things I have to learn about establishing a press.”Givler says that because no two presses are alike, it is almost impossible to determine how much it would cost to run one. A medium-sized press, which publishes about 40 books a year, spends about $1 million a year. Larger presses, which publish as many as 400 books a year, are run like corporations and spend millions to make millions. Givler says the AAUP’s 83 university presses publishes about 10,000 books and 700 journals a year. The giants in the industry are the American branches of Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press, each of which publishes about 400 books a year. The University of Chicago, Yale University, Princeton University, and the University of California each publishes about 250 books a year.“Most university presses get some support from their parent institutions,” Givler says. “The smaller presses need a larger percentage of their budget to come from the university than the larger presses do because the larger presses produce more.”Until the university starts contributing some of the funding, CAU’s Title III grant will be used to produce books, pay salaries, and market the press. Hugee says it will cost about $27,000 to produce 2,000 copies of the first book. Without the Title III grant, funding would have had to come from a cash-strapped university knee-deep in financial aid problems. “The people concerned with all those other things are not starting the press,” Duncan says. “It is true that we didn’t have the money, but we got it. The outside money was a Godsend.”But once the grant runs out in the middle of 2001, the school will have to find other ways to fund the press.“We fully expect that the university is going to continue supporting the press,” Henderson says. “But we expect that we are going to be publishing works that sell.”Once it gets started, Duncan says, every publication coming out of the university will come under the press’ umbrella, including the three existing journals – The Business Chronicle, The Georgia Legislative Review, and The Status of Black Atlanta – produced by CAU.
Historical RootsSomewhere in Duncan’s office, which doubles as the main office of the CAU Press, sits three unsolicited manuscripts he says he received by word of mouth.“Anything we publish has to be on the caliber of a university press,” he says. “I know that once the word gets out that we are a minority [university] press, the second in the U.S., we are probably going to receive a lot of manuscripts.”For the first book, Freedom’s Odyssey, CAU is digging into its own history to compile a collection of essays on African American history originally published between 1940 and 1988 in Phylon — a university journal devoted to the study of African American sociology, literature, history, and education founded by W.E.B. DuBois.“Phylon was very important at a time when The Crisis [the NAACP’s journal] was getting shaky and Opportunity [the National Urban League’s journal] was getting shakier,” says noted historian John Hope Franklin, whose book, From Slavery to Freedom, is considered the most comprehensive text on African American history. “Phylon stepped in and gave African Americans a chance to express their opinions in print.”Because of a lack of funding, Phylon folded in 1988, the year Clark College and Atlanta University merged. Duncan hopes that the book will serve as a springboard to restart the journal in 2000 or 2001.The second book will be a collection of essays on the novels of Charles W. Chesnutt, who will be the topic of CAU’s upcoming writers’ workshop. Dr. Ernestine Pickens, chair of Clark’s English Department and the author of a previous book on Chesnutt, will edit the book, which is due in October.Givler says CAU’s early philosophy of publishing books of existing works and essays that they own may be the smartest and easiest way for a small press to establish a name and attract writers.“That’s a good way to start, because there is a tremendous amount of competition,” Givler says. “Presses are always competing with each other for new manuscripts, so any small press has to live by its wits to get things going. They are going to have to get out and hustle to try to build the list and it can’t be done overnight.”Both Duncan and Henderson know it can’t be done overnight and want to take a steady approach to wooing writers.“There are probably leading scholars in each discipline and when you are a leading scholar, presses are hungry for your work,” Henderson says. “We are not going to be a major press that can pay major advances to writers. I see us down the road being a nice, mid-sized press.”
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