Jackson — It’s been a busy year for the University Press of Mississippi (UP) where 60 to 65 books are published annually. Several of these new titles have regional interest and will make great holiday gifts, according to director Seetha Srinivasan.
“‘The Great Houses of Mississippi’ is a coffee table book that has 40 photos of houses by Mary Rose Carter and substantial text by Mary Carroll Miller who has a knack for making architecture come alive,” she said.
Another outstanding new release is “Witnessing,” a collection of essays by nationally renowned Mississippi author Ellen Douglas. The book was written over time and includes some essays on other writers that Douglas has admired and considered forces that led her to become a writer.
“In ‘Witnessing,’ there’s a powerful piece on the integration of Ole Miss in 1962 that’s based on a narrative rendered to her by an eye witness,” Srinivasan said. “Ellen Douglas has had a long, rich and productive career.”
The director said UP did not predict an awful year for hurricanes when it released Phil Hearn’s book on Hurricane Camille to commemorate the 1969 monster storm’s 35th anniversary. “The author mined oral histories of people who lived through the hurricane and the book has been well received,” she said. “It has exceeded our expectations. It was perfect timing and struck a chord.”
“Rock Solid: Southern Mississippi Football” by John Cox, Srinivasan says, has lots of photos and gives a good college football program some recognition it should have received. She also recommends stories from the “Haunted South” by Allen Brown.
The University Press is vitally interested in book sales because 88% of its operating revenue is generated through sales. The remaining 12% comes from the eight state universities. These books can be purchased at local bookstores and online.
“We’re not completely self sustaining but so far we’ve been very fortunate,” Srinivasan said. “All of the universities have been supportive and realize the value the Press brings to them.”
She points out that the state’s University Press, a member of the Association of American University Presses, is nationally known and recognized. That reflects well on education in Mississippi. Srinivasan served as president of the national association, consisting of 124 presses, last year. UP’s art director, John Langsdon, is currently serving as chairman of the association’s design and production committee.
“Our program has respect. The staff are routinely asked to be on programs and to chair committees,” she said. “The work has gained notice and attention, and we have books reviewed all over the country. That’s good for Mississippi.”
The University Press carefully chooses manuscripts. First, an in-house committee looks at them and, according to Srinivasan, can tell immediately if it’s an appropriate subject, if it’s well prepared and if it has sales potential.
Next, potential books are sent to readers outside UP and, depending on that outside review process, are then presented to the board of directors for approval. The 18-member board is made up of two representatives from each university, one from the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning’s staff, and one from the College Board.
“We always have exciting books in the works and have a wide range of publications,” she said. “We have clearly defined audiences. Those are a scholarly market, regional market and national market for books like ‘Witnessing’ based on Ellen Douglas’ reputation.”
Srinivasan added that deciding who the potential reader and buyer is also plays a role in determining what books are published.
“We have to look carefully at what we publish. We can’t afford to lose money,” she said. “We must at least break even. We are well supported by the universities, and they believe in us.”
The director, a former university professor, is mindful that the universities are battered by decreasing funding. However, she feels that the state has done fairly well in supporting higher education and the University Press.
The University Press of Mississippi was founded in 1970 and is under the jurisdiction of the Institutions of Higher Learning. Over these years, the Press has published more than 700 titles and distributed more than 2.25 million copies worldwide, each with the Mississippi imprint. It is the only not-for-profit book publisher in the state.
Books are published in these categories: African-American studies, American studies, literature, history, art and architecture, ethnic studies, fiction, folklore, health, music, natural sciences, performance, photography, popular culture, Southern studies and women’s studies.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.