This week’s blog tour celebrates our colleagues across the university publishing community. Dennis Lloyd, director of the University of Wisconsin Press, reflects on the early lessons he learned from his mentors.
Earlier this spring, the university press world was rattled when the news spread that we had lost Mark Saunders, director of the University of Virginia Press. I never had the privilege of working with Mark, but I’ve known him so long I can no longer remember when we first met. My earliest memory of an extended conversation with him—about publishing, yes, but also life, books we were reading, our kids—was during booth set up for BEA in the late 1990s.
At lunch we walked a few blocks down Eleventh Avenue (this was long before the High Line) and found a diner. I don’t remember the specifics of our conversation, but I do remember how intently Mark listened, how carefully he commented, how enthusiastically he replied, how wisely he offered advice. We ate, we paid, and it was only weeks later that I realized we had somehow each signed the others’ credit card receipt. Neither of us ever were charged on our bills; it was a gift from the universe. But the real gift, of course, was the time spent with Mark.
As so many friends and colleagues of mine prepare to gather this week for the Association of University Presses Annual Meeting, Mark’s premature departure from our community has me thinking of and remembering all those who helped me along the way, especially during the early years of my career, as I made the shift from PhD student (still proudly ABD by choice) to publishing professional.
In particular, I’m thinking a lot these days about my first two bosses at the University of Illinois Press, Judith McCulloh and David Perkins. Judy passed away a few years ago, and David left university publishing (though he has a book scheduled to appear soon), but rarely does a day pass that I don’t think about the lessons I learned from them.
My first job in university press publishing, which I started in June 1993, was as Judy’s acquisitions assistant. We had email, but most correspondence still took place via letter and snail mail. On my first day, I was assigned the daunting task of catching up on her filing when I was given a cubic foot of paper. I was told to read everything I filed, make sure I put things into the proper folder, and to take the time to read around in the files of anything that piqued my curiosity. I diligently set about doing so, and after two or three weeks reported that I had finally finished. She gently quizzed me about the task, asking what I thought about various projects at different stages of development, and eventually announced something to the effect of, “Good. Now you can answer any questions that might come up when I’m traveling.” It was years later before I realized this was my “Wax on, wax off” moment, and even longer before I fully appreciated how quickly, deeply, and easily she immersed me into the culture of university press publishing. I’ve never forgotten it—even though I’ve yet to find a way to perfectly emulate that experience for new acquisitions assistants in the era of email.
About a year later, I made the shift to sales and marketing, when I became the advertising manager at the University of Illinois Press. This was my first full-time job (apart from summers on the farm, weed-eating roadbanks at a country club, or waiting tables as a singing waiter), and David taught me many lessons large and small about working in an office, about finding my voice, about assuming agency, about making decisions—in short about making the transition from a student to an adult. I still remember him encouraging me to play the role of good cop and casting him as bad cop (when necessary) in negotiating for rates and discounts. He told the story—and he didn’t invent it, but it was the first time I had heard it—that if everyone in the world could put all their troubles in a paper bag, and set it on a fence at the far end of a field. But then we all lined up and were told we had to pick up a paper bag—then we’d shove, stomp, and run over each other to get our own bag back. He was also the first person I ever heard say, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” I don’t always succeed, but I strive to remember this every day.
So thank you, Judy. Thank you, David. Thank you, Mark. And thank you everyone else along the way (including the portions of the journey yet to come) who helped me become the person I am today.
Thank you to my mentors and to all mentors, for fostering the spirit, intelligence, generosity, curiosity, and passion that makes our corner of the industry a community—a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Ours is an amazingly supportive organization, and at each Annual Meeting I look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones.