UA Press Celebrates 50 Years

UA Press Celebrates 50 Years

By Alexis BlueUniversity Communications
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The University of Arizona Press, marking its 50th year, still has many pages left to turn.

Born out of the UA anthropology department with the publication of George Webb's "A Pima Remembers" in 1959, the UA Press now has more than 800 books in print and was recently awarded a prestigious grant to support the publication of books by first-time authors in the field of indigenous studies.

The nonprofit publisher releases between 50 and 60 new scholarly and regional general interest books every year on topics such as American Indian studies, Chicano studies, Latin American studies, anthropology, archaeology, geography, history, environmental studies and space sciences. The press has grown by aligning itself with the academic strengths of the University, said Kathryn Conrad, interim director of the UA Press.

While many UA professors are listed in the ranks of authors published by the press, the publisher has worked with a variety of writers and scholars with expertise in topics affecting the southwestern United States, including noted author Edward Abbey, whose book "Desert Solitaire" was published by the press in 1988.

Some of the publisher's most popular titles include Richard Shelton's "Going Back to Bisbee," which has sold more than 30,000 copies since its publication in 1992; Thomas Sheridan's "Arizona: A History," which can be found in classrooms and bookstores across the state; and "A Tohono O'odham Grammar," the first pedagogical textbook on the Tohono O'odham language, written by Ofelia Zepeda, a noted linguist at the UA.

"We publish for both a general public and a scholarly audience so you're giving both sets of people the opportunity to learn about these subjects," said Holly Schaffer, UA Press publicity manager. "But even the books for the general public are high quality, high scholarship, amazing books that might be overlooked by trade publishers. So without us, these voices might not be heard."

The press also is known for its two special literature series: "Sun Tracks: An American Indian Literary Series" and "Camino del Sol: A Chicana/o Literary Series." The series feature the works of American Indian and Chicano writers, many of whom are first-time authors.

The UA Press is committed to promoting cultural diversity, and about 36 percent of books published in the past five years have been on topics such as Latin American or Native American studies, while almost a quarter of the 429 authors during the past 11 publishing seasons were Hispanic or Native American, according to Schaffer.

The press will continue in its diverse tradition this year thanks in part to a collaborative publishing grant of more than $1 million awarded to the UA Press and three other universities by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the publication of books in the field of indigenous studies.

"The preservation of our history and the knowledge of our culture being put into print for generations to come – it's pretty incredible to be a part of that," Conrad said.

Looking forward from the press's half-century mark, Conrad – who took over as interim director this month after Christine Szuter, director since 1999, left the position – said there are many projects on the horizon.

One is the launch of a new series called "The Edge: The Environmental Science, Law, and Policy Book Series," edited by UA professors Marc Miller, of the James. E Rogers College of Law, and Barbara Morehouse and Jonathan Overpeck, both of the Institute for the Study of Planet Earth. The first volume, set to be released this year, will focus on environmental issues along the U.S.-Mexico border, Conrad said.

Another book due out in the fall is "Observatories of the Southwest: A Guide for Curious Skywatchers."

All UA Press titles are available for purchase online, as is a catalog of new books for spring and summer 2009.

As a growing number of people do their reading online, Conrad said the press is also looking at increasing electronic publishing options in the near future.

The UA Press is planning a variety of 50th anniversary events this year, including an exhibition of UA Press works and history, done in collaboration with the UA Library Special Collections and scheduled to open March 15. Information on anniversary events will be available on the UA Press Web site.

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