An Author’s View of a Regional Press
By Michael Doyle
Syracuse University Press has an encyclopedic grasp of the region it holds so dear. It’s the literal truth; you can look it up. Or, better yet, you can buy it. The Encyclopedia of New York State spans 1,921 pages and captures it all, from the Adirondacks to the Tappan Zee Bridge and beyond. Each entry is a doorway, one New York curiosity opening to another.
But here’s the thing. The publication of that colossus in 2005 did not initiate nor exhaust the Syracuse University Press’s commitment to the Empire State. Instead, it was but another blossom of that which was planted with the Press’s founding in 1943.
Consider this: The same university press that still offers decades-old but still-fresh fiction by Walter D. Edmonds, he of In the Hands of the Senecas fame, published in the fall of 2018 Rural Indigenousness: A History of Iroquoian and Algonquian Peoples of the Adirondacks by Melissa Otis. See what I mean? Season after season comes the regional harvest, new generations arising.
By my rough count, the Syracuse University Press’s catalog offers upwards of 100 New York state and regional titles, of every tang and texture. There are histories, biographies and memoirs. There are novels, essays and field guides. There’s New York poetry, for Pete’s sake, and a slice of Upstate cuisine.
Two of the New York-related titles are my own, so I can testify to Syracuse University Press’s regional devotion. In 2004, the Press published my first book, The Forestport Breaks: A Nineteenth-Century Conspiracy Along the Black River Canal. Of late, it occurs to me that the book illuminates how a locality grows ever-larger under a microscope, revealing new depths in a ‘see the world in a grain of sand’ kind of way. This is what a university press’s regional line can do: It starts with a tight focus and deepens, and deepens more, until all those grains resolve themselves into the big picture, the beach itself.
So it was with The Forestport Breaks, which begins with a forsaken town of 1,500 souls and then expands into what a 19th century lawman called “the most damnable conspiracy in the history of our state.” A book like this also illustrates how a region imprints itself on a university press, and vice versa. Inside Forestport’s former Hotel Doyle, now a frolicsome bar called Scooter’s, we held, hands down, the zaniest book-signing in the history of university press book-signings. Autographs may fade; such memories endure.
One thing leading to another, Syracuse University Press this year published my new book, another regionally-rooted work entitled The Ministers’ War: John W. Mears, the Oneida Community and the Crusade for Public Morality. It shows, again, how a university press committed to a particular locale can sink new wells where strangers see only worked-over rock. The 19th-century, ‘free-love’ Oneida Community in Upstate New York has been much written about; what more might be said? The editors, though, empowered my peculiar slant, a deep dive into the life and times of the zealous minister, a much-published college professor, no less, who fought Oneida. It’s a very granular look, indeed.
Unlike Tip O’Neill’s aphorism about politics, all university press publishing is not local. Syracuse University Press, for one, balances its New York state offerings with specializations in Irish Studies and Middle East Studies, among other topics. It’s the region, though, that bears the press, and it’s the region that the press so artfully represents.
Born in North Carolina by the Appalachian Mountains, Erin Fornoff now finds home in Ireland. As an author and avid poet who received an M. Phil in Creative Writing with Distinction from Trinity College Dublin, she’s performed at events across Ireland, the UK, and the US, and even co-founded Lingo, the first spoken word festival to appear in Ireland and for which she was Program Director. In the spirit of National Poetry Month, we interviewed Fornoff about her debut collection of poems, Hymn to the Reckless, and more.
1. What was the inspiration behind your collection of poems, Hymn to the Reckless?
The collection doesn’t really have one central theme, though it touches heavily on the path a life takes from a forest-filled childhood to a country across the ocean, and the reckoning of those shifts. It looks at ways we take risks and why and what happens when we do. It’s me trying to make sense.
2. You were born by the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina, and now reside in Ireland. How would you say this sense of home you find in multiple countries influences your writing?
It’s a hugely strong influence. I write about home constantly, and grapple with those choices—do I stay or go? Where is home and what does it mean and can it come to mean something different? A poet once told me that new poets write about their childhood until they exhaust it and then they move on to other topics. Perhaps I haven’t exhausted it yet. Identity is an inescapable theme in poetry and I find myself becoming more Irish and differently American, and yet never fully Irish and missing America, and poetry is probably my central vehicle for figuring my own muddled head out.
3. Is there any one thing you hope readers take away with them after reading your poetry, specifically Hymn to the Reckless?
Take a risk now and then. Find home wherever it springs up. And don’t be scared of going to spoken word shows.
4. What was the most rewarding aspect of creating this collection? The most difficult?
I was really touched by the process of having a publisher and editor. I had never had someone take such interest and care in my work, and be invested in making it as good as it could be. I found it really moving to be taken care of that way. I went to a writers retreat in a stone cabin on a cliff in County Kerry and sat, in a storm, with every poem I had written printed out or scrawled, and it was so cool to see them altogether, and turning into something (hopefully) greater than their parts.
5. Tell me about the poets who have influenced your writing.
I love Mary Oliver for her use of nature and the way she manages to pull off that rare trick of saying exactly what she means (sometimes) and it not coming across as heavy-handed or twee. I try and fail at this – I’m forever getting edited with people saying ‘You don’t have to draw a neon sign blinking HERE IS MY POETIC POINT.’ Others I love are Philip Levine, Danez Smith, Colm Keegan and Kate Tempest. Kate is a rapper, spoken word poet, playwright, and novelist, and her honesty and fierceness just bowl me over, every time.
6. Do you ever do spoken word? If so, what is it like to read your work aloud?
I started with spoken word and still feel most comfortable and energized by that space. I do around 60-80 gigs a year and it’s such a privilege. I love that communion between performer and audience. As a writer I get to explore the poems in a new way (and improve them over time) and I think they are experienced in a much different way by the audience. I love spoken word – and there is a great culture for it in Ireland. It’s the only place in the world I’ve been where a random person can stand up in a bar and start reciting a poem and the entire bar falls silent.
7. You’ve also written a novel. How was this different than writing poetry? Any advice for writers who find it difficult to switch between forms?
Ooooh it is so much harder. So much harder! You can dip in and out of poems and thus they kind of suit a small attention span, but a novel is a slog. You feel a bit like a crazy person, living in an imaginary world in your own mind. I would love advice for writers who find it difficult to switch between forms, because I am finding it difficult to switch between forms!
8. Where is your favorite spot to write?
I have a little desk in an art studio with a window and a blank white wall. Other people share the room, so there’s hubbub but not too much, and the desk is clear and ready.
9. What was one of the first poems or books you read as a child that you fell in love with?
I loved Shel Silverstein and used to be able to recite ‘The Perfect High’ from memory. All little kids books are essentially poems – so I guess I could say ‘The Runaway Bunny’? My favorite longer books were The Phantom Tollbooth and The Secret Garden, which I read until they fell apart.
10. What’s on your nightstand now?
Right now I’m reading Poet X by Elizabeth Agevedo, a cool melding of spoken word poetry and novel, as well as ‘Land of Lost Borders’ by my friend Kate Harris, about biking across the Silk Road. For poetry it’s ‘Flights Over Finglas’ by Rachel Hegarty.
If you don’t know who Ruth Colvin is, we’re here to tell you why you should.
Now 101 years old, Colvin will be the commencement speaker for Le Moyne’s graduation ceremony this spring. As a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a member of National Women’s Hall of Fame, she’s also an icon to commemorate during Women’s History Month.
But let’s back track a bit… In 1962, Ruth Colvin founded Literacy Volunteers of America, now known as ProLiteracy Worldwide, an organization based in Syracuse, New York and dedicated to increasing literacy rates in adults. Having lived in Syracuse for some time, and as a graduate of Syracuse University, Colvin’s mission began within the snow-covered city. Just a few decades later, however, she has educated adults across the globe, and her organization has made its mark in about 30 countries.
In Off the Beaten Path, Colvin recounts stories of the people she’s met around the world. Traveling with her husband, she’s seen 62 countries. Dedicated to the power of lifelong learning, she’s also provided literacy training in 26 developing nations. Within her rich career, Colvin found the most rewarding aspect to be the connections she made with people from vastly different backgrounds, the values she learned from their cultures, and the similarities she discovered amongst all people.
A memoir of the people and places who impacted her during her travels, ranging from Madagascar to Cambodia, Colvin’s book is sure to open your eyes to the customs and values of the many societies and individuals who share our globe.
Alpine skiing, curling, figure skating – the Winter Olympics are full of snow-themed fun, but only for about two weeks. What are you supposed to do for the rest of winter? If you can’t get enough of the Olympics, we’ve got you covered. Check out our Olympic-themed books below:
In Tarnished Rings, Stephen Wenn, Robert Barney, and Scott Martyn tell the story of the Salt Lake City slush fund scandal of 1998-99. Following suspicion that these funds were used to obtain votes in the city’s bidding process, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) spent weeks under scrutiny. Delving into the IOC and the Olympic Movement, while also exploring the broader notions of leadership and crisis management, Tarnished Rings is sure to keep you entertained on a snowy day.
Diving a bit deeper into the world of business, Sports Business Unplugged features a collection of Rick Burton and Norm O’Reilly’s recent columns from the SportsBuiness Journal. Tackling current and complex subjects such as gender equity, diversity, and collegiate athletics, Burton and O’Reilly discuss the future of sports as well as their importance in maintaining a healthy and prosperous society.
Having been the Chief marketing Officer for the U.S. Olympic Committee during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Syracuse University professor Rick Burton recently shared his perspective on what it was like to be a part of the Olympic Committee with the local news.
To get you excited about warm weather and the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, our forthcoming book, When Running Made History, shares the firsthand accounts of world-class runner, Roger Robinson, on the ways in which running has been interwoven with, and shaped by, recent history. Robinson recalls the victory of Abebe Bikila, an Ethiopian athlete in the Rome Olympics of 1960. He shares his unique perspective on the intimate intersection of history and running.
Whether you need more of the Olympics or simply want a day inside by the fire, these books are sure to offer you new perspectives on the long-running world-wide event.
Congratulations to author Susan Gordon, her latest book Because of Eva: A Jewish Genealogical Journey has won the American Society of Journalists and Authors 2017 Book Award in the Memoir/Autobiography category. Judges said, “the author nicely interwove history with her family story and her personal quest. We liked how the story flowed and how tightly it is written, and, as one judge noted, ‘It is a beautiful addition to Jewish/WWII work.’”