“We’re not aware of other university press partnerships like these producing their own audiobooks, and the value in doing so is revealed not only by the final products, but by the experiences we create that connect students with industry professionals.”—James O’Connor
Early narrated recordings like excerpts of stories, speeches and monologues from classic plays emerged popularly around the turn of the 20th century, but what we could most accurately call the first audiobooks came about as a matter of inclusion and accessibility. Congress established the “Books for the Blind” program in 1931 with the Pratt-Smoot Act, funding the printing of books in braille, then amended it a few years later to include narrated recordings of books via the Talking Books Program.
SU Press has been around nearly as long as audiobooks, almost eighty years, publishing over 1200 titles. And, as of 2020, two audiobooks. Access Audio is a storytelling initiative of the Special Collections Research Center at the Syracuse University Libraries. Our audiobook offerings of SU Press books have yielded, I think, beautiful listens. But during the course of these individual projects, we have also endeavored to make the collaborative processes themselves accessible and inclusive.
Reservoir Year, a year-long recounting of walks and personal growth along the Catskill region’s Ashokan Reservoir, is a terrific example of a well-curated collaboration. One look at the print version reveals a truly pretty book, with illustration and other artwork throughout by a host of artists from the Catskill region, home of the book’s author Nina Shengold. The layout is thoughtful, with animals mentioned in the text appearing on the printed page. We hoped to transfer the home-spun charm of tone to our audio production, and to create an audio aesthetic that would match what the author, a group of artists, and the team at SU Press had achieved.
As a production team we’re very familiar with the Catskills. I only love them, but my frequent collaborator and Access Audio production partner Brett Barry ’97 G16 actually lives there. He and wife Rebecca own Silver Hollow Audio in Chichester, NY. from which he produces compelling work, my own personal biases exposed. A naturalist to his core, he produces and hosts the Kaatscast podcast, a biweekly show celebrating the region. Said Barry, when questioned by me for this post: “I’m personally drawn to books about nature and place; so it was fortuitous when Reservoir Year came up –– a book about the place where I live, published by another place that’s so close to my heart.”
In addition to his proximity to the Ashokan, we capitalized on Brett’s experience as a natural sound producer to incorporate some sound from the area into the audiobook…those leaf-crunching steps and the roaring quiet of the woods. We also rounded out the natural sound by licensing some birdsong from the Cornell Ornithology Lab.
With each of the other collaborative partners (author, narrator, and composer,) we saw opportunities for student engagement. Intern David Ross worked with author Nina Shengold to create a pronunciation list to aid narrator Kathleen McNenny in her performance. Ian Coe identified places in the recording where he thought music, or natural sound, might augment the listening experience. He shared that information with the composer Steve Koester, along with identifying and suggesting key words from the text to help in the creative process. As Brett put it: “Audiobook production timelines and budgets don’t often allow for “extras” like music and sound effects, and student contributions to those elements –– identifying passages to underscore and working with our composer on selections –– were integral to this uniquely collaborative production.”
What’s innovative about this, otherwise? We’re not aware of other university press partnerships like these producing their own audiobooks, and the value in doing so is revealed not only by the final products, but by the experiences we create that connect students with industry professionals. Put better by Brett:
“Students can intern with any number of audiobook publishers, but how many of those internships put the students in direct contact with narrators, composers, and editors; and solicit creative input along the way? Access Audio’s partnership with InclusiveU is another unique attribute, with benefits all around. Access Audio productions are all about accessibility, participation, and unique opportunities for students. These priorities aren’t generally in sync with the goals of commercial publishers, and that sets AA’s productions apart in many ways, for the production team, for the students involved, and ultimately, for the listeners.”
Jim O’Connor is the producer of Sound Beat and Access Audio. Their production of the Syracuse University Press book Harry Haft: Survivor of Auschwitz, Challenger of Rocky Marciano, was recognized by Audiofile Magazine with the Earphones Award in January 2021.
#Keep UP! the 2021 University Press Week theme, celebrates how university presses have evolved over the past decade. #UPWeek
#RaiseUP: Local Voices
“Great regional lists are essential because they do such heavy lifting – they expose the charm of a region, they help us look truthfully at the sometimes painful and sometimes joyful history of a region, and they’re truly unique to each university press.”-Peggy Solic
As the acquisitions editor for Syracuse University Press’ New York State series, I think our regional list is our most mission-driven – these are the books that tether us most closely to and hopefully reflect the community in which we live and work. Really, the only thing that ties one book to another is that they have to relate to the community that we’ve loosely defined as New York State. History! Geography! Art! Architecture! Food! Drink! Travel! Nature! Politics! Photography! Upstate! Central New York! Western New York! New York City! The Adirondacks! The Catskills! You name it, if it has a connection to New York State, I’m willing to consider it.
The first question I ask myself when I open a proposal for a manuscript in our New York State series is: Does it excite me? That is the great fun (and the great privilege) of acquiring regional titles! More importantly, however, it also has to serve the readers of New York State as well as the mission of the press to “preserve the history, literature, and culture of our region.” So, I also ask myself: Does it tell me something new or original or unknown or interesting about New York State? Does it feature individuals or voices we haven’t heard before? Does it provide us with new perspective on the region? For example, we recently opened a new series, Haudenosaunee and Indigenous Worlds, which I hope, while not geographically limited to New York State, will drive discussion on important regional issues. Syracuse University and Syracuse University Press now stand on the ancestral lands of the Onondaga Nation, firekeepers of the Haudenosaunee.
My acquisitions strategy in this area is, I’ll admit, somewhat self-serving – manuscripts have to tick certain boxes to fit our list, but I also want books and projects that will pull me further into the community and teach me something about a region that is fairly new to me. I moved to Syracuse a year and a half ago and having spent six months of that time mostly at home I’ve counted on our regional list to help transport me around the state! I’ve used Chuck D’Imperio’s many travel books to help plan road trips, been inspired to take up a meditative walking habit after reading Nina Shengold’s Reservoir Year: A Walker’s Book of Days, and bought some new snow shovels after reading Timothy Kneeland’s forthcoming Declaring Disaster: Buffalo’s Blizzard of ’77 and the Creation of FEMA.
Great regional lists are essential because they do such heavy lifting – they expose the charm of a region, they help us look truthfully at the sometimes painful and sometimes joyful history of a region, and they’re truly unique to each university press. They reflect the best of what university presses exist to do – to publish authors that might be overlooked elsewhere but whose work is essential to understanding and appreciating a region.
#RaiseUP is the 2020 theme of the year. It highlights the role that the university press community plays in elevating authors, subjects, and whole disciplines that bring new perspectives, ideas, and voices to readers around the globe—in partnership with booksellers, librarians, and others. #UPWeek
Author Sean Kirst discusses today’s theme
Eight years ago or so, when I began working with editors at the Syracuse University Press on “The Soul of Central New York,” the entire goal – and the success of the book – hinged on the notion of community.
At its heart, the book was a collection of columns I had written over what would turn into 27 years as a staff writer and columnist with The Syracuse Post-Standard. The idea was capturing – as a guy who first arrived here years ago from somewhere else – what I had sensed and hopefully shared over many years with readers about Syracuse and Central New York: It is a place of extraordinary physical beauty, heritage and shared experience that had – through decades of economic, environmental and cultural struggle – sometimes forgotten its own gentle but resounding claim to the extraordinary.
The idea of putting together such a a collection sounds simple. As I quickly learned, It was not. My early attempts contained too many columns, too many repetitive themes and too little of a focus. The first concept involved roughly 150 columns. In the end, in close partnership with editor Alison Maura Shay of the SU Press, she wisely convinced me to almost halve that number and create a narrative thread binding it together, with the first sentence connected to the last.
‘The Soul of Central New York’ offers accounts of some high-profile figures whose personal lives in some often intimate way had intersected with Syracuse or the region: Famed children’s author Eric Carle, then-Vice President Joseph Biden, anthropologist Jane Goodall, Onondaga Nation faithkeeper Oren Lyons, longtime Syracuse University basketball coach Jim Boeheim.
Yet they were simply part of the core notion of the book, which was illuminating how a network of seemingly everyday tales from a multitude of experiences – some involving the region’s defining and ongoing connection with the Onondagas – meshed together in a living definition of community.
Thus the fate of an elderly man who falls on a bitterly cold day on a downtown sidewalk, or the tale of a child raised amid struggle in a housing project whose chance encounter at a newsstand helps him ascend to a career as a bank executive, or the account of a woman born with cerebral palsy who formally turns out the lights of an institution that once overwhelmed her life …. these narratives became the spine, the foundation of the book.
All told, it took five years to put together, and the process demanded that I jettison some of my own early preconceptions and focus on making it tighter, smaller and, hopefully, significantly more effective. The outcome was a reaction that I don’t think any of us expected: It became the fastest-selling book in the history of the Syracuse University Press, and a book intended to make at least a small and lasting statement on a sense of place, of joined identity.
For that, I am grateful to the editors and staff at the SU Press. Through their patience, and their belief in the larger theme, we attempted to create a quiet reminder of how struggle, pain and love, the core forces in any solitary life, are also the elements that forge true community – and provide the strength to last.
Sean Kirst, author of ‘The Soul of Central New York,’ was the recipient of journalism’s 2009 Ernie Pyle Award for human interest writing; he is now a columnist with The Buffalo News.
“Speaking Up and Speaking Out”
Author Kelly Belanger discusses today’s theme
I’m in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, this week for a conference on Community Writing, a relatively modest-sized gathering of about 350 professors and local community members who see speaking out and speaking up on social issues as part of their personal and professional callings.
I find my colleagues’ commitments and passion inspiring, yet I don’t usually think of myself as an activist. I identify first as a writing teacher and a writer. I have spoken out on inequalities for women in sports by using my academic research skills and persisting in my quest to piece together a little-known history. I discovered how and why courageous individuals decided to speak out in the 1970s movement for gender equality in athletics. This movement took off in the 1970s when Congress, through Title IX, made sex discrimination illegal in federally funded schools.
Like some of the women I wrote about at Michigan State University, Temple, Brown, Texas my personality type is best described as introverted. Like Rollin Haffer at Temple, Marianne Mankowski at MSU, or Peggy Layne at Vanderbilt, I don’t typically seek public attention, and I prize harmonious relationships with friends, colleagues, and family. I value studying a problem from many angles, often waiting for others to speak and take the lead before offering my perspective.
But writing Invisible Seasons Title IX and the Fight for Equity in College Sports reminded me that social change movements require a symphony of voices, perspectives, and divergent rhetorical styles. Speaking up and speaking out is a responsibility. It’s a necessity. It has consequences and demands courage. When each of us, with our different styles and strategies, steps up to play our part, changes for the good of us all can begin.
Kelly Belanger, author of Invisible Seasons: Title IX and the Fight for Equity in College Sports is a professor of English and director of the university writing program at Valparaiso University.
University Press Week highlights the extraordinary work of nonprofit scholarly publishers and their many contributions to culture, the academy, and an informed society. This year from November 14-19, the focus of University Press Week is community: “from the community of a discipline to a regional home and culture, from the shared discourse of a campus to a bookstore’s community of readers.”
Syracuse University Press illustrates community in many of our works, but most notably in Sean Kirst’s The Soul of Central New York. This collection of stories by Kirst beautifully showcases the love, resilience, and heartbreak within the community of Syracuse.
University presses across the nation are also participating in UP Week. Check out works by other presses that highlight community here.
Stop into the SU Bookstore to view the special SU Press book display in honor of University Press Week, last week (November 11 – November 17). The display will remain up for the entire year.