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Published: Sunday, 6/19/2005

University press fills a niche with books written on local topics

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Molly Schiever and Seamus Metress, co-editors of <i>The Irish in Toledo</i>, outside the historic St. Patrick Church, an anchor for Irish immigrants in Toledo. Molly Schiever and Seamus Metress, co-editors of <i>The Irish in Toledo</i>, outside the historic St. Patrick Church, an anchor for Irish immigrants in Toledo.
SCHUKAR / BLADE Enlarge

When he received word that the Bowling Green Popular Press was being shuttered, Thomas Barden was understandably disappointed. The press had held his manuscript for six months.

A week later, he asked Patrick McGuire, director of the Urban Affairs Center at the University of Toledo, if the center would publish the book he had written with Jack Ahern. It had previously published two books on Toledo's Hungarian community.

McGuire agreed, and with a small grant and a few donations to pay for printing, Hungarian American Toledo: Life and Times in Toledo's Birmingham Neighborhood, was published.

Within a year, it had not only recouped the $3,900 spent to print 1,500 copies, but brought in a few thousand more. And with profit came inspiration.

"It occurred to us that we could use one book to seed the other," said Barden, a UT English professor.

By April, 2004, Barden had recruited a board of directors that included a librarian, historians, journalists, academics, and a graphic designer, and the University of Toledo-Urban Affairs Center Press was up and running. Its goal: to publish books for general audiences about local people, institutions, and groups that contribute to the region's unique personality.

A year later, without any funding from UT, the grass-roots effort is succeeding.

Nearly 1,200 copies of the Hungarian book have been sold, paying for two subsequent books. Discover Downtown Toledo, a walking-tour guidebook, was published last summer, followed in 2005 by The Irish in Toledo: History and Memory, edited by Seamus Metress and Molly Schiever.

"We like to have one start making money before the next one is published," Barden said.

The 248-page Irish paperback, with sales of 600 copies totaling nearly $4,000, will propel publication later this year of poetry by Lynne Walker and a history of local Native Americans by Barbara Mann, both Toledoans.

Walker's 90-page collection, Big Red, will include autobiographical poems about domestic life. She has previously published poetry with small presses and has given numerous readings of her work.

Last year, Barden, director of the press, asked Mann if she'd consider writing a history of native people in our area. Mann, who teaches composition and other courses at UT, agreed, and the result, Land of the Three Miamis, will be published late this year.

"This story starts thousands of years ago," said Mann. The story is framed by a grandmother telling the story to her granddaughter. "That's the way information was passed on," she said.

Mann's other books include George Washington's War on Native America (Praeger, 2005) and Iroquoian Women (Lang, 2004).

Barden said future topics could include the buildings that Toledo Public Schools plans to demolish, and the Arab-American, Polish-American, and African-American experiences in Toledo. The Web site http://uac.utoledo.edu has information on how to submit a book proposal.

UT-UAC Press authors aren't likely to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show or to get rich. Their remuneration is 10 to 20 copies of their book.

The press' working board reads manuscripts and makes recommendations, edits projects headed for publication, and works on graphics.

"People do this as a labor of love," says Barden.

Schiever, co-editor of the Irish book, blends volunteer work with paid-by-the-hour design and layout. And there are countless unnoticed tasks. March 14, Schiever and Barden drove to the Ann Arbor printer to pick up 1,000 copies of The Irish in Toledo for a St. Patrick's Day signing at Thackeray's Books.

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University presses often start with a lot of energy in a particular department and publish literature or books of regional interest, says Brenna McLaughlin, communications manager for the American Association of University Presses.

In recent years, the economy has been tough on university presses, which are often subsidized by a university, and are, therefore, dependent on the state tax base, McLaughlin said.

The AAUP's 125 member presses have an average of 28 employees, publish an average of 83 titles annually, and have yearly sales ranging from about $250,000 to $50 million. Members include Ohio State, Kent State, Ohio University, Michigan State, the University of Michigan, Wayne State, and the University of Pittsburgh.

The UT-UAC Press doesn't meet criteria for AAUP membership, which requires some scholarly publications, having a paid director, and answering to a highly placed administrator, McLaughlin said.

The Bowling Green Popular Press operated for 33 years, averaging 12 to 15 titles annually plus five journals. It was sold to the University of Wisconsin Press in 2002 when its longtime director, Pat Browne, retired and BGSU's state funding was declining, said Teri Sharp, media relations director at BGSU.

Occasionally, a university press strikes it rich with a best-seller, such as the Pulitzer Prize winner, A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Toole (Louisiana State University Press, 1981); Tom Clancy's first novel, The Hunt for Red October (Naval Institute Press, 1984); and A River Runs Through It by Norman MacLean and Barry Moser (University of Chicago Press, 1989).

Books published by UT-UAC Press can be purchased at area bookstores, UT's bookstore, online through UT's Urban Affairs Center, and at the gift shop at the Main branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.

Contact Tahree Lane at: tlane@theblade.com or 419-724-6075.



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