Collaborative innovations in support of diverse voices

Collaborative innovations in support of diverse voices

By Christie Henry

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A few weeks ago, I sat in a Zoom room with our social science team, in awe (again) of my colleagues’ commitment and their embrace of change. A collective of editorial assistants and editors was enthusiastically discussing nearly five hundred potential projects, each offering a new opportunity for collaboration. Every one of those projects was proposed by a BIPOC scholar in the social sciences, applicants in the second cycle of PUP’s Supporting Diverse Voices: Book Proposal Development Grants.

We, like so many #ReadUP peers, have been seeking ways to actively intervene at every stage of the book-publishing life cycle, to foreground our commitment to equity, inclusion, and antiracism. Assessments of the publishing community, along with equity assessments of our own press and publishing, evidence the need to do so, in order to #KeepUP the resonance and relevance of our publishing. At PUP, we have launched PUP Speaks and Princeton Audio to amplify voices and platforms in an equitable and inclusive way. We joined the Minority-Serving Institution Virtual Book Workshop Project, launched this year by the American Political Science Association to ensure that authors at all institutions have the resources to workshop manuscripts, equalizing access to a confirmed process for creating better books. We have also supported authors under contract with Global Equity Grants, the majority of which have covered the costs of child care to enable authors to create time to write.

Time was also one of the inspirations for the Supporting Diverse Voices grants. A conversation I had with a colleague raised a challenge we face: How do we find time to help more scholars as they evolve book ideas into book proposals? Compounding the temporal challenge was the knowledge that the “asks” for time tend to come from overrepresented author demographics; our own publication Women Don’t Ask shares evidence of the gender imbalance, and imbalances are even more pronounced for BIPOC scholars. There is a hidden curriculum in the academy feeding into this as well: How do graduate students or postdocs learn about editors and publishing if they are not part of a long-standing intellectual lineage or network that prioritizes this knowledge sharing? Countless #ReadUP hours are spent introducing publishing to scholars—on panels and webinars, in emails, at conferences, on AskUP—but in aggregate this still seems insufficient to make the process and the people of university-press publishing knowable and transparent, both of which are essential to inclusivity.

Back to the generation of time. In 2018 Ed Yong, in The Atlantic, shared his experience of working to right the gender imbalance of his stories. He quantified the extra time it took to seek out and cite women scientists. With purpose and intention, he demonstrated, we can create that time, and with it we can foster impactful change. We have found at PUP that time is most meaningfully generated by creative collaboration. ReadUP publishing has collaboration at its core—with universities, with booksellers, with libraries, distributors, vendors, with authors, editors, translators, and more. Supporting Diverse Voices enables us to expand our collaborations innovatively through partnerships with book coaches.

Book coaches have for years recognized the inequities of scholarly publishing and have identified its hidden curriculum. They have forged alternative ways for scholarly authors to learn the craft of book proposal and manuscript formation through one-on-one coaching, writing workshops, and creative cohorts. Coaches often work with authors at the authors’ expense, and this can lead to inequities among the authors who might benefit from this mentoring. We are incredibly fortunate to have five book coaches who share our commitment to equity, and to interrupting historic narratives and overrepresented networks, who have joined us in the Supporting Diverse Voices initiative, each agreeing to work with prospective authors on book proposal development. From my very first email to Laura Portwood-Stacer, head of Manuscript Works and author of The Book Proposal Book, our experiment was met with immediate enthusiasm and support from these amazing women, including Michelle Boyd of InkWell Retreats, Jane Jones of Up In Consulting, Helen Sword of WriteSPACE, and Margy Thomas of ScholarShape.

To our knowledge, no other press has innovated collaborations of this nature, intervening with fiscal support at these earliest stages of the book life cycle, inviting any scholars who meet the criteria to apply, and purposefully broadening networks and conversations. These projects bring new collaborations to PUP, and to the wider world of scholarly publishing as well; while grantees are asked to offer their proposals to PUP for consideration, some of these authors and projects will be guided to peer presses in advisory sessions convening sponsoring editors, coaches, and authors. Twelve women, trans, and gender-expansive scientists from the inaugural grant cycle in the winter of 2021 are currently working with coaches; the process itself was an experience of collective lift in COVID times. And this month eleven BIPOC authors in the social sciences will embark on collaborative journeys with the coaches and PUP’s social science acquisitions team.

This is a long-term initiative, with the first proposals likely to arrive in late 2022, and some not until 2023. With determination, innovation, and intention we are pointing PUP toward a future of greater diversity of authors and of our publishing team, and seeking out interventions for inclusivity at every opportunity. We do so with the unequivocal recognition that the most meaningful change occurs through empowered collaborations, which we all need to #KeepUP.

Christie Henry is Director of Princeton University Press.