PUP Speaks on boosting author voices from page to stage

PUP Speaks on boosting author voices from page to stage

By Akhil Jonnalagadda

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In the summer of 2022, I joined Princeton University Press in the second cohort of its annual Publishing Fellowship, a year-long position explicitly intended for individuals with no industry experience. Aside from being granted a comprehensive whistle-stop tour of the publishing process, I was tasked with collaborating on the Ideas page—the press’ online magazine that features short-form content from its published authors—with the specific aim of expanding its coverage of backlist, underrepresented, and early career scholars. My work, in short, involved finding ways to foreground perspectives that were and are culturally marginalized. Thinking critically about diversity and inclusion meant generating content that celebrates difference and addresses systemic erasure without lapsing into reductive tokenism. Over time, I learned to frame questions that treat themes of diversity and inclusion not as external to one’s work but as constitutive of it, and the results often produced unexpected and even intimate discussions about redressing crucial gaps in contemporary scholarship.

Following my fellowship, I was brought on to work with PUP Speaks, the press’ in-house speaking agency that represents authors through their speaking careers. The parallels between the Ideas and PUP Speaks were immediately clear: both endeavors are public facing, involve plenty of author contact, and are creative mediums to highlight the work of our authors. It wasn’t long, however, before I realized that the broader orientation shared by both efforts is their commitment to sharing the research of underrepresented scholars across general audiences. Rooted firmly in institutional principles of equity and inclusion, PUP Speaks represents a cohort of authors diverse in identity, discipline, and perspective. While this multiplicity partially stems from the vast and ever-expanding repository of PUP’s lists, it also emerges from a deliberate effort to elevate the voices of experts who are most needed in a dynamic and pluralistic world. The mission of our team is precisely to bring the scholarship of those investigating the most pertinent questions to widely accessed venues and, thereby, to extend academic discourse beyond the readership of our books. 

For our authors, the strenuous work of managing speaking invitations becomes simplified. Many of our authors’ research sees them in demand by instutions across the country and the world, and our work enables the arrangement of extensive speaker tours—complex series of events where book sales alone would not cover costs—to promote visibility and access to such expertise. Additionally, our authors are compensated for the time away from teaching and research—support that is particularly needful for those facing the economic burdens of childcare and family support, who often are early career and/or women scholars. The carefully selected list of authors we invite to highlight also reflects our intention to find opportunities for speakers’ whose research contributes toward equity and social justice. Great examples include Joseph C. Ewoodze Jr., the author of of Getting Something to Eat in Jackson: Race, Class, and Food in the American South who spoke at twenty institutions in between 2020 and 2022, and the MacArthur Fellow Jennifer Carlson, the author of Merchants of the Right: Gun Sellers and the Crisis of American Democracy who visited ten venues just in the fall of 2023.

My work across Ideas and PUP Speaks helped me consolidate an understanding of what diversity work could look like in academic publishing. Through my non-traditional entry to this industry under the Publishing Fellowship, my subsequent work in expanding coverage on the Ideas page, my interactions with early-career scholars who received PUP’s Supporting Diverse Voices grant, and my current work representing authors for PUP Speaks, I have seen the Press’ steady investment into an infrastructure of support and amplification for our authors that stretches far beyond the traditional life cycle of a book. Witnessing such institutional changes ripple across an industry notorious for exclusive conventions augurs well for a more inclusive future, one where publishers faithfully serve as reflexive conduits between diverse writers and readers around the world.