University Press Week: Cambridge University Press
In honor of University Press Week 2020 we checked in with some our favorite University Presses to learn a little bit more about what goes on in University Publishing and how one could get involved in a future career in UP. Earlier this month we got to talk to Cecilia A. Cancellaro, Senior Editor at Cambridge University Press. Check out the conversation below!
Book Culture: How did you get your start in University and Academic Publishing?
Cecilia Cancellaro: I was fortunate to work at Routledge in the late 80s at a time when the academy was
becoming increasingly multidisciplinary and we were publishing incredibly exciting
work that explored gender, race, sexuality and class and the connections between
these areas. I started as an editorial assistant, hired straight out of college, and as
our NY office grew I was given the opportunity to begin acquiring books (in women’s
history)--first, when I was still working as an assistant to our editorial director, and
later, as a full editor responsible for the US history and politics programs, with a
smaller list in law and legal theory. My brilliant colleagues (William Germano and
Maureen MacGrogan among them) were publishing books by Gayatri Spivak, Judith
Butler, Cornel West, and Marjorie Garber at the time, and during my (12) years at
Routledge I was lucky enough to sign a list of authors that included Ellen DuBois,
Vicki Ruiz, Sarah Schulman, Noel Ignatiev, John D’Emilio, Stephanie Coontz, Joy
James, Joan Tronto, and Rickie Solinger, to name a few.
BC: What was one of your first book projects you worked on?
CC: The first two books I signed are still two of my favorites. One was a book I pitched to
Ellen DuBois after countless women’s historians told me they didn’t have a suitable
book to use to teach US women’s history classes from a multicultural perspective. I
asked Ellen if she would like to put together such a book and we recruited Vicki Ruiz
and together they edited Unequal Sisters: A Multicultural Reader in US Women’s
History. We launched the book with a big event at a Berkshire Women’s History
Conference in 1990 and it was really the first multicultural US women’s history text
out there. It’s still in print several editions and 30 years later. For me, that kind of
publishing is among the most rewarding. Finding a need, and filling it with a book
that can have an effect on how classes are planned and taught in new and important
ways. The second book, by Liz Kennedy and Madeline Davis, was a book that
earned the authors a Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Studies when it was
published in 1993. Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian
Community was a pioneering history of a working-class lesbian community, thirteen
years in the making, told compassionately and with impeccable scholarly detail.
Timing is everything, and the book was published just as trade publishers started to
become quite interested in lesbian and gay history so Penguin scooped up the
paperback rights which was great for the authors.
BC: Any advice for anyone considering a career in academic publishing?
CC: I've worked in both academic and trade publishing and I’ve also had my own business,
Word Creative Literary Services. My niche has always been helping scholars to
reach the broadest audience possible, while maintaining the scholarly integrity of
their work. When I decided to return to the “inside” last year, I knew I wanted to be at
a scholarly press and this position at Cambridge, in US and Latin American history,
is a perfect fit. Clearly, I’m passionate about the work I do and I highly recommend it
to others, but I also think one needs to approach it with an open mind and an
understanding that the publishing business has changed in many ways, and will
continue to, so there definitely is a need to think creatively about content and
access, as well as what models and approaches will allow scholarly publishers to
sustain and support themselves in this changing environment.
BC: What are you currently reading?
CC: I always tend toward non-fiction and miss out on so many great novels so I’ve made
a big effort to strike a better balance as of late. On the fiction side, I just finished
Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age and my non-fiction selection for the election season
was Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, And Insisted on
Equality for All by Martha Jones and I, along with Oprah and everyone else, am now
immersing myself in Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent.
BC: What are you working on now that you're excited about?
CC: I’ll be working with Paulina Alberto (University of Michigan) on a book I’m incredibly
excited about called Black Legend: ‘El Negro’ Raúl Grigera and Racial Storytelling in
Modern Argentina that reconstructs both the life story and the legends surrounding Raúl
Grigera, a popular Afro-Argentine street figure from the early twentieth century. Not only
does Alberto examine the construction of whiteness and blackness in post-
independence Argentina but the book harnesses the power of storytelling to narrate the
first history of black Argentina and of Argentine blackness across two hundred years.
And I’m also very enthusiastic about a new series that I’m working on with the other
history editors at Cambridge. We are commissioning short books on the histories of
individual cities around the world that will be constructed around ten pivotal moments in
the city’s history. I’m really pleased to have signed Mauricio Tenorio for a Mexico City
book and Bryan McCann for one on Rio. Also, in the next few months, Susan Carruthers
(University of Warwick) will be delivering a manuscript for her book on the fascinating
phenomenon of “Dear John” letters (missives written by girlfriends, fiancees, or wives to
terminate romantic relationships with military partners who were off fighting wars) and
the many meanings and motives that have been imputed to these letters by individuals,
the armed forces, and American society more broadly. Finally, I’ve been energized by a
blog I’ve co-created with my editorial colleagues Sara Doskow and Matt Gallaway called
Cambridge Now. Each post explores the connection between scholarly research and
social justice, by bringing Cambridge books and authors into important conversations.
The latest entry on Race and the 2020 Election is an example.
Cecelia A. Cancellaro is currently Senior Editor for US and Latin American History
at Cambridge University Press. Cecelia was the founder of Word Creative Literary
Services, and has also worked as an editor at Schocken Books in the Knopf Group at
Random House, and at Routledge. After three decades working in scholarly publishing,
Cecelia feels strongly that one need not compromise scholarly integrity to write a
compelling and marketable book.
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