University Press Week: Duke 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 Joshua Gutterman Tranen, Assistant Editor at Duke University Press. Check out the conversation below!
Book Culture: How did you get your start in University and Academic Publishing?
Joshua Gutterman Tranen: I transferred to Yale as an undergraduate, and was lucky and privileged to get an internship at Yale University Press. After college I took a job in New York City and shortly thereafter a position opened up at Duke University Press. I’d read a lot of Duke books in undergrad, and their queer theory list had been—and continues to be—an incredible lifeline for me. I was hired on as an editorial associate, and earlier this year promoted to assistant acquisitions editor. It’s a dream to work at a press so fiercely committed to Black studies, Native studies, queer and feminist studies, and colonial/postcolonial studies.
BC: What was one of your first book projects you worked on?
JGT: Sara Ahmed’s What’s the Use?: On the Uses of Use. Ahmed was a scholar I was already familiar with— particularly her books Queer Phenomenology and Living a Feminist Life—and she was the first “big” name scholar whose book I worked on. I was terrified. She, of course, was absolutely delightful to work with. I love working with intellectual heroes of mine—Jack Halberstam’s Female Masculinity was the beginning of my undergraduate intellectual journey, and I had the honor to work on his recently published Wild Things—but the truth is that the real reward of the job is working with first time authors who are coming into their own as heavyweight theorists. It’s thrilling to work on a first book that you know will make an intellectual splash.
BC: Any advice for anyone considering a career in academic publishing?
JGT: My first piece of advice—aimed at current college students—is to see if their university press has any internships. Internships are a great introduction to the world of academic publishing, and they provide an opportunity for mentorship with press staff members. (Those same people can later write letters of recommendation!)
My next piece of advice, which is applicable to anyone, is to reach out to an editor at a press you respect and ask for an informational interview. I used to scoff at the idea of information interviews, but now I love them! They are a good way to get your name in front of an editor, and editors are more likely to say yes to them because there isn’t an explicit “ask” or commitment attached. Also, when you go to apply to university press jobs, make sure that your cover letter and resume use some of the key words in the job posting. University HR systems often use an algorithmic screening process, and most applications are never even seen by the hiring committee.
Like trade publishing, academic publishing is incredibly white. I think, as a cis white guy, it’s important for me to name that, and to name that despite whatever talent I think I have, it’s also white male privilege that’s provided me with the stepping stones to the job I have. There’s good work being done to change the demographics of scholarly publishing; for example, the Mellon Foundation funds editorial fellowships for diverse applicants at six university presses. And folks like my boss, Editorial Director Gisela Fosado, are doing incredible work with the Association of University Presses community on issues of diversity and inclusion. I welcome anyone who is queer/trans and/or Black/Native/a person of color to reach out to me directly if they want to discuss academic publishing.
BC: What are you currently reading?
JGT: I’m always juggling a few things in an attempt to simultaneously honor my commitments to scholarly publishing and trade publishing. I just finished Histories of the Transgender Child by Jules Gill-Peterson and Trans Care by Hil Malatino—both of which are essential reading for anyone invested in trans politics and life—and The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa. Now I’m turning my attention to The Unreality of Memory by Elisa Gabbert, Frottage by Keguro Macharia, and Becoming Human by Zakiyyah Iman Jackson.
BC: What are you working on now that you're excited about?
I’ve recently started my own acquisitions in queer and LGBT history, and there’s a project on trans masculine history in the pipeline whose publication I’m eagerly awaiting. In my other role as the associate for Senior Executive Editor Ken Wissoker, I’m working on a fascinating volume on queer kinship edited by queer theorists Elizabeth Freeman and Tyler Bradway, and a book beautifully titled There’s a Discoball Between Us on Black gay life by anthropologist Jafari Sinclair Allen.
Joshua Gutterman Tranen is an assistant editor at Duke University Press.
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