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Press Offers Practical Experience For Graduate Students

March 24, 2011
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt

Graduate interns Doug Haines, Dustin Levine and Virginia Houk help with the day-to-day operations of the Texas Review Press as part of their assistantship with the English department's Master of Arts program.  —Photo by Brian Blalock

While many university presses have struggled in today’s economic climate, Sam Houston State University’s Texas Review Press, a member of the Texas A&M University Press Consortium, has thrived, releasing 14 new books last year.

Rice University Press recently folded, and the futures of at least two other Texas university presses—SMU and TCU, both in the Texas A&M University Press Consortium—are currently uncertain, with both appealing notifications to cease operations. The TRP, however, will be publishing 16 books this year, in comparison to 12 in 2009, according to Texas State University System Regents’ Professor Paul Ruffin.

“It is quite true that most university presses are taking a beating right now. Books are a tough business anyway, and this is especially so in a depressed economy,” he said. “We’re able to grow because we keep our expenditures at a bare minimum, and we operate out of the basement of the Evans Building with a very small staff. We have not asked for a budget increase in over 10 years.”

Since its establishment in 1979, Texas Review Press has grown from a one-book-a-year press to one that publishes 16 per year.

Founded and directed by Ruffin, TRP sponsors four international book competitions and publishes an additional 12 books for international, regional, and local audiences. Each year the press also publishes two issues of “The Texas Review,” an international literary journal, and an issue of “The Sam Houston State Review,” a journal for SHSU students.

“Our staff consists of me—I have a six-hour reassigned time allowance and a summer stipend in lieu of teaching two classes—and a half-time assistant, with two or three graduate interns, and our annual budget is right at a quarter of SMU’s, for example, a press with three full-time editors, plus interns, and an annual production of six to eight books,” Ruffin said. “We do more with less—that’s the bottom line.

“I love what I do, and I recognize the role we are playing in keeping literature alive in this state,” Ruffin said. “Right now we publish more fiction than any other university-affiliated press in the state and probably more poetry.”

The primary focus of TRP is poetry and fiction—only occasionally publishing nonfiction—from authors ranging from well-known American writers, including Pulitzer Prize winners, to those who have never published a book.

In addition, it serves as an outlet in which both graduate and undergraduate creative writing and English students gain practical experience in editing, publishing and layout work.

“One of the things I’m proudest of is the graduate ‘Editing/Publishing’ class. There we do something no other creative writing program in the country does: We provide our students with the opportunity to solicit material for a book, edit the manuscript, and design the cover. The end product is a book edited by them and published by an established university press,” Ruffin said.

“Their book is featured in the consortium catalog, and it is sold all over the world; it is listed on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com and numerous other online outlets. Do a Google search on one of those student editors, and their book pops up. Having that book to their credit is most valuable when they start searching for a job.”

Two of the student-edited books have received a great deal of national attention. “Mascot Mania,” which features almost all the mascots of Texas high schools, was picked up by the Associated Press and was subsequently reviewed or mentioned in most major state newspapers and on many radio and television stations. “Upon this Chessboard of Nights and Days: Voices from Texas Death Row,” compiled by the 2008 class, was featured by Voice of America on radio, television, and the Internet, reaching audiences all over the world.

Other topics have included Hurricane Katrina and The Wynne Home. The most recent book, “Texas Death Row: Reflections of a Different World,” a follow-up to “Voices from Death Row,” is a compilation of art, poetry and prose from inmates. It was released in November 2010.

“One of the most delightful things for me is being able to send royalty checks to those students,” Ruffin said. “Not a lot of money, true, but how many college students can take a friend out for a nice dinner and say ‘My royalty check paid for this meal?'”

SHSU’s Texas Review Press has more than 100 titles in print available through the consortium’s website, at http://www.tamupress.com, which includes a blog about books, book events and reviews, book news and features.

The Editing and Publishing Practicum (ENG 533) will be offered by Ruffin in the fall 2011 semester from 6-9 p.m. on Thursdays.

Registration for the fall opens April 15.


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