Pressed for greatness
Pressed for greatness
LSU Press thrives despite cuts 

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Bad news is loud, and we've all heard about budget cuts at LSU and the generally dire state of book publishing in the era of e-books. We've seen small mom-and-pop bookshops close—and the big boxes, too. Goodbye, Borders. We've been told some people just don't read books anymore.

In 2009, the industry magazine Poets & Writers reported that budget cuts were threatening both LSU Press and its acclaimed short fiction and poetry quarterly, The Southern Review. The magazine quoted Peter Givler, executive director of the Association of American University Presses, saying, “The idea of shutting down a press that has brought so much national distinction and honor to LSU, and to Louisiana, is just plain nuts.”

Led by director MaryKatherine Calloway, LSU Press does receive state funds, but it is becoming increasingly self-supporting as it operates as a non-profit—one with the ability to publish worthwhile books from a variety of talented authors regardless of their level of renown.

“Commercial publishing is becoming less and less welcoming to literary fiction, especially to the work of writers who have published a novel or two but have not had a best-seller,” says Josh Russell, author of My Bright Midnight. “It is a gift to writers and readers to have presses like LSU willing to publish books they believe in, even if they know they might not make millions.”

In order to continue this approach, LSU Press aims to double its fundraising in 2012. Part of its continued success is due to the hiring of a new development director, Portia Levasseur.

Like the rest of the LSU Press staff, Levasseur is inspired to promote a talented slate of modern authors because she is inspired by the legacy of her employer and its lineage of stellar writers—from Robert Penn Warren and John Kennedy Toole to Henry Taylor and Claudia Emerson. LSU's is the only university press to have earned Pulitzer Prizes in both poetry and fiction.

“As I delve into this list myself as a part of my own reading, I have come to personally appreciate some of the richness and depth that readers have come to expect from LSU Press and The Southern Review,” Levasseur says.

Readers and supporters have rewarded that richness and the staff's diligence not only by purchasing books, but by attending annual events like the Louisiana Book Festival and the Season's Reading book sale. LSU Press has also increased its focus on author events, readings and signings organized throughout the year.

While the growing popularity of e-books continues to challenge traditional print publishing, the LSU Press wants to use digital technology to introduce content to new readers and make new connections with established audiences. The press is making plans to digitize its backlist of more than 2,000 titles—more than half of which are still in print around the world. This ambitious project is spearheaded by Bobby Keane and is an example of how the staff at LSU Press is merging its long history and noble reputation with an intelligent and fearless application of the newest technologies and social networking.

“It's a really different world from the days of Robert Penn Warren,” says press spokesperson and occasional 225 contributor Erin Rolfs. “Not better or worse necessarily, but really different.”

Rolfs views the press as more than a mechanism for turning manuscripts into books.

“It is vital to our local identity,” she says, “and it is meaningful to the world at large.”


April 14: Louisiana Saturday Night author and 225 contributor Alex V. Cook will talk blues and juke joints at the Baton Rouge Blues Festival.

April 27 - May 6: Several LSU Press authors will be in attendance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival's Book Tent.

April 29: “Very Funny Stories,” a Readers & Writers event will feature Michael Griffith, editor of Yellow Shoe Fiction, an imprint of LSU Press, and My Bright Midnight author Josh Russell at the LSU School of Music Recital Hall.

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