It’s University Press Week! This year’s theme – “Keep UP!” – marks the tenth anniversary of this important celebration and shines the spotlight on how university presses have evolved over the past decade. As the world changes, so do university presses, adapting subject areas, author lists, and publishing know-how to grow into an ever more diverse, ever more global community. An informed society is as important as ever, and we are proud to showcase the forward-thinking work that has made university presses leaders in their fields and a force to keep up with!
A Conversation between Jennifer DiDomenico and Jodi Lewchuk
Jennifer: Jodi, you’ve been with University of Toronto Press since 2017. Before joining, you’ve had experience in a number of different publishing contexts, including commercial and university press textbook publishing and trade publishing. Please tell me about some of the different roles you have had, and what led you to work in a university press context?
Jodi: My first job in publishing was as a production editor in a trade house. I then worked in educational publishing (both school and higher education). When the opportunity opened up at UTP, I saw it as a perfect venue to apply my 20 years of publishing experience in one position, and at a renowned press both in Canada and globally. At UTP, we publish for audiences both inside and outside of the academy. I can leverage my experience in trade publishing and in developing books for student audiences, as well as my long history in working with scholars and other subject matter experts.
Jennifer: What surprised you about scholarly publishing at UTP?
Jodi: What surprised me was the sheer depth and breadth of what we publish. It’s all there on the UTP website, but when you work with your colleagues and see them presenting their projects it’s amazing how expansive just one discipline can be, with a multitude of ways you can approach and perspectives you can bring to a single discipline.
Jennifer: Given your varied career in publishing, can you take a stab at the overarching question, why do university presses matter? How do you see this as having changed over time?
Jodi: At university presses, we come at publishing from a particular standpoint – whatever our books are tackling, they are grounded in globally agreed upon empirical methods. There is an assumption that what we publish has been vetted and provides reliable information on a whole host of topics. Over the past few years, with the rise of mis- and disinformation, this process has become more important than ever. As we foray into trade titles, we bring this tradition of grounded scholarship to a whole new audience.
Jennifer: How do you see your list contributing to conversations beyond the academy?
Jodi: As an acquisitions editor at a university press, the majority of my authors are scholars. I keep hearing, especially over the past few years, that they want their books to matter to professors and students, and beyond. Reaching the academy is crucial, but scholars don’t want their ideas and contributions to stop there. They’re eager to have their life’s work translate to a broader audience and context. It is exciting to publish books that seek to solve problems and urge their audiences to think critically about structures and systems. Now that UTP has a trade imprint, Aevo UTP, we have the opportunity to bring scholars and other informed experts into that fold. With Aevo UTP we can give their ideas a platform and amplify solutions to the most pressing issues of our time. Solved by David Miller, the former mayor of Toronto and climate leader at C40 Cities, discusses the role cities play in solving the climate crisis – it’s a global discussion happening right now at COP26 in Glasgow. Another title in development profiles black women living with HIV in their own words to illuminate issues of health and equality, poverty, and racism – all of which we’ve seen come into sharp focus during the pandemic. These Aevo UTP books are engaging, accessible, and relevant and contribute to the work of making this a more sustainable and just planet.
Jennifer: What areas of your list are you most excited about growing?
Jodi: I’m excited by how scholars in all the disciplines I acquire in are stepping up to address the issues of social justice that have become so apparent in our current times. There’s not a single area of study that I work in – geography, urban and environmental studies, sociology, Indigenous studies, anthropology – that isn’t touched by the climate crisis or the health crisis or the fight to make all lives matter. Having direct contact with scholars and experts allows us to engage with these critical issues and how they overlap. There’s an opportunity for interdisciplinary work and for bringing voices together towards common goals.
Jennifer: What keeps you energized in your role?
Jodi: The ability to work on books that make a difference in the real world, that engage with issues such as climate change, racial justice, and reconciliation is what keeps me energized and engaged. Getting to work every day with scholars and experts are eager to take on society’s most pressing challenges and with a team of colleagues committed to producing books that matter is inspiring.
Jennifer: What do you see as the future of the university press?
University presses will have a critical role to play in the engagement of society’s biggest challenges going forward as disseminators of reliable information, analysis, and solutions – and will do so in innovative ways. Narrative is at the center of what we do. Authors are keen to present content in different formats that are accessible to all – from traditional books to audiobooks, podcasts, multimedia experiences, and experimental texts. University presses have shown agility in recent years with adapting to open access formats and non-traditional ways of presenting scholarship, such as graphic novels. We have a unique opportunity to continue adapting to best serve an ever-evolving audience hungry for information that makes an impact.
Follow the 2021 UP Week Blog Tour by checking out posts on these UP blogs: