OSU Press Last Standing in Oregon

Stack-of-BooksThe Oregon State University Press survived a fire which destroyed most of its assets, including the only remaining copies of many of their books. They’ve also survived a cultural climate in which every other university press in Oregon has had to shut down. They’re not only surviving, they are actively expanding their range, producing and promoting books which they feel are important for Oregonians to see, but which commercial publishers might not handle.

Faye Chadwell, director of the Press, works alongside associate director Tom Booth. Chadwell has a background working in libraries, while Booth has worked in publishing for most of his career. Since the OSU Press is a publishing house with a special eye towards providing libraries with books on Oregon-related topics, their combined education and experience would seem to be exactly what the OSU Press needs.

If there were any life remaining in the stereotype of a librarian, Chadwell could demolish it with one passionate declaration about the mission of the OSU Press. According to Chadwell, that mission is in line with the mission of the university itself: to educate Oregonians about subjects of particular importance to them,  the environment and landscape of the Pacific Northwest (Ellie’s Log), the history of the Oregon Country (To the Promised Land), and prospects for Cascadia’s future (The Next Tsunami).

The Press’ authors look at that environment on all scales, from the immensity of Oregon’s wilderness (Listening for Coyote) to the growth of plants we may barely notice underfoot (Gathering Moss).

That history includes stories we all know, but also many we do not, such as the robbery and murder of 30 Chinese gold miners in Hell’s Canyon (Massacred for Gold by R. Gregory Nokes), and the community built by the conscientious objectors of the Second World War (Here on the Edge by Steve McQuiddy). These are stories which had never been told before, and we have the OSU Press to thank for our access to them.

Another aspect of history is memoir. Not the stories of the famous names who supposedly “made” history, but the ordinary lives of the people who lived through it. The OSU Press devotes a lot of energy to publishing memoirs like Fool’s Hill (“a kid’s life in an Oregon coastal town”), Light on the Devils (“coming of age on the Klamath”), and Now Go Home (“wilderness, belonging, and the crosscut saw”).

Our future is always unknown, but we can expect it to include volcanic activity (Living with Thunder), political controversy (Toward One Oregon), new perspectives (Living with Bugs), new technology (Pedaling Revolution), and food (Grow Food, Cook Food, Share Food).

The press brings out between 20 and 25 books every year on topics ranging from a memoir of life on a hippie commune to the challenges facing Oregon’s forest products industry. (Yes, we do still have one.) The Press’ range extends beyond Oregon with books like the Holocaust memoir Therefore, Choose Life… and Among Penguins (the Never Cry Wolf of Adelie penguins). In 2010, they extended their boundaries by publishing their first novel, Brian Doyle’s Mink River. Since then, they have published collections of short fiction and other novels, the most recent being a new edition of H.L. Davis’ 1936 Pulitzer Prize-winning Honey in the Horn.

Chadwell considers her personal mission to be increasing the Press’ visibility. That’s why the OSU Press has begun actively expanding its outreach beyond the traditional, with the publication of e-books and the promotion of public readings.

Public readings are a rare opportunity for readers to connect directly and personally with writers, whose work is solitary by nature. OSU Press-sponsored readings by authors like Brian Doyle and Bonnie Henderson can draw impressive crowds.

The Oregon State University Press has outlived the publishing arms of the University of Oregon and the University of Portland. It seems ready to continue into the future, serving new generations of Oregonians.

 We should hope so. If they aren’t there, who will be?

 By John M. Burt