Battered But Not Yet Beaten, SMU Press Refuses to Gentle Into That Good Night

One question that went unanswered in the story about SMU's decision to shutter, at least for now, the 73-year-old SMU Press is: How many books will be dumped in the wake? That answer can be found in a missive SMU Press Senior Editor Kathryn Lang began sending to the "Friends of SMU Press" yesterday and continues distributing today: "We have fifteen stranded new projects under contract and 130 other titles in print, effectively unsupported if this should come to pass."

Lang, who's really the only editor at SMU Press, tells Unfair Park today that the response to her letter so far has been "astounding" and overwhelming: "My e-mail is about to crash," she says, noting that letters of support have come in from the likes of best-seller Abraham Verghese and the entire English department at the University of Vermont -- not to mention past and present SMU Press authors. "And even from people we've turned down in the past," says Lang. "People love a good David and Goliath scrap, which is what this is. The response has been gratifying."

The intention is to collect the letters and take them to SMU President R. Gerald Turner, in the hopes of having him reinstate the press, which has a budget of $400,000 a year.

Among the books likely to vanish following the university's decision to shutter SMU Press is a collection of short stories by Tracy Daugherty -- whose biography of Donald Barthelme received a glowing review in The New York Times only last year -- and an already well-received autobiography from Texas State University prof Debra Monroe titled On the Outskirts of Normal: Forging a Family Against the Grain. Also being abandoned, says Lang, is a history of the Perkins School of Theology and a baseball book co-written by former Dedman School of Law dean and current professor Paul Rogers.

Lang says the support suggests "there's a glimmer of glimmer of hope" that just maybe the university will reconsider its decision; the fight, she says, will not end with a 10-minute meeting last week with SMU Provost Paul Ludden, after which, Lang says, "we skulked out of there with our tails between our collective legs."

She's heard that the university will do some legal juggling so "the entity remains," and she's hoping that perhaps another university press can pick up some of the current and future titles. (SMU Press's titles are distributed through a consortium headed up by Texas A&M University Press.) But Lang doesn't much care if SMU's selling this as a temporary fix to a budget problem.

"That's hogwash," she says. "You can't drop what we're doing and pick it up four years from now. Forget it. ... We don't want our authors dangling out there. And we don't want to lose time with these valuable projects. But with the rallying of the troops, we are seeing how very much appreciated we are -- despite keeping a low profile in Dallas. Our commitment to the press hasn't been for naught."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky