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Literary Legacy: UNM Press celebrates 90th anniversary, looks toward the future in publishing

UNM Press Director Stephen Hull, left, Senior Editor Alexandra Hoff and designer Mindy Basinger Hill check images on the coming book "The Raptors of North America." (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

UNM Press Director Stephen Hull, left, Senior Editor Alexandra Hoff and designer Mindy Basinger Hill check images on the coming book “The Raptors of North America.” (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After nine decades and thousands of books, the University of New Mexico Press continues to tell stories about the Southwest’s cultural, historical and academic worlds.

The local publishing house began operation in 1929, and although it went through some major changes recently, Director Stephen Hull said, the Press is looking to the future.

“UNM Press at 90 feels energized,” Hull said. “It’s a place with purpose, and we hope to be around another 90 years.”

In recent years, the Press has scaled back the number of books it publishes each year from about 75 to 50, reduced its staff, hired Hull as director, outsourced its warehouse to a location in Tennessee and shifted under the umbrella of the College of University Libraries and Learning Sciences.

“We are in a good place now,” Hull said. “We are very stable.”

The Press publishes two types of books. The first are academic nonfiction books that appeal to a small segment of the population, Hull said.

“We publish books in various fields, and they are meant to be very narrow and very deep,” he said. “They advance theory, research and scholarship in those fields.”

The second are works that highlight the culture, interests or issues of the region. Well-known authors the Press has worked with include Rudolfo Anaya, V.B. Price and Pulitzer Prize-winning author N. Scott Momaday.

Anaya is one of the foremost authors in Chicano literature, and V.B. Price is a well-known poet and scholar.

Momaday has a long history the UNM Press. It first published his work in 1969. That book, “The Way to Rainy Mountain,” tells the story of his Kiowa ancestors. It’s a road map to Momaday’s journey to his Kiowa background and identity. In celebration of the book’s fifth decade and the Press’ 90th birthday, it will release a 50th anniversary edition.

“He was very influential,” Hull said. “He’s considered part of the first wave of modern Native American writers.”

UNM Press is hosting a series of panels in recognition of its anniversary. The panels will feature local authors discussing multiple topics.

• Sunday, Sept. 8, 3 p.m., Bookworks, 4022 Rio Grande NW, the importance of local publishing.

• Thursday, Sept. 26, 6 p.m., Collected Works, 202 Galisteo St., Santa Fe, the future of book publishing.

• Wednesday, Oct. 23, 5:30 p.m., reception, 6:30 p.m., talk, Albuquerque Museum, 2000 Mountain NW, legacy, culture and history of stories published by the Press.

Childhood friends and co-authors Sue Boggio and Mare Pearl will be on the Sept. 8 panel. The pair have published an award-winning trio of books: “Sunlight and Shadow,” “A Growing Season” and “Long Night Moon: A Novel.” The books are all set in the fictional New Mexico town of Esperanza.

Boggio said they have had experience with both large and local publishing. A large publishing house in New York City released their first novel, but when the duo came back with their second piece, their editor had moved to another department. Their new editor, Boggio said, was not interested in a book about a small town in New Mexico fighting over water. They were told it was too regional.

“We got orphaned in that sense, and we were disappointed,” she said. “We put it (the book) on the shelf.”

Some years later, a friend suggested they try UNM Press. They did, and their second novel made its way to bookshelves. UNM Press also re-released their first novel. Boggio called UNM Press a treasure.

“We’ve been thrilled with UNM Press,” she said. “It’s so convenient to go over there and sit with an editor and go over changes. It’s so much more personal.”

Author and Taos high school teacher Jim Kristofic was born in Pennsylvania and moved to Ganado, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation, when he was 6 years old. When he wrote his first book, a memoir called “Navajos Wear Nikes,” he kept encountering the same problem when trying to pitch it – publishers all wanted a generic version of American Indian life. He was living in Pennsylvania at the time.

“They would say, ‘We love your voice and authenticity of what you are doing, and you have talent, But we are wondering: Can you make it about Indians?’ ”

He looked at other authors with work similar to his and discovered many had been published by UNM Press. He submitted his work and was immediately told they wanted to publish. There was no request to tell the story in a different way.

“The others wanted me to re-create the book in a certain way to meet a certain narrative,” he said. “I wanted to write about people who actually exist. UNM Press got it.”

Meanwhile, Hull said he believes the printed word is here to stay. He says he thinks it’s because people still love reading physical books, although many thought electronic books would replace printed books. E-book sales, he said, hit a plateau around 2012.

“People, in general, across demographics, prefer print,” he said. “It’s the perfect medium. It’s self-contained, and there’s the physical quality to it. Having a book in hand is pleasing to people.”

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