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Good Reads and Great Experience

Written by Lauren Hesse

Reina Argueza '10 works with Split Oak founder and writing professor Jim Stafford

 Two local presses with Ithaca College connections offer students an inside look into the publishing world.

Split Oak Press: An Independent Literary Publisher

Split Oak Press began in December 2008, when, inspired by department colleagues, IC writing professor Jim Stafford decided to invest in a literary press. When I meet up with him to talk about Split Oak, I find Professor Stafford sitting in his office, with his coat still half-on and his cell phone in hand, not about to slow down. It seems like he doesn’t even stop to breathe.

So I wasn’t surprised to learn that just a few months after its founding, the press came out with its first publication: a chapbook, or short collection of poetry, called Note They Cannot Live Happily, written by Stafford’s IC writing department colleague Jamie Warburton.

Split Oak then introduced an annual chapbook contest with a $500 first prize that attracted more than 100 submissions its first year. Winner Eric Nelson’s The Twins was published in September 2009.

Last spring, Stafford hired aging studies major and writing minor Reina Argueza ’10 as an intern. Stafford was looking for someone whose “responsibilities included talking to the writers to working with the person who designs the covers.” She did that, she says, and more: from editing manuscripts to working on layout to organizing the chapbook contest.

With eight books of poems published in less than two years (one, How We Are Now, is a poetry and photography collaboration), what’s up next for Split Oak?

“A vampire novel,” Stafford tells me with a laugh, as well as a more serious memoir from a current death-row inmate in San Quentin Prison. And, of course, more poetry.

Essay Press: The Essay as a Book

IC writing professor Catherine Taylor sits in the front room of her home in Ithaca, with stacks of books in every corner. Her cats bat at the folded pages as she edits the newest manuscript for Essay Press. Essay Press has no formal office -- it is based out of the editors' homes in Ithaca and Chicago.

As a nonprofit, Essay Press strives to sustain business through grants, donations, and university funding from Ithaca and beyond to ensure that their authors have a venue for publication.

Taylor, IC lecturer Stephen Cope, and Northwestern University artist-in-residence Eula Biss edit and publish unique and socially aware essays that are usually too long for magazines and journals but too short for traditional book publishers. Thanks to Essay Press, each essay becomes a stand-alone book.

Like Split Oak, Essay Press also offers hands-on internship opportunities to Ithaca students. As an intern in spring 2009, I got to see what it takes to produce a book, from editing the manuscript to promoting the published copy.

I worked on The Age of Virtual Reproduction, an experimental text by Spring Ulmer which managed to synthesize such disparate topics as genocide, eating disorders, and autism. My favorite part of the internship was getting to really immerse myself in the manuscript and make line edits for the author to consider. The book was published last fall and has already appeared on university syllabuses.

Essay Press’s internships aren’t just for writing majors like me. Some students have handled book orders, kept business records, and used accounting software to track Essay Press’s finances. Other students have researched and written grant proposals to attain funding from a range of corporate, educational, and federal sources. One intern completely redesigned the Essay Press website.

The internship for me was pivotal: I found my passion. I have collected books all my life and am an avid reader, but it was my time at Essay Press that made me realize I wanted to really make books my life and to go into the publishing industry.



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