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The American Literatures Initiative

7th January 2014

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“The American Literatures Initiative, the first of the university press collaborative publishing grants awarded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, approaches 100 book mark.”


In 2007, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, looking for ways to encourage presses to collaborate more on basic publishing operations, and looking to support the more economical publication of first scholarly books in what they called “underserved” fields, issued a call for grant proposals to the University Press community. The call for grant proposals was open‐ended: there was no definition of an underserved field, nor were any guidelines provided about the potential size of a grant, the timeframe, or the number of presses needed in the collaboration. However, each proposal had to address several key issues, including providing evidence of an underserved field, identifying more economical and transformative processes for the publication of first books, and providing a plan for long‐term sustainability of publishing monographs in the discipline.

The American Literatures Initiative (ALI) was the first such grant awarded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 2008, to be followed by a half dozen additional grants during 2008 and 2009. The ALI allowed five similarly‐sized university presses—NYU Press, along with Fordham University Press, Rutgers University Press, Temple University Press, and the University of Virginia Press—to collaborate on the publication of 125 first books in the field of literary studies over five years, with a grant of $1.3 million.

As the ALI approaches the publication of its 100th book, the many skeptisms voiced at the
beginning‐‐that presses could not effectively collaborate in these ways—were unfounded. To find out more about the participating publishers and the project’s goals, the Directors of the ALI presses were asked to provide a candid assessment of their progress to date, with the hope that some of the successes of the ALI might be adapted by individual university presses, or scaled onto other university press collaborations.

Perhaps the biggest lesson is just how much work is involved for junior scholars to complete first books, especially when the peer review process often requires significant revision. As a result, whereas the original grant proposal projected 110 of the 125 books would be published by the end of the 5 year grant period, only 70 were released by December 31, 2012, the end of the initial grant period. Consequently, the ALI directors requested and received a four year extension to use the remaining grant funds, providing sufficient time for the books under contract to be delivered and published. READ MORE

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