Getting the Word Out: Xavier Review & XRP Celebrate 35 Years of Publishing
XAVIER GOLD…Summer 2016
By Katheryn Krotzer Laborde
It is not every university that has its own journal, let alone its own press. Then again, Xavier University of Louisiana is not the average university. Nor is Xavier Review Press, established in 1988, the average press.
Every press has a beginning, a reason for putting ink to paper in the first place, and for XRP that starting spark can be found in Xavier Review, the journal that recently celebrated its 35th anniversary of continuous publication with readings featuring author Fatima Shaik and fiction writer Percival Everett.
At a university known for its pharmacy and pre-med programs, the existence of a press and journal may hit some as a surprise. But, “really, publications in the arts at Xavier go back to the 1930s,” notes Editor Emeritus Tom Bonner in recalling the early days of the journal he helped to start after the demise of Xavier University Studies, the creative and critical journal that ran from 1961 to 1972. “The journal was shutting down,” he said, “and through a National Endowment for the Arts grant to bring a writer to campus, we produced a small periodical that began a decade long march with subsequent publications that culminated in the 1980-1981 issue of Xavier Review.”
As is often the case, it was the gift of money – in this case an Andrew W. Mellon grant – that provided the opportunity to begin the journal, and the continued gift of smaller grants that kept it going until the Xavier Endowment for the Humanities (XEH) was able to offer consistent funding. “Funding was the biggest challenge,” Bonner said. “We were constantly writing grants over a decade to get the journal started, and then there were more grants [that were written] until the Xavier Endowment for the Humanities came into being.
These days, the journal is funded by XEH and through money made in selling both the journal (to subscribers and occasional purchasers) and books. “Xavier Review Press fulfilled a need to publish works that reflected the interests of the University: its geographical and cultural setting in the South and nearby Caribbean, African Americana, ethnography, and religion,” Bonner said. “XRP is a niche press even now.”
The press is now run by Executive Editor Nicole Pepinster Greene who, like Bonner, is a former editor of the Review. In her current position, Greene feels the press should support the mission of the University “and its identity as a Black Catholic institution although one which is becoming increasingly diverse.”
Editor of XRP since 2010, Greene has guided one general nonfiction writer, two African American poets, and two scholarly anthology editors through the process of revision, editing, and the final proofing. She is currently at work on a book that features the poetry of a deceased New Orleans poet whose spirit and verse is remembered fondly among local literati. “As a not-for-profit press, we have provided opportunities for ‘young’ talented writers to publish a first volume of poetry or critical essays or a volume by an established writer whose work is perhaps of particularly local New Orleans/South Louisiana interest,” Greene said.
Through the sale of books, particularly by individual writers who hold poetry readings at universities, bookstores and festivals, the press is able to make enough money to pay for the design and publishing of the next book or issue of Xavier Review. Both books and journal are designed by Dialogos, a New Orleans-based company, and printed by Bookmasters in Ashland, Ohio.
Robin Vander, Percival Everett, Ralph Adamo, and Nicole Greene gather after Everett’s reading on Xavier’s campus. Vander co-edited a book on Everett’s work, published by XRP.
In the world of tiny presses with no national distribution beyond Amazon, each and every sale underscores the success of an individual book. Xavier Review Press publishes scholarly works, such as a book on the Free Men of Color Cabinet Makers in New Orleans, books that explore the writing of Jean Toomer, Percival Everett and Andre Dubus, and an oral history of the massive The Assumption of Mary by late African American Expressionist Frederick J. Brown that hangs in Xavier’s library. The press also boasts a fine selection of literary publications, particularly poetry. Green believes that “judging by the response of our readership, we are doing well.”
In addition to funding, time is key when it comes to keeping a small university press pumping from year to year. As was Bonner in the days when he ran both press and the journal, Greene and Xavier Review Editor Ralph Adamo, as well as Managing Editor Katheryn Laborde, are English professors with four courses to teach each fall. Each spring their pedagogical loads are slightly diminished thanks to release time granted by the university, giving them not so much as more time to work – all three tend to their duties throughout the calendar year – but a little, much appreciated time to breathe as they struggle to balance planning classes, grading essays and tending to other areas of university service, such as committee work and other pressing responsibilities. (Remarkably, both Bonner and Greene served as department chair as each ran both press and journal.) In addition, all write, submit, and publish their own work.
While Greene considers queries for book-length manuscripts, Adamo reads individual submissions, some of which come from overseas, or American prisons, or from people he has met along the way. “Some of the writers know me or of me,” Adamo said. “Some have some connection to New Orleans or even Xavier. But generally it is writers looking for a respectable venue to display their work. They've seen an issue or seen one of our listings in national print and on-line places, or heard about the Review through word of mouth, or through meeting me (or others) at conferences.”
Adamo came to the Review as an experienced editor and respected writer. A recipient of the National Endowment of the Arts grant for his poetry, Adamo was one of thee editors of an independent magazine in the 70s, Barataria. Years later, he was asked to take over the (then) ailing New Orleans Review to nurse it back to literary health.
The author of several books of poetry and the recent focus of articles in Rain Taxi and The Hollins Critic had a good ten year break between editing NOR and being asked to take on Xavier Review in 2011, a task he relishes. “I have found the departmental support and atmosphere very comfortable. My approach, I find, has changed a bit. We don't get quite as many unsolicited contributions as I did at NOR, and so I solicit more things and even commission a few.
“I also am more conscious of trying to support the region and the general location where we are, with the writers, essays and choices of books to review. I am also conscious of a bit more of a mandate here, imposed strictly by myself on myself, to reflect the realities of the HBCU home of this magazine, seeking the best work, always, but being more solicitous of and on the lookout for work by African American writers.”
With the celebration of 35 years all but behind him, Adamo is clear on the future of the journal because with each submission that arrives in his mailbox, the future presents itself. In addition to the poems and stories that come his way, he has plans to “seek more book reviews, especially to help promote books that have some connection to our area or to the concerns of an HBCU.
“Otherwise, as usual, I am looking for and soliciting the best work I can find, especially from younger and less established writers.”