Poets Gone Wild

In honor of National Poetry Month, please enjoy this archival footage of a young Michael McClure reading to lions at the San Francisco Zoo from his 1964 collection, Ghost Tantras. The clip is from a 1966 episode of Richard O. Moore’s television series, U.S.A. Poetry.

In this second clip from U.S.A. Poetry, McClure discusses his poetic process and experiences with peyote.


Remember − for the month of April, you can save 20% on McClure’s Of Indigo and Saffron and all other poetry titles from UC Press with discount code 14W9643!



SCMS 2014: Tiny Screens, Post-Broadcast TV, and More

Mary Francis, Acquisitions Editor, reports back from the Society of Cinema & Media Studies annual conference, held this year in Seattle.

I’ve been going to this conference for more than a decade. The society was previously called the Society for Cinema Studies; the ‘M’ for “media” was added to reflect the wide range of topics that are now part of the society’s remit: cinema of all sorts (commercial, documentary, experimental, industrial), television, radio, games, social media and personal tech, surveillance technology, and much more.  This expansion into new areas of scholarly inquiry is driven by the many changes in contemporary media industries, consumer behavior, the economy, government regulation of media, etc.  This is a very exciting time to be publishing in this field, and I am working to shape our list to reflect the best and most dynamic work in these new areas.

Acquisitions Editor Mary Francis (R) with UC Press author Richard Abel (L)

Acquisitions Editor Mary Francis (L) with UC Press author Richard Abel (R)

As with all academic conferences, having so many researchers together  (this year there were more than 1800 scholars, grad students, and writers in attendance) makes is easy to take the pulse of a field: what are the hot trends and new ideas for research, what are the topics that people are teaching new classes on, where are new departments and degrees being offered.  News of the field also comes via checking out what other publishers are doing.  Checking out the new books from our competitors is a great way to suss out what is happening in the field: I am aware of what competing publishers tend to specialize in, but publishing is very dynamic these days, so I pay close attention to shifts in the types of topics and products that our competitors are working on.

But the bulk of my time is dedicated to one-on-one meetings with scholars. We have been publishing in this area longer than any other academic press, and so there are always many authors who have an existing relationship with the press to check in with about their latest projects.  But I spend a great deal of my time talking with people who are not yet working with the Press.  I target new authors whom I want to woo, people who are writing on topics I think are crucial to the field.  Some are very established scholars who might produce a “Big Book” that defines a subfield; some are productive mid-career scholars with proven track records or up-and-coming stars working in new areas that I want to bring to our list. I always keep my eyes and ears (and schedule, when possible!) open for entirely unplanned encounters. Great ideas for projects that I didn’t have on my radar always come up at these conferences.

UC Press author Dan Herbert at SCMS

UC Press author Dan Herbert at SCMS

I’m there to acquire the best scholarship and to keep my list healthy and active, I have to think about short, medium, and long-range projects.  I look for cutting edge projects that ought to be published in a timely way, within a year.  But I also have to keep the three-to-five-to-seven year plans in mind as well.  Different types of books take different amounts of time to research and write—not to mention the fact that every author has their own pace and style of work. You certainly need a nimble mental calendar!

The many changes in cinema and media mean that the field is growing fast. It can be difficult to stay on top of fast-moving trends, but also exciting.  Scholars are talking a lot more about television, for example. It’s ironic in some ways, because television literally isn’t what it used to be. With the exception of live sports or breaking news, the old version of television—a few large networks, shows tied to certain time frames and eight or nine month seasons—that’s largely gone.  But television is thriving as it never has before. There’s a lot of creative energy (particularly among writers) and a lot of financial resources are being pushed towards post-broadcast television.  Programming is very different from what it used to be, with the advent of so-called reality TV, shorter seasons for dramatic series, etc.  The way people watch television is changing too.  Not only can you watch on a range of devices, but you can choose when and how much of your favorite TV shows to watch—for example “binge watching” where you watch an entire season of your favorite show over one weekend. Almost every aspect of television is in transition right now—it’s crazy.

Acquisitions Editor Mary Francis (L) and Journals Publishing Manager Hannah Love (R) at the Film Quarterly reception

Acquisitions Editor Mary Francis (L) and Journals Publishing Manager Hannah Love (R) at the Film Quarterly reception

When it comes to cinema, there are a lot of changes as well.  If television is like a serialized novel, film is more like opera. It takes more resources than television, it’s on a larger scale, it is very international nowadays, it has different storytelling and genre conventions. But personal tech and consumer behavior have changed how commercial films are made nowadays.  In particular, people are watching film on smaller and smaller screens: most films are no longer being watched on a large-scale screen in a theatre, but on a domestic screen like a flat screen TV, a laptop screen, or a little smartphone screen. If you’re directing a film to be shown on the big screen you can do certain things that will not work if someone is watching on a smaller screen—and many directors readily admit that this is changing the way they shoot.

Film Quarterly

Film Quarterly

Another very interesting topic is the place of film and video in the art world now.  The moving image has had a presence in the gallery for many decades. But that has exploded in recent years. There is a lot of fruitful crossover between cinema studies and art history nowadays, and since we publish in both fields, this has been a very welcome development that has guided my work in parallel with that of our art editor.

Film and television as an area of study is becoming more interdisciplinary. For instance the overlap between art history and cinema studies is clear, and those scholars are pretty fluent in each other’s languages.  Discussions of economic and industrial developments, trends in technology and government regulation, etc. compel an interdisciplinary approach, because to understand what’s happening you can’t just look at what’s on the screen. You have to explore historical issues like how the federal government regulates the media; economic issues such as the finances of shorter television seasons or the challenge of declining audiences for theaters; and the ever-challenging changes in consumer behavior. There is still a lot of fine scholarship on the content and its artistic merits. But things are changing and the range of topics in the field is wider than ever.



When I Wear My Alligator Boots Reviewed in Geographical Imaginations

When I Wear My Alligator BootsShaylih Muehlmann’s When I Wear My Alligator Boots: Narco-Culture in the U.S. Mexico Borderlands was reviewed in Geographical Imaginations, a blog by Derek Gregory on war, space, and security. Gregory writes that the subjects of Muehlmann’s book “are the low-level players who are, in their way, also being played. For this very reason, their construction and celebration of narco-culture is also a real challenge to the corruptions, exactions and violences of the state. Shaylih unravels the connections between prohibition, poverty and addiction in northern Mexico, and en route her gift for narrative – for telling their stories – provides a powerful analytical lens.”

Read the full review at Geographical Imaginations.


UC Press at the Public Library Association Conference

March saw Rachel Lee, Library Relations Manager represent UC Press at the biennial Public Library Association conference, held this year in Indianapolis. She reports back . . .

At the Press we’ve long been aware that the range of topics we publish means that some of our titles have an appeal beyond traditional academic libraries. As with all university presses, we have a responsibility to disseminate knowledge and research as widely as possible and this includes to researchers who aren’t affiliated with a higher education institution as well as the general interest reader.

This year, for our first attendance at the Public Library Association conference, we chose to highlight the Autobiography of Mark Twain Volume 2. Mark Twain is an author with continuing and wide appeal and one whose titles will already be carried by almost all public libraries, which makes him part of a very selective group indeed!

At the booth, Rebecca Solnit’s Unfathomable City, a brilliant reinvention of the atlas, was really popular. It’s great to see a book that aims to expand our ideas of how any city is imagined and experienced get so much attention from librarians who are purchasing for a general audience. After all, we’re all interested in where we live.

Both Elephant Reflections and Giraffe Reflections were rarely out of people’s hands as they browsed the booth. The beautiful photography makes these books utterly compulsive reading. The prose in the books tackles serious subjects: the work of field scientists in Africa, recent astonishing discoveries, and the natural history and conservation status of these amazing creatures. These highly illustrated books carry this important information to a far greater audience than a collection of essays would achieve.

And obviously our wine and food titles are hugely popular among a general audience.

We’ve long had relationships with many public libraries across the USA, though I had never attended the Public Library Association meeting—and there are some distinct differences between public and academic libraries. While both academic and public librarians have been coping with reduced budgets, the way the libraries work means the effect is very different.

Academic librarians fulfil an incredibly demanding role, meeting the competing needs of different fields from undergraduate instruction to ground-breaking research. Academic libraries also have a commitment to maintain subscriptions to academic journals which, given the continued reductions in budget, is a task that is increasingly challenging.

For public librarians, budget reductions can mean the closure of an entire branch, particularly in areas that are underserved (such as rural or deprived urban areas) resulting in reduced support to the community as a whole.

However, both academic and public librarians are equally passionate about what they do and the services they provide.

The tone of the PLA conference was about contributing to communities. As a publisher, my own focus is on books and journals, but I got a real insight into how much of a public librarian’s work is about providing a space in the community. Libraries provide space to learn, space to relax, space to access vital information, and space for all kinds of people to indulge their love of books.

I seemed to be surrounded by equipment for children, from seats that looked like pirate ships to tiny homework tables and knee-high shelving. I was keenly aware that academic libraries are also re-tooling their spaces to encourage effective and collaborative learning.

In my quieter moments in the three days, I mused that children who grow up with access to libraries are the ones most likely to become life-long learners, and it was a pleasure and privilege to get some insight into the beginning of that journey at this positive and upbeat show.  I remember going to the library as a child and choosing books to read, and I remain an active patron of the public library today.  Through my work at UC Press, it’s great to be able to continue my support of public libraries. The Press’s vibrant list of books and journals has delighted and inspired readers for over 120 years, and I am sure it will continue to do so for many decades to come.


Check out our new digs

We’ve officially moved in to our new home in Oakland! Hop over to our Facebook page to view a collection of photos from our staff.

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Obituary for the Video Store

By Daniel Herbert

Released in January, my book Videoland has turned out to be something of an elegy, even an obituary, for the video store. Although certain stores and chains continue to flourish (Family Video in particular), the greater brick-and-mortar video rental business has largely vanished. Even great specialty stores that seemed to have strong community support are faltering. Le Video, the immense and venerable store in San Francisco, is currently conducting a fundraising campaign to prevent closing on May 15. Many other fantastic stores, including Scarecrow Video in Seattle (featured prominently in my book), are in imminent danger of shutting their doors for good.

Lately, I have been struck by the wave of nostalgic affection for video culture that has attended the disappearance of video stores. Numerous articles and online think pieces lament the loss of these places, and not one but two feature-length documentaries about video culture have been released, Rewind This! and Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector. The trailer for Rewind This! gives a good sense of its accomplishments.

In telling the story of video’s impact on the world, Rewind This! focuses particularly on the way video facilitated the production and consumption of low-brow, “trashy” movies and genres. Along these lines, Adjust Your Tracking is not so much about video stores as it is about a subculture of VHS collectors who mainly collect obscure cult movies. One segment from the film details a collector who created a video store in his basement, like a model train collector who builds tiny villages full of plastic people.

Here, the affection for video goes hand in hand with an affinity for the space of the video store. Yet most of the subjects in this movie don’t celebrate video stores as much as they celebrate the size and breadth of their personal collections; indeed, a number of these people seem to have acquired many of their VHS tapes from video stores that were going out of business. In many ways, their veneration of the video store and video culture would not be possible without its demise.

With their shared interest in cult cinema, Rewind This! and Adjust Your Tracking paint a picture of video culture that seems strangely informed by the current decimation of the brick-and-mortar rental business. Simply put, the trashing of the video store has prompted some people to reflect on the trashiness of video as a medium. And the sense of nostalgia found in these movies also seems specific to this historical moment. Their retrospective celebration of the 1980s, of VHS tapes, and of the video store appears like a rejection of the present conditions of media culture, where Video-on-Demand and internet streaming services dominate.

These movies are just as much about the present moment as they are about the past. And, soon enough they will become historical documents in their own right. They will not only provide records of video culture, but will illustrate how the story of video was told at a particular time. It will be interesting, as time goes on, to see how this sentimentality for video will evolve and to see what new things we will become nostalgic about. While Videoland tells one part of the history of video, I am excited to see that history continue to unfold – even as it incorporates its own historiography.

Daniel Herbert is Assistant Professor of Screen Arts and Cultures at the University of Michigan. Read a review of his new book Videoland on and listen to an interview with Herbert on Wisconsin Public Radio.


University of California Press to partner with HighWire

University of California Press (UC Press) is pleased to announce that beginning in mid-2015 its journal content will be hosted on the HighWire Open Platform from Stanford University’s HighWire Press.

Speaking of the move, UC Press Director Alison Mudditt commented, “As the ways in which students and researchers consume information evolve, UC Press felt it critical to seek a long-term hosting partnership that will allow us to take full advantage of new avenues to make scholarly work accessible and relevant in an increasingly dynamic digital space of our own. We believe that our collaboration with HighWire will support us in this.”

The flexible HighWire Open Platform technology infrastructure is increasingly becoming the platform of choice for social sciences and humanities publishers. HighWire’s collaborative environment and evidence-based product development process provide unique opportunities for its publishing partners to share and learn from each others’ experiences.  As Mudditt further commented, “Our partnership with HighWire will enable us to deliver new and innovative products and services essential to our publishing strategy. HighWire’s capabilities in social media, community-based services, and alternative metrics will allow UC Press to develop new ways of sharing and delivering content to our user communities.”

Read more


In Memoriam: Peter Matthiessen

Peter Matthiessen, Miami Book Fair, 1991

Peter Matthiessen at the Miami Book Fair, 1991. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Author and naturalist Peter Matthiessen died on Saturday at the age of 86 after a fight with leukemia. Matthiessen is the author of many works of fiction and nonfiction, including Sal Si Puedes (Escape If You Can): Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution, recently reissued by UC Press.

Matthiessen was a founder of The Paris Review and a three-time National Book Award-winner. He was also a prominent environmental activist. His nonfiction featured nature and travel—notably The Snow Leopard (1978), and the controversial study of the Leonard Peltier case, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (1983). In 2008, at age 81, Matthiessen received the National Book Award for Fiction for his book, Shadow Country. 

Read more at The New York Times, NPR, and The Paris Review.


Beatriz Manz Rubs Elbows with Joe Biden in Chile

Beatriz Manz, professor of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley and author of Paradise in Ashes: A Guatemalan Journey of Courage, Terror, and Hope, was honored with an invitation to the inauguration of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.

Beatriz Manz (right) with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet

Beatriz Manz (right) with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet

In addition to rubbing elbows with Chile’s elite, she met Vice President Joe Biden. Manz told us they shared this exchange:

I said, “I am Beatriz Manz from Berkeley.”
Biden said “Oh, you must be a radical”
I responded: “Of course I am a radical!”

Beatriz Manz (left) with Vice President Joe Biden (right)

Beatriz Manz (left) with Vice President Joe Biden (right)

We love it!



What I Learned from Cesar Chavez

By Marc Grossman

To commemorate the March 31 birthday of Cesar Chavez, we offer some perspectives on the man from his longtime spokesman, speechwriter and personal aide, Marc Grossman, who knew the civil rights and farm labor icon for the last 24 years of his life and still serves as communications director for the Cesar Chavez Foundation. Grossman wrote the foreword to UC Press’s new reissue of Peter Matthiessen’s 1969 book, Sal Si Puedes (Escape If You Can).

Marc Grossman and Cesar Chavez

Marc Grossman (left), with Cesar Chavez in 1975

It was an honor when UC Press asked me to write a new foreword for the re-issued Sal Si Puedes: Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution, Peter Matthiessen’s moving 1960s portrait that helped inspire director Diego Luna’s just-released movie Cesar Chavez.

As part of a whirlwind cross-country tour of special screenings of the film, I met and briefly spoke with President Obama at the White House and left a copy of Matthiessen’s book. The President said he looked forward to reading it.

People often ask for insights about Cesar. Here are just a few.

Sometimes he’d give up assistants or secretaries. If he spotted talented young people, especially if they were farm workers, he’d convince them that they could be accountants, administrators or attorneys. He wanted office results but saw the greater good of helping people fulfill their dreams—dreams some didn’t even know they had at the time. He gave hundreds opportunities that no one would have offered him when he was a young migrant worker with an eighth-grade education. Thousands more credit the experience and training of working with Cesar and the United Farm Workers for lives of social activism and professional success. Wasn’t that what he wanted for farm workers too: the chance to negotiate with their employers as equals across the bargaining table—so they wouldn’t have to just take orders all their lives?

Cesar said that his job as an organizer was helping ordinary people do extraordinary things. He made everyone believe their jobs were important, from attorneys to cooks. He got people to believe in themselves—those whom almost no one considered very important, giving them faith that they could challenge and overcome one of California’s richest industries. Maybe that’s why Cesar—who like everyone in the movement lived in self-imposed poverty—succeeded where others with much better educations and a lot more money tried and failed for a hundred years before him.

He could be incredibly generous in helping people grow and investing them with the authority to do their work. Jerry Cohen, the UFW’s longtime general counsel, is still mystified by critics who claim that Cesar wouldn’t delegate authority. “Cesar gave me too much authority,” he said. “Once he had a sense of confidence in a person, Cesar had no problem delegating authority.” That was my experience too.

His novel approach to organizing, especially his insistence on nonviolence, sparked internal union dissent. Some left during his 25-day fast for nonviolence in 1968, but most people’s hearts and minds changed.

An equally divisive internal political battle in the late 1970s was over the UFW’s future direction. There were legitimate differences of opinions. Some wanted a traditional business union, focusing on wages, hours, and benefits for members. Cesar’s vision was more transformational. Of course he knew that the union had to produce economic progress. But he also saw the UFW as leading a universal movement to take on problems confronting farm workers and a larger, developing community of Latino working families and other poor people. As in the fight over nonviolence in the ’60s, Cesar’s vision prevailed then too, although critics still condemn him for it. Most Americans today would probably take Cesar’s side. If the UFW had been a conventional business union, would seventeen million Americans have boycotted grapes in 1975?

The lessons Cesar taught me, countless farm workers and millions of others he inspired who never worked on a farm are as relevant today as when Peter Matthiessen’s book was first published in 1969.