Friday, June 24, 2016

Rest in Peace, Ralph Stanley

  Ralph works on a banjo lick in the King studio (Gusto Records)
We were saddened to learn of the passing of Ralph Stanley yesterday at the age of 89. Stanley was widely considered to be the godfather of traditional bluegrass music who found found a new generation of fans late in life thanks to his Grammy-winning music for the 2000 movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

But it was his early work with his brother Carter Stanley (1925-1966) and the Clinch Mountain Boys that were some of his most important contribution to the tradition of bluegrass music. The brothers performed thousands of in-person and radio shows, recorded hundreds of songs and tunes for half a dozen record labels, and tried to keep pace with changing times while remaining true to the spirit of old-time country music. As a result of their accomplishments, they have become a standard of musical authenticity.

The following memorial recollection of Ralph Stanley is penned by David Johnson, author of
Lonesome Melodies: The Lives and Music of the Stanley Brothersat the request of author Richard Thompson for his column at

Ralph Stanley is one of the most compelling musicians I have heard in a lifetime of listening to music. The sound of his voice singing “O Death” from the stage of Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium in June 2000 caused the hair to stand on the back of my neck. From that moment I began thinking about writing the book that became Lonesome Melodies.

Ralph and Carter smile for a King promotional photo.
During my interview with Ralph on the patio outside his house in 2003, I was very aware that I was talking to a legend. As we know, he is a man of few words, so I hung on every word he was willing to share with me. I saved one question for when the interview might be fading, which happened abruptly as I asked about Carter. I threw out a question about the importance of faith in his life.

He shed the measured words, and testified to his being born again after a dream about two ministers – one current, and the other the minister at Carter’s funeral. When Ralph woke from the dream, he called the current one and asked to be baptized in the Clinch River that very day in 1999. He firmly believed that blessings followed, such as being included in the sound track of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

Looking into my eyes, he said I would know when Jesus was working on me. I would get down on my knees. I was ready to kneel right there. I felt the power of Ralph’s faith, just as I had felt the power of his unique voice at the Ryman in 2000. May he rest on a peaceful mountain. After seventy years of offering listeners the pleasure of his musical gifts, he deserves that.

Friday, June 3, 2016

UPM Staff Pick: Black and Brown Planets

UPM Acquisitions Editor Vijay Shah choose Isiah Lavender’s stellar Black and Brown Plants, a collection of essays on race and science fiction, as his reading recommendation from our Spring catalog. Below he explains why.

Science fiction has been really blowing up lately. In the past, science fiction has tended to look very white, recall the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. As a racial minority, it is exciting to think about black and brown peoples in space. Black planets! You might remember the title of Public Enemy’s fierce album back in the 1990, Fear of a Black Planet.

No doubt, I find Afrofuturism rather creative, imagining a future where blacks are actually in power. I definitely want to read the late great African American writer Octavia Butler’s novels, namely Kindred, and have heard a lot about Nalo Hopkinson, originally from Jamaica. Plus, I just attended a grand conference on science fiction at Jackson State University, one of Mississippi's historically black universities.

Lavender’s volume also covers Latino and indigenous science fiction—the brown planets, if you will. Considering how indigenous peoples have been exterminated in the last 500 years since Columbus’ arrival, we realize what a radical act is it to project them as controlling their own destiny in some futuristic realm.

Currently, Lavender and I are working together on a splendid follow-up, focusing on Asian science fiction. Recently, I read Chang-Rae Lee’s superb novel On Such a Full Sea, so feeling very stoked by this kind of sequel!

Black and Brown Plants: Black and Brown Planets: The Politics of Race in Science Fiction is now available in paperback. Isiah Lavender III, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is an assistant professor of English at Louisiana State University.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Joker Returns to the Screen in Suicide Squad

The Joker: A Serious Study of the Clown Prince of Crime is the first academic work to provide a comprehensive study Batman's arch-nemesis in comics, television, in film. While there has been a great deal of scholarly attention paid towards superheroes, very little has been done on the topic of supervillains. This book, now available in paperback, edited by Robert Moses Peaslee and Robert G. Weiner attempts to fill this void by starting with the iconic Joker— one of the most recognizable comics’ characters in popular culture.

Also giving due to supervillains is the upcoming film Suicide Squad. Due out later this summer, the film is about a secret government agency named A.R.G.U.S that creates a task force comprised of super villains, the "Suicide Squad". They are assigned to execute dangerous tasks in exchange for shorter prison sentences. And, yes, The Joker, portrayed by Jared Leto, will be featured in the film.

Editors Peaslee and Weiner had this to say in anticipation of yet another iteration of The Joker on screen.

However Jared Leto reinterprets the Joker in the upcoming Suicide Squad, he will most likely avoid duplicating previous iterations. From the 1940s to today, Jokers (whether drawn, written, voiced, or embodied) are often quite different, and yet there is always something undeniably Jokeresque (whether it is the 1950s prankster or today's smiling sadist). The character is malleable, and we often get the Joker that fits each historical moment. What will the Joker look, sound and act like in 2016, the era of Trump, ISIS, and public memorialization of groundbreaking, gender-queer performers like Bowie and Prince? How will audiences receive him? 
We look forward to Leto’s interpretation, especially since Batman, it appears, will play a much less significant role than is normal for a story in which the Joker appears. In fact, Suicide Squad appears to be positioning itself as a film about Harley Quinn more than anything else. Harley is one of the most popular characters among fans, a favorite choice for cosplay at conventions. 
We hope that the new film will give Harley the chance to shine that the previous animated series have not. She no longer has to stand in the Joker’s shadow as a character. Perhaps the most revolutionary thing Leto could do as the Joker, ultimately, is take a back seat.

Watch the trailer for Suicide Squad below. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

UPM turns 46 years-old this May

May 1st, 1970 marks University Press of Mississippi’s official birthday.

The photograph below is Dr. Robert Cecil Cook, UPM's founding director. Cook was President of the University of Southern Mississippi when this photograph was taken in 1949, and the “Photograph of Robert Cecil Cook, University President from 1945-1954” is courtesy of Special Collections, McCain Library and Archives, University of Southern Mississippi.

We recently discovered some interesting facts about the UPM's first days. From summaries of Dr. Cook’s personal papers in the McCain Library and Archives at USM we learn:
“In 1968, Governor John Bell Williams appointed Cook to a twelve year term on the Board of Trustees of Institutions of Higher Learning, and he served as president of that body during the 1976-77 fiscal year. 
As a member of the Board of Trustees, Cook discovered that Mississippi was one of only two states with no university press. To remedy the situation, he secured support from the board and the state's major colleges and universities, and in 1970, he organized the University and College Press of Mississippi, which operated on the second floor of the Student Union Building (now McLemore Hall) at the University of Southern Mississippi. Cook served as president (at no salary) until 1973, when operations were moved to” Jackson, Mississippi. “The Press’s first publication was Mississippi Black Folklore, a bibliography by William R. Ferris, a faculty member at Jackson State College (now Jackson State University).”

The Press started with two employees, the director and a secretary. Its first budget in The Report of the Presidents’ Council in the Board of Trustees minutes was $25,000. That first fiscal year it hoped to publish ten new books from its offices in the Student Union Building on the USM campus in Hattiesburg.

Today the Press employs nineteen full-time staff members. Its sales are annually above $2 million dollars. From its offices at the Education, Research, and Development Center on the fifth floor of the Paul B. Johnson Tower in Jackson, the press acquires, edits, designs, and markets over 200 author creations each year in traditional print, print-on-demand, and electronic book forms.

The press was from its beginning one of very few consortium presses. Then and now it is sustainably supported by and represents all of Mississippi’s eight public universities, being Alcorn State University, Delta State University, Jackson State University, Mississippi State University, Mississippi Valley State University, Mississippi University for Women, University of Mississippi, and University of Southern Mississippi.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Two UPM Titles Nominated for Eisner Awards

Nominations for the 2016 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards have been announced and two UPM titles are being considered in the category of Best Educational/Academic Work. Our two nominees this year are Boys Love Manga and Beyond: History, Culture, and Community in Japan edited By Mark Mclelland, Kazumi Nagaike, Katsuhiko Suganuma, and James Welker and Superheroes On World Screens edited by Rayna Denison and Rachel Mizsei-Ward.

This marks the fifth straight year that UPM has had multiple nominees in the Best Academic/Scholarly Work category. 

Boys Love Manga and Beyond is a collection of essays that critically examine the "beautiful boy" love comics that enthralled fans in Japan and then worldwide. In recent decades, "Boys Love" (or simply BL) has emerged as a mainstream genre in manga, anime, and games for girls and young women.Today, a wide range of products produced both by professionals and amateurs are brought together under the general rubric of "Boys Love," and are rapidly gaining an audience throughoutAsia and globally.This collection provides the first comprehensive overview in English of the BL phenomenon in Japan, its history and various subgenres, and introduces translations of some key Japanese scholarship not otherwise available.

Superheroes on World Screens is a collection of essays that explore the many ways in which superheroes no longer belong solely to America. That is to say, many national cultures have created or re-imagined the idea of the superhero and the realm of superheroes now contains many icons whose histories borrow from local folklore and legends. Through analysis of mainly film, television, and computer screens, contributors demonstrate how far superheroes have traveled to inspire audiences worldwide.

UPM is pleased to be joined by three other university presses as nominees in the Best Academic/Scholarly Work category. The Blacker the Ink: Constructions of Black Identity in Comics and Sequential Art, edited by Frances Gateward and John Jennings (Rutgers University Press); Graphic Medicine Manifesto, by M. K. Czerwiec et al. (Penn State University Press); Unflattening, by Nick Sousanis (Harvard University Press). A full list of nominees can be seen here

The Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards are considered the “Oscars” of the comics world. Named for acclaimed comics creator the Will Eisner, the awards are celebrating their 28th year of highlighting the best publications and creators in comics and graphic novels. The 2016 Eisner Awards judging panel consists of journalist/reviewer Brian Doherty, comics writer/editor Danny Fingeroth, retailer Jason Grazulis (BSI Comics, Metairie, LA), librarian Jason M. Poole (Webster Public Library, Webster, NY), Comic-Con International board member Natalie Powell, and academic/scholar Carol Tilley (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign).

Voting for the awards is held online, and the ballot is available at All professionals in the comic book industry are eligible to vote. The deadline for voting is June 17. The results of the voting will be announced in a gala awards ceremony on the evening of Friday, July 22 at Comic-Con International.

More information about the Eisner Awards can be found at

Thursday, April 14, 2016

UPM Staff Pick: Things like the Truth

UPM Marketing Director Steve Yates chooses Ellen Gilchrist's new episodic memoir as his recommendation from our Spring Catalog. Below he explains why.

Things like the Truth: Out of My Later Years is all about connections, aging, family, hopes and dreams, and since it is by Ellen Gilchrist, all those themes burn like star fire.

My father was in love with Ellen Gilchrist’s radio voice and her moving vignettes broadcast on National Public Radio. When it came time for graduate school, I had two fellowship choices—Dad and Mom’s alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis, or the University of Arkansas. We all sat down at the kitchen table and after much intense talking, Dad said with finality, “I want you to study where someone like Ellen Gilchrist studied and where there’s a university press to publish her book of stories. You need to go where something amazing is happening.”
Steve Yates and Ellen Gilchrist
at Lemuria Books in Jackson

After I worked at University of Arkansas Press, the first publisher of In the Land of Dreamy Dreams, I have now at University Press of Mississippi been honored to work on three new Ellen Gilchrist books, and sell one, the novel Anabasis, on our backlist. Connections, aging, family, hopes and dreams. And always go to school where there is a university press.

Things like the Truth is now available from UPM. Meet Ellen and get a signed copy at the following times and locations:

Monday, May 16, 5 p.m. at Lemuria Books in Jackson

Tuesday, May 17, 6 - 7:30 p.m. at Garden District Books in New Orleans

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Seetha Srinivasan Reflects on her Career at UPM

Last spring, the StoryCorps mobile tour made a stop in Jackson. UPM took advantage of the opportunity and recorded a conversation between Editor in Chief Craig Gill and Director Emerita Seetha Srinivasan. 

Longtime colleagues, Craig interviews Seetha in a wide ranging conversation that covers how Sirinivasan got her start in publishing, her early days at UPM (including a promotion from student worker to acquisitions editor in just six months), significant changes in publishing, her influences and mentors, and the accomplishments that she's most proud of. 

Srinivasan retired in 2008 after a 29-year career at UPM, with 10 of those years as director of the Press.When Srinivasan came to UPM in 1979, the Press was only 10 years old and slowly beginning to distinguish itself nationally. Almost three decades later, Srinivasan’s editorial vision and leadership drove to the forefront of the university press publishing world. 

As an acquisitions editor Srinivasan elevated the Press to a level of international recognition. Included among the works she developed for publication are Photographs by Eudora Welty, three titles by noted historian Stephen Ambrose, a retrospective of the work of artist William Dunlap, and a a collection of nonfiction by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison.

Srinivasan’s drive and dedication have allowed her to make contributions in the national publishing world as well. In 2002 Srinivasan was awarded the Association of American University Presses Constituency Award for Outstanding Service to the University Press Community. She has served as a member of the Board of Directors for the AAUP. And from 2003 Srinivasan served as president of the AAUP. During her term as president she traveled to Berlin to address the Congress of International Publishers Association on “The Future of the Academic Book.”

The audio of the interview is embedded below. 


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