Welcome to Northwestern University Press’s blog, Incidental Noyes, written here at our home on Noyes Street in Evanston next to Lake Michigan. One of the most important niches that university presses occupy in the book world is that of regional publishing. University presses bring to light a panoply of local and regional American stories that would otherwise be unknown or soon forgotten, despite the fact that many of the most illuminating and emblematic of American stories are local ones. In the hands of gifted writers and editors, the lives of individuals and their local communities can reveal the sweeping landscape of American history. Few cities embody that sweep more than Chicago.
In this edition of Incidental Noyes, NU Press editor-in-chief Gianna Mosser interviews Harvey Young, editor of the Second to None series, which invites projects that spotlight the spirit of Chicago and its people in an engaging, widely accessible, and historically accurate manner. These alternative, underground, and yet-to be chronicled stories will reveal the connective tissues that make up the real Chicago.
What role does regional publishing play at a university press as opposed to mainstream publishers?
A university press differs from a mainstream publisher in that it commits to cultivating a lifelong relationship with readers who are also neighbors. It is the primary steward of their stories and histories. In addition, a university press, attuned to local complexities, can best present life in a city as a mosaic, comprised of individual but ultimately integrated stories.
What makes Chicago such a vibrant place to tell stories?
Chicago has swagger. It has always been and continues to be a destination city for hard-working people who are willing to do whatever it takes (legal or otherwise) to realize their dreams. The streets of Chicago were walked by an endless cast of characters who profoundly impacted the region and the nation: Al Capone, Oprah Winfrey, Kanye West, and more.
What kind of stories make for the best regional books?
The best stories spotlight the uniqueness of Chicago—its particular challenges and extraordinary blessings. In some cases, this engagement can be explicit such as accounts on the miraculous rise of the city and, of course, its rebuilding after the Great Fire. In most others, it is implicit, a background feature: how neighborhood settlement (and segregation) created particular experiences; how the sports passions and culinary tastes of residents create an identifiable regional identity.
What other university presses do you admire for their regional publishing efforts?
I greatly appreciate the work of The University of Michigan Press. Their regional books tell the story of that part of the Great Lakes and spotlight the pride of place that Michiganders have. I am grateful for the efforts of the University of Florida Press for their commitment to telling very local histories that have been overlooked.
You often write on scholarly topics for popular audiences. What strategies do you use to deliver your expertise in a way that keeps people interested?
Popular writing is public storytelling in a very traditional sense. A speaker stands before a community of listeners who want to be engaged. The aim, in writing, is to remove barriers that block absorption into the story. Feature distinct characters with bold voices. Paint a colorful picture of the city as a backdrop.
HARVEY YOUNG is the editor of the Second to None: Chicago Stories trade series. He is author of four books, including Embodying Black Experience, winner of “Book of the Year” awards from the National Communication Association and the American Society for Theatre Research, and coauthor of Black Theater is Black Life: An Oral History of Chicago Theater. Until January 2018, Young was Professor and Chair of Theatre at Northwestern University. He is now Dean of the College of Fine Arts at Boston University. He is the current president of Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE).