Later this year, the University of Arkansas Press will be releasing a revised edition of “Blood in Their Eyes: The Elaine Massacre of 1919.” Originally written by novelist and historian Grif Stockley, this revised edition will feature additions penned by UA Little Rock historian Brian Mitchell and myself. In fact, I had just wrapped up the final portion on the production end of things — approving the index, signing off on the cover, and skimming over the proof pages yet one more damn time — before various state institutions started being shut down to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Since I’ve been regularly e-mailing David Scott Cunningham, editor-in-chief of UA Press, I thought I’d check in with him to see how the press is handling the current situation. “Our work,” he wrote, “is somewhat surprisingly continuing uninterrupted. All our recent investments in Slack, Microsoft, and Adobe’s cloud-based, realtime collaboration features is really coming in handy right now. We’re all in our home offices but still feeling very connected.”
Of course, while the editorial process may not have suffered much interruption, distribution networks for books have been severely disrupted due to the current pandemic. UA Press titles are distributed by the University of Chicago Press, whose warehouse is temporarily closed.
However, Cunningham noted that there are many other means by which one can access UA Press books: “New titles, as always, are available electronically on major ebook platforms, and we’re working hard to prioritize that side of our production operation so that every planned book launch goes as planned and promised.” In addition, UA Press publications can be accessed institutionally through such library aggregators such as JSTOR and Project MUSE.
For those who prefer physical books, UA Press is still able to meet the majority of demand, thanks to a large decentralized network of print-on-demand facilities. “And the Asian printers that do a lot of our large format and highly illustrated books are now coming back online after months of closure,” added Cunningham. Despite the fact that they are more than capable of working remotely, the staff at UA Press has not lost sight of the larger effects of this pandemic. “Content developers, writing scholars, poets, designers, and researchers whose work is computer-based,” Cunningham wrote, “have by and large avoided the heretofore unimaginable personal and economic calamity that, for example, has battered hardworking Americans in the decimated food-service industry and the superheroes in the medical field who are destroying themselves daily trying to keep the rest of us alive. It could be much worse for us and our bookmaking partners, to be sure, and it’s important not to forget that. But it’s equally important to realize that the coronavirus crisis is a catastrophe that affects us all.”
“Even authors who find themselves without the usual distractions and demands of, say, work life and social engagements nonetheless are facing dire circumstances in their families and communities,” Cunningham continued. “All I can say is that I’m thankful that they’ve found a way to continue doing important work. Even when the foundations of our society are under siege, it’s crucial that we all remember the things that make our world — and all the people who comprise it — worth saving, and I think that includes the intellectual and creative work that the press has always supported and disseminated.”
Asked if there were any particular UA Press books he might recommend for our current situation, Cunningham pointed to this month’s release of “The War at Home: Perspectives on the Arkansas Experience during World War I,” edited by Mark K. Christ, which features a chapter on the influenza pandemic of 1918, to which COVID-19 has been endlessly compared. He also recommended Sondra Gordy’s “Finding the Lost Year: What Happened When Little Rock Closed Its Public Schools.”
“It is worth remembering the last time Arkansas closed schools at this scale,” Cunningham wrote. “Very glad that this time around, we’re doing it to save lives rather than ruin them.”