Pub Club hosts successful inaugural event

by Allison Peters on February 11, 2016

On Thursday, February 4, 2016, Michigan Publishing and the University of Michigan Library Staff Forum Board collaborated to host the first meeting of the Michigan Library Publishing Club (“Pub Club”), a new quarterly event series, open to the public at the Hatcher Graduate Library Gallery, devoted to discussing open access titles published by the University of Michigan Press.

For our inaugural event, the Pub Club discussed American Homes, a 2014 mixed-genre book of poetry, prose, illustrations, and aphorisms by Ryan Ridge, published within the 21st Century Prose series of the digitalculturebooks imprint. Unique among most U-M Press titles, American Homes can be read online for free, and the full text can be annotated using the digital tool, a game-changer for reimagining shared reading experiences of the future.

Over 30 people from our Ann Arbor community attended the event, including about one-third Publishing staff, nearly one-third Library staff, and roughly one-third U-M students and the greater public. The event featured an introduction from AUL for Publishing and Director of the U-M Press Charles Watkinson, who spoke about the 10-year anniversary of the innovative digitalculturebooks imprint, which ignited its mission of open access publishing back in 2006, ahead of the curve in relation to many publishers of the time.

I, Allison Peters, digital publishing coordinator at Michigan Publishing and member of the U-M Library Staff Forum Board, led Pub Club participants through an overview of before sharing video comments from American Homes author Ryan Ridge, who spoke about the book’s themes and how he got started writing it.

“I always start a project not knowing much about anything, and themes tend to emerge as the project evolves, not vice versa,” said Ridge. “I never really know what I’m going to be talking about until I start talking about it.”

Regarding the book’s themes, Ridge added, “With American Homes, I use the basic structure element of houses to talk about things like American history, politics, and certain dynamics of the nuclear family structure. The frame of the book became a way of getting at those larger ideas. The book is, after all, a book of ideas.”

Following Ridge’s initial video comments, Pub Club participants were prompted with three related questions to discuss in two small groups. I then shared a clip of Ridge reading an original list of “Things that Define Americans as Distinctly American” before delving into three new discussion questions in small groups about American patriotism, diversity, nostalgia, and personal experiences growing up in (or not in) an American home.

In his final two author video comments, Ridge described the process of collaborating with illustrator Jacob Heustis on American Homes and other projects, and he shared his reasons for wanting to publish open access with the U-M Press. The Pub Club discussed questions about book design and format, specifically on the innovations and shortcomings of the differing reading experiences print and electronic formats each provide. In small groups, we also talked about our opinions after annotating with and how the tool offers readers a revolutionarily new, meta level of engagement with the primary text.

“It’s smart, it’s democratic, and it’s hip,” said Ridge, referring to the model of open access publishing. “The more people have access to more books and computers, it’s going to be an important thing. I think it’s the way [publishing] is going. It’s the future.”

As a whole group, in closing, we reflected on the big themes of American Homes and shared our final thoughts on the event. The inaugural Pub Club meeting was a wonderfully fun, engaging, successful event that celebrated reading, open access publishing, collaboration, and the chance to connect with a diverse group of people in our community. Pub Club participants particularly enjoyed the stimulating discussion format including videos from the author, the digital annotation demo, the delicious snacks courtesy of the U-M Library, and the collectible letterpress bookmarks, which Michigan Publishing staffers Danielle Coty, Elizabeth Frazier, Kelly Witchen, and I designed, set, proofed, and printed by hand with supplies and support from Fritz Swanson, director of Wolverine Press.

The U-M Press marketing team provided Pub Club participants with free postcards, buttons, pens, and Spring 2016 catalogs featuring the latest Press titles. After the event concluded, attendees received a promotion code to receive print or ebook copies of all four books in the 21st Century Prose series for $25 with free shipping.

We’ll soon be selecting the book for our next Pub Club event, scheduled for Thursday, May 5, 2016, 3:30-5:00pm in the Hatcher Gallery. Please join the Michigan Library Publishing Club group on Facebook for more updates and announcements about future events going forward, and we look forward to seeing everyone at the next Pub Club!

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