UNO revives University Press

For its new material, a newly revamped university publishing house is turning to the streets rather than the campus.
The University of New Orleans Press had grown largely dormant even before Hurricane Katrina, says UNO writing professor Bill Lavender. So last year, UNO gave Lavender the task of reviving the publishing house. By the end of 2008, he says, the press should have eight books completed for the year.    
Some of them will be part of the Neighborhood Story Project, a series of books begun as a grassroots, nonprofit initiative to give residents of New Orleans neighborhoods a direct voice in telling the stories of their community. The project was started in 2004 by Rachel Breunlin and Abram Himelstein, who are now both UNO professors, and they have published seven books plus a compilation volume. Some of these books were self-published and others produced with the help of partners, including the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. Under a new deal, UNO Press will reissue past titles and publish future books for the project.
“Our motto is, ‘our stories, told by us,’ so what could be more natural than publishing with UNO?” Himelstein says. “One thing Katrina has taught a lot of us is that relying on each other makes us stronger than relying on the kindness of strangers, and that’s definitely part of our relationship with Bill and the UNO Press.”
Lavender says the revitalized UNO Press will publish a wide range of titles, but is particularly interested in books about issues facing New Orleans and those giving voice to residents’ experiences and perspectives.
That aim aligns well with the Neighborhood Story Project, an ongoing community documentary program that conveys the rhythms and personalities of parts of the city that normally don’t get much outside attention. For instance, the book Palmyra Street explores life on one Mid-City block while Before & After N. Dorgenois is a chronicle of a 6th Ward neighborhood. Another title, Coming Out the Door for the Ninth Ward, was written collaboratively by members of the Nine Times Social Aid & Pleasure Club. Cornerstones is focused on the community gathering places that help anchor neighborhood identity.
“They’ve been doing great with local audiences all by themselves,” says Lavender. “But hopefully we’ll be able to get these books out to more people with larger distribution.”
Learn more about the Neighborhood Story Project at  www.neighborhoodstoryproject.org.

 – I.M.

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