- ScenesLever Press: An interview with Marta Brunner
Could you briefly describe your press's history?
The Lever Press was founded by member institutions of the Oberlin Group of liberal arts college libraries. The impetus was to establish a platinum open access publishing venue for scholarly monographs that align with the mission and ethos of liberal arts colleges. The initiative was launched in 2013. An Oberlin Group task force worked with the Amherst College Press and the University of Michigan Press to craft a governance structure, editorial program, and business plan. The Press officially launched in 2015 with governance provided by member institutions—tenured scholars comprise the editorial board, and library directors serve on an oversight committee. The editorial side of the house is based at Amherst College and production is based at the University of Michigan. The nearly sixty supporting member institutions provide the operating budget for the entire enterprise (0.5-1% of each library's annual acquisitions budget), with infrastructure and staffing contributed by Michigan and Amherst. Member institutions made an initial five-year commitment to get the project off the ground.
In starting a new press from scratch, we had significant ramp-up time. This fact really challenged many of us when we considered the financial model we'd adopted at the outset. We had assumed we would generate more publications by this point but recognize now that there was a lot more involved in creating the infrastructure than we had anticipated. The reality is that we have now reached the point where we are shifting the funding model from a venture capital investment to more direct financial support for titles coming through the pipeline, and that is exciting.
Lever's inaugural director was the Amherst College Press head Mark Edington. He left Lever this past spring and our acquisitions editor, Beth Bouloukos, stepped into the director role with enthusiastic support from the Oversight Committee and Editorial Board.
How would you characterize the work you publish?
Lever Press books are published on the Fulcrum platform, which allows for multimedia and experimental formats besides more traditional long-form scholarly monographs. We seek out scholarship that emerges from creative dialogue within and between traditional fields of inquiry, engages with issues of social and civic importance, transcends inherited divisions between research and teaching by drawing from new modes of collaborative inquiry, and addresses a broad audience.
We have published two books, have three in production, and more in the pipeline. Our first book was Promissory Notes: On the Literary Conditions of Debt (2018) by Robin Truth Goodman, professor of English at Florida State University. Promissory Notes explores the historical role that literature played in defining and teaching debt to the public, and addresses how neoliberal finance has depended upon a historical linking of geopolitical inequality and financial representation that positions the so-called "Third World" as negative value or debt. Starting with an analysis of Anthony Trollope's novel, The Eustace Diamonds (1871), Goodman shows how colonized spaces came to inhabit this negative value. Promissory Notes argues that the twentieth century continues to apply literary innovations in character, subjectivity, temporal and spatial representation to construct debt as the negative creation of value not only in reference to objects, but also houses, credit cards, students, and, in particular, "Third World" geographies, often leading to crisis. Yet, late twentieth-century and early twenty-first literary texts, such as Soyinka's The Road (1965) and Ngugi's Wizard of the Crow (2006), address the negative space of the indebted world also as a critique of the financial take-over of the postcolonial developmental state. Looking to situations like the Puerto Rican debt crisis, Goodman demonstrates how financial discourse is articulated through social inequalities and how literature can both expose and contest the imposition of a morality of debt as a mode of anti-democratic control.
Our second book was History without Chronology (2019) by Stefan Tanaka, professor of communication at the University of California, San Diego. Although numerous disciplines recognize multiple ways of conceptualizing time, Tanaka argues that scholars still overwhelmingly operate on chronological and linear Newtonian or classical time that emerged during the Enlightenment. This short, approachable book implores...