U Press extends scope to children’s, regional books

by Nichol Nelson

Known for its wide range of academic texts, the University of Minnesota Press has recently begun to shed its exclusively scholarly image by branching out into publishing children’s and regional books.
In fact, Gov. Arne Carlson recently declared Nov. 19, 1998 as “Read `M is for Minnesota’ Day.”
“M is for Minnesota” is a children’s book published by the Press, an independent University publisher that also puts out the world’s most widely used personality test, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory.
Since its inception in 1925, the nonprofit publisher has worked in cooperation with the University to publish titles that appeal to both academic and general audiences.
Doug Armato, director of the Press, put it simply: “We want students and faculty to know that there are some exceedingly cool books coming out of this place,” he said.
Located in downtown Minneapolis, the Press is a relatively small operation, with only 28 employees. Despite its small size, the Press’ book division alone boasts an annual revenue of $3.5 million.
Armato, who has held the position of director since last March, was quick to point out the versatility of the Press.
“The Press has had an incredible growth pattern for the past 15 years,” he said. “We’ve moved beyond just humanities. We’re open to a lot of different stuff.”
Armato said the Press has been actively pursuing partnerships with campus institutions like the Frederick R. Weisman Museum and the Carlson School of Management in an attempt to broaden the organization’s scope.
Academic titles account for 60 percent of the approximately 80 books per year the Press publishes. At 80 titles a year, it ranks as a mid-sized publisher, according to Executive Assistant to the Director, Beverly Kaemmer.
Armato is anxious to keep publishing scholarly material that is “on the cutting edge.”
“The Press doesn’t just follow `intellectual fashion,’ it creates it,” Armato said.
That focus has led to the publication of a number of nontraditional academic works, including a study of U.S. foreign policy as seen through queer theory and a book discussing vampires in world culture.
The Press has taken on more than just academic publishing. Regional and scholarly works that appeal to general audiences make up the remaining 40 percent of its output.
“M is for Minnesota” is the Press’ first children’s book. Alison Aten, spokeswoman for the Press, described the book as a colorful, informative portrait of the state. The book goes through each letter of the alphabet, naming an important part of Minnesota history or culture for each letter.
Another area of importance to the Press is the test division, created five years ago to handle the enormous demand for the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, which has now been revised into the MMPI-2.
Kaemmer, the head of the test division, said the MMPI-2 is the most widely used personality test in the world. Translated into more than 50 languages and moving into new areas such as mainland China, the test is one of the Press’ biggest sources of revenue.
Regional titles are also big business for the Press. Michael Wirzylo, an employee at Half Price Books in St. Paul, said regional books are some of their biggest sellers.
“I think that Minnesota is a nationalistic state,” he said. “People take a lot of pride in it.”
Barton Sutter, a former English professor at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, recently published “Cold Comfort,” a book of collected essays about the city of Duluth.
Sutter praised the Press for its commitment to regional works.
“We need outlets,” he said of regional writers. “When I was a kid, a writer was a pretty exotic creature. Now it seems all small towns harbor a writer.”
Sutter’s book has generated a long waiting list in the town of Duluth, and he credits the Press for its terrific job of getting regional books published.
Regardless of what type of book authors want to publish with the Press, their ideas or first drafts have to be approved by a review board comprised of University faculty members.
The review board, known as the committee on the Press, meets each month to discuss eight to 12 manuscripts.
Geography professor Eric Sheppard was one of the nine members of the committee of the Press for six years. Sheppard said the board serves a valuable purpose and makes “quite specific recommendations” about the work of various authors.