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Checking in with Purdue University Press Director Justin Race

Checking in with Purdue University Press Director Justin Race

January 21st, 2021

We talked to Purdue University Press Director Justin Race about navigating a university press though a pandemic, what the last year has taught us, and what he’s concentrating on as 2021 begins.

Q: What was/is it like directing a university press in the midst of a pandemic?

Justin Race: Strangely, the suddenness of it was a blessing. There was no time to form committees or to debate. One week COVID-19 was a possibility still seemingly far away. The next week it felt like something really could happen that impacted us directly. The week after that we were working remotely. Necessity is a good motivator, and we addressed whatever challenges that came up as they emerged. Nearly a year later, it feels more “normal” to be working from homes than it would be to report to the office. I’m most grateful that I’m blessed with a flexible, understanding, and patient staff. It was an all-hands-on-deck, do-what-needs-to-be-done shift. Everyone pitched in.


Q: Has this past year substantially changed any of your views on running a university press, big or small picture?

Race: Some of us miss the energy and comradery of being physically together. Others enjoy the flexibility of working from home. At the end of the day, we have a job to do, wherever we’re doing it, and I’m proud of my team that we are getting it done. I’m also grateful that we work in an industry where that is possible. Most authors we publish I will never actually meet in person—everything can be done digitally, and we publish authors who live all around the world. It’s odd, but it turns out the same is true for staff: we may only be a few miles from one another, but it’s possible to do almost everything digitally and remotely. Personally I don’t feel that’s ideal, but it’s good that it’s possible.


Q: What kind of effect does the pandemic have on your vision for Purdue University Press and the whole university press world going into 2021?

Race: Nobody likes uncertainty, and of the many ills that COVID-19 has brought, uncertainty has been a constant. People speculate on what the “new normal” will be after the pandemic passes—I have no idea, and for the sake of running a press as well as my mental health, I try to focus on the immediate. What needs doing now? What challenges can we overcome? What’s most pressing? Authors write, readers read, publishers publish. That was true before COVID-19, is true during COVID-19, and it will be true after COVID-19. Though there’s much uncertainty, the pursuit of knowledge and importance of a marketplace of ideas are certain. Though so much has changed over the past year, it’s just as important to remind ourselves what hasn’t changed.


Q: What are some ways that Purdue University Press is unique?

Race: We’re a small group and we’ve been together for a long time. We know each other well and we trust one another. The intimacy of our group has always fostered a shared mission and common purpose—there are no silos, and every employee has a seat at the table and a voice. That’s essential at all times, and it’s bond that COVID-19 cannot break.

Thank you so much to Justin for his time. You can find some other blog posts by our director here:

Putting the “Purdue” in Purdue University Press: Letter from the Director

Looking Back and Looking Forward; Thinking Local and Thinking Global

Putting the “Purdue” in Purdue University Press: Letter from the Director

August 24th, 2020

This post was written by the director of Purdue University Press, Justin Race. It is the first in a series celebrating PUP’s 60th Anniversary by featuring the work the Press does on and around campus. You can find the whole series, Putting the “Purdue” in Purdue University Press, here.


Though obvious, it bears stating: every university press belongs to a particular university. Though we publish authors who are located across the world and seek a global audience, it is Purdue that we serve first and foremost. In a broad sense, that means projecting the university brand to readers everywhere. In a more immediate sense, it means partnering with the Purdue community to produce and disseminate the worthwhile and impactful scholarship being done right in our backyard.

Each year we publish a volume with the Center for C-SPAN Scholarship and Engagement—books that are freely available open access through Purdue e-Pubs. In November we will publish our eightieth book in the Purdue Studies in Romance Literatures series through a decades-long partnership with the School of Languages and Cultures. Our New Directions in the Human-Animal Bond series showcases cutting-edge research on the interplay between people and animals. We handle the review, editing, and publication of all the reports of the Joint Transportation Research Program, including each year’s Road School proceedings. And just a month ago we announced a new partnership with the Susan Bulkeley Butler Center for Leadership Excellence to launch a series on careers in higher education.

As the university is committed to student success, so is our press, offering two student-focused journals: the Journal of Purdue Undergraduate Research and the Purdue Journal of Service-Learning and International Engagement. Both are open access—in addition to eight other open access journals sponsored and edited by members of Purdue.

Last year we helped celebrate Purdue’s sesquicentennial with two definitive, beautiful histories about the university and student life: Ever True and Purdue at 150. Both are part of our Founders Series, which includes a multitude of works on the university and its impact. We have always published departmental histories, most recently A Passion for Excellence: The History of Aviation Education at Purdue University.

Here in the “cradle of astronauts,” we have a ranging list of titles on space, including two volumes of letters written to Neil Armstrong, capitalizing on the collection of his papers held by the university’s Archives and Special Collections.

This is hardly an exhaustive list, but rather a sampling of the value a press can provide to its parent institution, which we have been doing for sixty years and counting. From giving students their first publication credit to producing government reports to publishing specialized monographs to documenting the university’s history to hosting a wide array of book series and journals edited by our faculty: our press is active throughout our community, working toward student success, fulfilling our mission as a land-grant university, and bringing to the world the worthwhile scholarship done here. Purdue University Press truly belongs to all of us.

Looking Back and Looking Forward; Thinking Local and Thinking Global

November 4th, 2019

This post is written by Purdue University Press Director Justin Race. It is part of the blog tour hosted by the Association of University Presses in celebration of University Press week. To see the rest of the posts in the tour, click here

The theme of University Press Week this year is “Read. Think. Act.”. It was chosen to emphasize the role that scholarly publishers can play in moving national and international conversations forward on critical and complex issues. The theme of today’s blog tour is “How to Be a Better (Global) Citizen”.

Looking Back and Looking Forward; Thinking Local and Thinking Global


A week shy of my one-year anniversary with Purdue University Press, it’s a natural time to reflect on where we’ve been and where we hope to go in the future. Every Press comes with its unique legacy. In our case, several premier series that have been leaders in their fields for years, such as New Directions in the Human-Animal Bond and Central European Studies. We have a rich history of publishing Holocaust memoirs—horrific in circumstance, but uplifting that these individuals survived, triumphed, and were able to tell their stories. Books like Eva and Otto are all the more important given so many people did not survive and were effectively silenced.

Our Founders Series has been chronicling the history of Purdue for decades, ensuring that with each graduating class and retiring faculty and staff member, a record persists of what Purdue meant at given points in its 150-year history. We were honored to release two titles this past year celebrating Purdue’s sesquicentennial: Ever True: 150 Years of Giant Leaps at Purdue University and Purdue at 150: A Visual History of Student Life. And finally, our Aeronautics and Astronautics Series, which just released Dear Neil: Letters to the First Man from All Mankind—a book that is both local and global. Armstrong went to Purdue before he went to the moon. He walked across campus before he leapt on behalf of all people.

That’s both a lot to stand on and a lot to live up to—more than 700 books published over 59 years. Next year we turn 60, and we’ll be adding 30 more titles to that total. A university press is your next-door neighbor and your pen pal on the other side of the globe. To browse our website is to see a history of Purdue next to a history of Yugoslavia. Though speaking to different audiences, what unites our titles is the time, energy, and rigor that go into all our books, which are meant to make an impact today and remain relevant for years to come.

Books do many things, but for university presses in particular they inform. They educate. They shed light on a sliver of history or a place you’ve never visited or a person you’ve never met. They introduce ideas you may have never considered or challenge you to reexamine your thinking on a topic you believed you knew well. Ideally study leads to reflection, which leads to understanding. And from understanding it’s a small leap to empathy. The world is a smaller, more interconnected place than it’s ever been. We have no choice but to speak to one another. Books ensure we listen and truly hear one another instead of talking past or yelling at one another. That’s the value of a university press. To be a part of that is what I’m celebrating as my first year comes to a close. To grow and add to it is what I’m looking forward to as my second year begins.



Other posts on today’s University Press Week blog tour:

University of Florida Press: Carl Lindskoog, author of Detain and Punish: Haitian Refugees and the Rise of the World’s Largest Immigration Detention System, provides a list of actions individuals can take if they are concerned about the detention crisis at the US border.

University of Virginia Press: Excerpt from Amitai Etzioni’s latest book, Reclaiming Democracy, in which he explains how recent global threats to democracy demand the response of a social movement on the scale of the civil rights or environmental movements. Etzioni lays out the requirements and opportunities to achieve such a movement.

Georgetown University Press: A post highlighting ways to be a better global citizen in the context of the global refugee crisis according to David Hollenbach’s Humanity in Crisis: Ethical and Religious Response to Refugees.

University of Wisconsin Press: Focuses on book and journal readings that highlight scholars who are engaging with concepts of global citizenship and influencing public policy to improve global situations.

University of Minnesota Press: Ian G. R. Shaw previews his manifesto for building a future beyond late-stage capitalism, drawing up alternate ways to “make a living” beyond what we’re conditioned for.

University of Nebraska Press: Guest post from Robin Hemley, author of Borderline Citizen, on what it means to be a transnational citizen.

University of Toronto Press: An exclusive excerpt from one of the first two books in our New Jewish Press imprint: The Conflict over the Conflict: The Israel/Palestine Campus Debate by Kenneth S. Stern. As the director of the Bard Center for the Study of Hate, Stern offers some brilliant advice on how we can all think rationally and compassionately in order to be better global citizens.

Vanderbilt University Press: A post looking at ways to practice active citizenship, with an excerpt from Awakening Democracy through Public Work by Harry C. Boyte.

University of North Carolina Press: Alex Dika Seggerman, author of Modernism on the Nile, on how art historians can use a global perspective to rethink the underlying narratives of modernism.

Celebrating university presses and their staffs, hindsight is 20/20

June 14th, 2019

This blog post takes part in a blog tour hosted by the Association of University Presses (AUPresses) in recognition and respect of the sudden passing of the University of Virginia Press director Mark Saunders. As our professional organization gathered this week in Detroit for our annual meeting, search on Twitter with #WeAreUP to read more posts about our sorely missed colleague, Mark, and continue to follow @AUPresses and engage with #ReadUP.

I know who Mark Saunders was, but I did not know him.

That seems weird to say since I have been employed by Purdue University Press in various capacities for 22 years as of next month (hey, I’m not that old – the first three and a half years were as a student worker!). I never met Mark but saw him often from afar at one conference or another. Seeing the impact that Mark had on the publishing industry, specifically the university press industry, is awe-inspiring and makes me wish I had stepped out of my box to introduce myself to him; or asked a colleague to make the introduction. As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. But why should it be? The outpouring of grief, love, and admiration for Mark and the wonderful stories celebrating him as a leader, colleague, mentor, and friend from our community of AUPresses has caught me examining my own hindsight and asking the question, why do we wait to do so?

A little more than 11 years ago my colleague and at the time our managing editor, Margaret, lost her war with cancer. She won the first battle a couple years before that, but the evil disease finally won. She did not pass suddenly, like Mark, so we in the office knew this day would come but the shock was similar when we finally received the news. Stupidly, I did not take the opportunity to go and say goodbye. I grieved in my own way, I keep some things in a box like that for better or for worse. One part of grieving was that I volunteered to clean out her office and pack up her personal items in order to get them back to her family. In doing so, I came across a section of her file cabinet that was bursting with notes, cards, and letters sent to her by a plethora of authors, editors, and colleagues. These items were thanking her for the excellent job on a manuscript, sending good wishes at holidays, or sharing cute and cuddly cat pictures (like many publishers, Margaret was a huge cat person and an expert gardener). I knew that Margaret was good at her job. I respected and admired her, but in reading through these items my hindsight suddenly came into focus and became 20/20. I also realized, I should have picked Margaret’s brain more, asked her all the little questions I had about the industry. I thought they were silly, little questions that would waste her time. I missed the opportunity to receive a different perspective. More importantly, I missed the opportunity to express my admiration and respect to her through words; I missed the opportunity to wish her enough. Hindsight is 20/20.

Mark’s sudden passing and the outpouring of admiration, fun stories, and great respect for him as a colleague and friend throughout our industry brought Margaret back from my memories. What do I take away from this? What do I want others to glean from my short post here?

  • Don’t wait for your hindsight to become 20/20. Find the time to send a note, a card, a few quick words to your colleagues and friends to tell them thank you, good job, or kudos. The number of words does not matter, the genuineness of them do.
  • Get outside of your box. Introduce yourself to others, say hello to those you don’t know, and make new friends. Ask questions of these new friends and colleagues and accept theirs, too. Should someone scoff at your question, move on because they are not a true friend or colleague. No question is too small, and all educational opportunities are important.
  • For those of us who have been around the block a few times……get outside of your small clique. Engage the newcomers and make introductions. Accept new people into your circles. The success of our industry is only as strong as our weakest link.

University presses are not run by one person nor do they succeed because of one person. From the smallest to the largest presses, it takes a team to succeed. If I tried to recall the names of all the staff members, interns, student workers, graduate assistants, and colleagues who I have worked with over the past 22 years I would surely miss several; so, I will not try. But to all of them, I say thank you and my apologies if I had not done so previously. To my current colleagues and friends at Purdue University Press: Becki, Katherine, Kelley, Chris, Matt, Susan, Sarah, Sebastian, Ashutosh, Nina, Marcy, and Justin – thank you for all that you do, for me personally and more so for our team. Our success is because of the whole team.

To all past, present, and future colleagues—at Purdue UP and the greater AUPresses family—: don’t wait for your hindsight to become 20/20. I wish you all enough.

About the author: Bryan Shaffer drove the official Purdue University mascot, the Boilermaker Special, to his interview for a student worker position at the Press in July 1997. He was hired on the spot to design advertisements and to pick-and-pack book orders. When he arrived for the first day of work and he switched on the dusty Apple IIc computer he wondered what in the world he got himself into. Almost 22 years later he is the sales and marketing manager for Purdue University Press and is said to be the “institutional memory” and “den bear” of the small family that makes up the Press. He now knows what he got himself into…..a caring family and greater community. He considers himself very blessed, fortunate, and lucky.