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Publications Unit launches Undiscovered Americas, a first-of-its-kind book series

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The Publications Unit in the Department of English recently launched Undiscovered Americas, a new translation and lost/out-of-print book series that is a subsidiary of its Downstate Legacies literary imprint.

Colorful image of an artist's market booth featuring carved masks.

Front cover of Mimola or the Story of a Casket by Antoine Innocent, translated by Susan Kalter.

This fall, Undiscovered Americas published its first book, Mimola or the Story of a Casket, a 1906 novel by Haitian writer Antoine Innocent, translated by Susan Kalter, a professor in the Department of English. Steve Halle, director of the Publications Unit and founder of Downstate Legacies, plans to have Undiscovered Americas emphasize projects from translators, scholars, and editors working in Illinois and the Midwest, and beginning with a colleague from Illinois State made for a great collaboration.

Hands-on student involvement in book projects like Mimola is also crucial to the Publications Unit’s mission, and two students were able to get applied learning experiences working with Halle on the editing, design, typesetting, and marketing work related to Mimola.

“Working with Dr. Kalter was the ideal partnership for starting Undiscovered Americas,” Halle said, “Not only because she is a new translator—Mimola is her first published book-length translation—but also because, as a colleague, I have gotten to know her and her commitment to having a venue for these kinds of books deserving of attention. It is important to both of us. I also felt she would be more understanding that because of the press’s unique open-access model for free access to digital books and also nicely designed, print-on-demand copies for purchase, that this would be a learning experience for me, too, and would include some growing pains.”

Hands-on student involvement in book projects like Mimola is also crucial to the Publications Unit’s mission, and two students were able to get applied learning experiences working with Halle on the editing, design, typesetting, and marketing work related to Mimola. Recent publishing studies sequence graduate Brigid Ackerman ’17 used her experience as a production intern working on Mimola and other projects to land a position as a digital production assistant at Princeton University Press. Ph.D. student and Sutherland Fellow Sanam Shahmiri also worked as a production assistant supporting the project.

According to Halle, one of the main goals of Undiscovered Americas is to have books readily available for instructors and students to use in the classroom at no cost or low cost for its print-on-demand option. Halle hopes that this model will encourage more instructors to consider teaching literary texts in translation, as well as noncanonical or out-of-print books that are not always readily available through university bookstores.

The open-access digital model, in combination with a print-on-demand option, is more sustainable and environmentally friendly, as limiting the run of print copies helps to minimize waste.

“Despite a recent flowering of independent presses publishing literary translations, these books still make up an extremely low percentage of books published in the United States each year,” Halle said. “Part of the reason is that university presses are not really in a position to publish translations, as these presses have to focus more on publishing books that have crossover appeal for the trade market, which means more competition for resources among potential books that would appeal to a specialized audience, like translations or historically important, noncanonical books that wouldn’t have a wide readership but rather appeal to a small, committed niche of readers. Translated books also tend to have more cost, as rights have to be acquired and books are often bilingual, which makes for a higher production cost. This is where a unique organization like the Publications Unit and Undiscovered Americas can step in and meet a demand.”

The Undiscovered Americas series plans to continue publishing books by North, Central, and South American writers in an open-access model, where digital versions of the books are available for free through ISU ReD, Illinois State University’s institutional repository, hosted by Milner Library and supported by bepress. The digital versions of Undiscovered Americas books will also link to the print version available for purchase from a print-on-demand provider, usually Lulu, which prints books when they are ordered by readers from their point-of-sale. The open-access digital model, in combination with a print-on-demand option, is more sustainable and environmentally friendly, as limiting the run of print copies helps to minimize waste.

You can find Undiscovered Americas and download Mimola through ISU ReD.

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