Inside the Carnegie Mellon University Press

Many people have heard of the Yale and Harvard university presses, but few are aware that Carnegie Mellon has a press of its own. Despite the lack of visibility and publicity, Carnegie Mellon does have its own press, which is responsible (and renowned) for publishing books on nonfiction, fiction, and, most prominently, poetry.

Carnegie Mellon English professor Gerry Costanzo founded the press in 1975, and it has since become an important publishing icon in the world of university press publications. Rubén Quintero, a senior in ECE and creative writing, said, “It’s a great publication and has a fabulous poetry series.” Quintero has been a member of the University Press for two years, after enrolling in the English department’s Editing and Publishing class as a junior. The class gives students interested in publishing an opportunity to get some hands-on experience by contributing to the editing and publishing stages of the press. “You get great exposure to the whole publishing process, from formatting the work itself to interacting and communicating with the authors,” Quintero said.

In fact, students play an important role within the press. This year, out of the class of 10 students, Costanzo chose four to be “readers” for the press. These students were responsible for reading through hundreds of manuscripts and selecting appropriate candidates for publication. There were over 400 submissions this past year. “It’s a long process, but it’s really fun,” Quintero said. The student readers start looking through submissions as early as October, and have to have read all of them before the end of the first semester. After they find a group of manuscripts they think would be good for the publication, the students then pass their choices along to Costanzo, who has the final say on which manuscripts to publish. Quintero said Costanzo “has high standards, so only the few best are chosen, and it’s always good stuff.”

This “good stuff” hasn’t gone unnoticed in the world of writing. The press published The Language of Elk, a collection of short stories by writer Benjamin Percy; it was his first published book. Percy recently published his second book, Refresh, Refresh: Stories, and the title story was read on NPR, chosen for The Best American Short Stories 2006, and awarded a Pushcart Prize. Recent books published by the press include Black Threads by Jeff Freeman and The Book of Sleep by Eleanor Stanford, Quintero added.

With an active publishing company (and class) to its name, Carnegie Mellon’s humanities college may have more to offer than meets the eye. “I always disagree with the claim that our humanities program is Carnegie Mellon’s weakest academic component; I think the school just advertises itself on being so technical,” Quintero said.

And after 35 years of publishing, the press continues to thrive, despite small funding and a humanities program that is frequently overlooked.