The University of Minnesota Press is delighted to welcome its new humanities editor, Leah Pennywark, to the fold this month. She was selected from more than one hundred applicants to the position. As editorial director Jason Weidemann stated in our recent press release, “Leah has a deep understanding and appreciation for what we do at the press, for our lists and authors. She will further our commitments and traditions in humanities publishing while supporting new and emerging conversations.”
Most recently an assistant editor at Stanford University Press, where she focused on security studies and political science among other subjects, Leah also worked as an acquisitions assistant at Purdue University Press. She earned her Ph.D. in American Literature—with a specialization in pulp fiction—from Purdue. In the midst of her move from the Bay Area to Minneapolis, Leah spoke with outreach and development manager Eric Lundgren about everything from the possibilities of humanities publishing to cold-weather sports and State Fair cuisine.
I wanted to start by asking about your path into scholarly publishing. When did you realize that it might be a career for you, and what drew you to the editorial side?
Early on in my doctoral program, I had the opportunity to work on a scholarly journal, Modern Fiction Studies. I loved it so much that I pursued a position as a graduate acquisitions assistant at Purdue University Press, which is where I realized my interest in editorial work in particular. The best part about both jobs was working with authors to help bring their ideas to readers.
What inspired you to apply to the University of Minnesota Press? What do you see as Minnesota’s strengths, and what are some of the subject areas you’re especially excited to build on here?
I was thrilled when I saw this position open up. Minnesota is a fantastic press doing some really interesting and innovative things. The Press isn’t afraid to take risks on new ideas or ways of making books—the Forerunners, for instance, get big ideas that are still in process out into the world in an accessible way so that people can engage with the questions these books raise. To me, Minnesota is out on the leading edge of intellectual and public inquiry. I’m really excited to be working on the humanities list, which is quite wide-ranging and interdisciplinary. In particular, I’m looking forward to building on the list’s strengths in disability studies and queer and transgender studies.
Stanford University Press was in the news earlier this year after the provost’s controversial decision to cut the Press’s subsidy. The decision was widely criticized and led to an international outpouring of support for the Press. Could you speak broadly about what that experience was like for you as a staff member?
It’s wonderful to see such widespread and vocal support, which speaks to what we all do in scholarly publishing. The Association of University Presses has a great page on its website that summarizes what’s been happening, community responses, news, and resources.
What are some of your interests outside of publishing? What kinds of books do you read for pleasure, when you have the time?
Reading is definitely my favorite hobby. I read a lot of fiction, especially contemporary works like Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater. I’m starting Marlon James’s Black Leopard, Red Wolf next. I like cold war history, creative nonfiction like Anna Leahy’s Tumor, and I just finished Alex Espinoza’s Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime. Safiya Noble’s Algorithms of Oppression and Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey are also on my nightstand.
I like to jog or go to the movies when I need a mental break. I also play a lot of cards and a little Mahjong.
Do you have any concerns about moving to Minnesota?
I’m originally from Houston, Texas, so I’ll admit that a Minnesota winter is probably going to take some getting used to. I love cold weather sports, so I’m hoping to get the chance to do some cross-country skiing and ice skating. Plus, the Twin Cities is such a vibrant metropolis. I’m looking forward to the music, food, and literary scenes. My very first Minnesotan activity though is the state fair—and yes, I will be enjoying some deep-fried apple pie.
Maybe you could tell us about an especially strange or memorable book proposal you’ve received?
I don’t know about strange, but the most memorable proposals for me are the ones that take me by surprise, whether that’s through a fresh new perspective, uncovering something unexpected in the research, or a startling insight. At Minnesota, I’m looking forward to getting to work on projects in the humanities that overturn expectations and show us new ways of thinking about culture, literature, and media.