An Open Letter Regarding the Closing of the University of Missouri Press
To Whom It May Concern:
On May 24, 2012, University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe announced that funding for the University’s 54-year-old press would be ended almost immediately. The undersigned scholars, who comprise all of the editors of the 16-volume Collected Works of Langston Hughes, believe this is a grievous error and that President Wolfe should reverse this decision.
Great universities define themselves by what they publish, and how those publications influence other scholars and readers. This is true regardless of the field. A major research university that ceases operations of its press indicates that it has lost interest in a crucial part of its mission.
Despite the unrivaled merit of the essential publications on Langston Hughes’s work by the Oxford University Press, and the supplemental contributions by the University Press of Kentucky and the University of Illinois Press, the unrivaled sequence of books on Hughes by the University of Missouri Press makes it arguably the publisher of the most definitive collection of the kind to date. Furthermore, the University of Missouri Press has rightfully earned distinction among a handful of receptive presses to publish definitive literary criticism by and on African Americans since 1980, particularly under the brilliant editorship of the now retired Beverly Jarrett.
The body of work from the University of Missouri Press challenges narrow perceptions and misreadings of Hughes (who was born in Joplin, Missouri) as a simple, folksy writer by bringing back into publication texts that reveal a profoundly broad and intellectually engaging understanding of twentieth-century U.S. culture and the role of race in world affairs. Our work on these volumes also contributes to the larger, ongoing project among scholars of African American literature to recover texts by black American writers that have been historically marginalized from the American literary canon. This large-scale process of textual recovery and publication, begun on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement when students and scholars were advocating for representation of African American literature, history, and culture in American universities, is truly one of academe’s most important success stories. Without the work of scholars engaged in this project, African American literary studies in the academy simply would not exist, and American literary studies in the twenty-first century would look very different indeed. Our research and editorial work on Hughes ensures that a new generation of readers will have access to the works of one of America’s most exciting and controversial writers.
More than a local budgetary decision, then, this closing reduces significantly the intellectual quality of academic diversity in the United States; indeed, it impairs the very mission of the humanities. It diminishes greatly the impact of the University of Missouri on the profundity of this vital conversation.
We admonish President Wolfe to reconsider his decision and allow the University of Missouri Press to continue its record of scholarly excellence.
Professor of English
Hempstead, NY 11549
Sara Hart Kimball Professor in the Humanities, Emeritus
Department of English
Stanford, CA 94305
Donna Akiba Sullivan Harper
Fuller E. Callaway Professor of English
Atlanta, GA 30314
Christopher C. De Santis
Professor and Director of Graduate Studies
Department of English
Campus Box 4240
Illinois State University
Normal, Illinois 61790-4240
Department of Humanities
Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies
4700 Keele Street
Toronto ON M3J 1P3
Professor and Chairperson, Department of English
Morgan State University
Baltimore, MD 21251
R. Baxter Miller
Professor of English and African American Studies
University of Georgia
Athens, Georgia, 30602-6205
Editor, the Langston Hughes Review
Dellita Martin Ogunsola, Ph.D.
Professor Emerita of Spanish
Department of Foreign Languages & Literatures
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Birmingham, Alabama 35294-1260
Dr. Dianne Johnson
Professor of English and Literature
Department of English
University of South Carolina
Columbia, SC 29208
Stephen C. Tracy
Fulbright Senior Specialist and Chu Tian Scholar
Professor of Afro-American Studies
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Amherst, MA 01003