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Celebrating the 100th Episode of 1869, The Cornell University Press Podcast!

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The 100th episode of 1869, The Cornell University Press Podcast, is now live! Listen to our special interview with CUP Director Jane Bunker:

Wow. When our Marketing Director Martyn Beeny started 1869 The Cornell University Press Podcast three years ago, we had no idea the journey we were about to begin. Podcasts were making a comeback at that time and in our marketing department’s spirit of always trying new things we thought, hey let’s try this—we certainly won’t have a problem finding topics to discuss with such a wealth of fascinating authors, books, and subject areas to choose from.

It was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. 1869 has been phenomenally successful and a joy to produce. Our authors light up when talking about their favorite subjects and listeners have noticed—our podcasts have collectively received over 20,000 listens since we started!

For those interested in exploring our Top Ten most-listened-to podcasts, here they are:

1a. Episode 54 with John Cleese and CUP Director Dean Smith – Professor at Large Part 1

1b. Episode 57 with John Cleese and CUP Director Dean Smith – Professor at Large Part 2

2. Episode 71 with Glenn Albrecht, author of Earth Emotions

3. Episode 4 with Gordon Lafer, author of The One Percent Solution

4. Episode 34 with Susan Eisenberg, author of Stanley’s Girl & We’ll Call You If We Need You

5. Episode 1 with Peter Conners, author of Cornell ‘77

6. Episode 88 with Taomo Zhou, author of Migration in the Time of Revolution

7. Episode 93 with Richard W. Maass, author of The Picky Eagle

8. Episode 29 with Darryl Jones, author of The Birds at My Table

9. Episode 80 with Brandon Schechter, author of The Stuff of Soldiers

10. Episode 95 with Jasmine-Kim Westendorf, author of Violating Peace

To celebrate our 100th episode, we are proud to present to you a special episode of the podcast with an interview with our new director Jane Bunker. She’s been with us since March and we’ve been delighted with the new directions she is steering us towards as a Press. We’ve always been a mission-oriented publishing house and Jane is striving to improve both our workplace and forthcoming books to be more reflective of the values of equity, justice, inclusion, and accessibility.

In that vein, starting with this episode, all future 1869, The Cornell University Press Podcast episodes will also be simultaneously transcribed to make them accessible for everyone.

Jane Bunker

Thank you for your support, and we hope you enjoy our special anniversary podcast with Jane:

Transcript for 1869, Episode 100 with University Press Director Jane Bunker

Introduction: Welcome to the 100th episode of 1869, the Cornell University Press Podcast. I’m Jonathan Hall.

For this special episode we speak with Cornell University Press director Jane Bunker. Jane has been serving as director since March of 2020 and is the first woman to lead Cornell University Press. She was previously the director of Northwestern University Press, where she served since 2010. Under her leadership, NUP significantly developed its profile, growing widely respected lists in poetry, philosophy, theatre and performance studies, and Chicago regional books, as well as enacting a comprehensive digital strategy.

Jane has also served on the board of directors at a wide range of committees for the Association of University Presses. She previously served as Associate Director and Editor-in-chief at the State University of New York Press, and holds a BA in philosophy from St. Norbert College and an MA in philosophy from Fordham University.

We spoke to Jane about her background and how   her career in university publishing began. What inspires her most working at the press, and the new initiatives she envisions Cornell University Press will implement in the next three to five years.

Jonathan Hall: Hello, Jane, welcome to the podcast.

Jane Bunker: Thank you very much for having me, Jonathan. I’m excited to be here.

Jonathan Hall: Well, we’re excited to have you as our new director, you started in March, and you are the first woman to lead Cornell University Press. We’re super excited about that, and wanted our listeners to know a little bit about you. So if you could, tell us a bit about your background, and also what drew you to university press publishing.

Jane Bunker: Thank you. So I grew up in a house filled with books. My mother taught me to read when I was very small, and books have always been a pleasure, and a refuge. My father is a retired librarian. He was the director of the library at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, my hometown. So I spent my childhood going to the local public library and checking out books. In fact, it’s sort of funny that I’m in the book selling business now because for a very long time in my life, the mantra was, “Why buy a book when you can get it from the library?” Right? And, of course, now today, I say we should all do both, you know,

I love books, I love reading, I ended up studying philosophy, and that took me to graduate school at Fordham University in the Bronx. in graduate school, I was assigned to the local journal published on canvas, International Philosophical Quarterly. And I worked as an assistant at the journal for a couple of years, and that was my entree into scholarly publishing.

When I got out of graduate school, I settled in Albany, New York, and the State University of New York Press is in Albany, and I had the opportunity to work there. I knew SUNY press because of their lists. They have an amazing list in philosophy, incredibly pluralistic, and diverse and broad and interesting. So I just sort of fell into one of the greatest professions I could imagine, and began as the assistant to the director. And then very shortly after that was able to join the acquisitions team and acquire books in philosophy and psychology and women’s studies and education over the years.

So I got my start at SUNY. And I worked my way up—I was in acquisitions for many years, I became editor in chief and associate director and then the opportunity to be director at Northwestern opened up, which is another press I knew because it had such an incredible reputation for its list continental philosophy. And so I was fortunate enough to become director at Northwestern in 2010, and spent a decade there really, learning how to run a press and learning a lot more about management and leadership, and finances and fundraising and campus relations and all of the great things that you need to know how to do to be a leader of a creative organization.

Then this opportunity arose and I knew Cornell because years ago, SUNY Press had warehoused with Cornell when Cornell had the warehouse over on Cascadilla Street. So I had actually visited Ithaca once and came to Sage House and was squired around by then, Editor-in- chief Peter Potter, who took me to breakfast and gave me a tour and went over to the warehouse and Chris Quinlan gave me a tour of that. And so I had these great memories of what a fantastic place ithaca was, and the press building. And you know, it’s an amazing institution, the oldest press in America, 151 years old now established in 1869, which I think is the name of the podcast, right? Yes, yeah. Yes. That’s some good marketing there, Jonathan.

Jonathan Hall: Yeah, I guess it’s been around for 150 years, too, I don’t know how they did it back in the day, but it’s amazing… always ahead of our time,

Jane Bunker: On the cutting edge spirit…That’s, that’s why I wanted to be a part of this team. Absolutely. So yeah, so I wanted to come to Cornell, because it was a real step up in terms of the breadth of the list, the number of titles.

So at Northwestern, we only did well, I shouldn’t say only, but we increased the title count over the years, from 60 to about 75 books a year. But we published exclusively in the humanities there. And so one of the things that drew me to Cornell was the fact that there are humanities lists, social sciences, it’s such a broad spectrum across the humanities and social sciences, but also really exciting to me is the Comstock lists—nature writing, environmental studies, and biological sciences. That is a really exciting opportunity to be a part of a press who publishes in the sciences, and also the ILR imprint, and all of the great work done in labor studies, and those books that Fran Benson, former Editor-in-chief, brought to life in the world along the way. I just, I find both of those imprints very, very exciting, and the chance to work here was just too tempting to pass up.

Jonathan Hall: That’s great. That’s great. Yeah, the breadth of topics and subject areas that we publish in is amazing. If there’s a subject area, we generally have a book on it, depending on which decade we’re talking about. So where do you see Cornell University Press in the next three to five years?

Jane Bunker: In the next three to five years, I would like the culture of the Press to be in a different place. I really have wanted to have a strong focus on the culture of the organization and to build on some of the work that was begun under my predecessor, and or, both of my predecessors, actually, both John Ackerman and Dean Smith.

There’s a set of core values that were developed before my coming on board that I agree with completely and would like to retain, we may expand them slightly, I’m not sure yet, but the core values are communication, inclusion, respect and accountability. And I think those were very well chosen, and should have more of a place in our daily work life, more of an implicit, or rather explicit focus than, than implicit. And I’m also very much wanting to develop a code of conduct for the Press, which is something a lot of places have been doing. Not a lot, but a handful and, and presses that I respect. And I think it’s imperative to begin to inculcate that into our daily work. And, you know, to sort of bring those values across in how we work with each other, how we work with authors, campus partners, vendors, our colleagues across publishing, etc.

So another thing that is on everybody’s mind in the up these days, and that we need to do some work on here at Cornell is addressing issues of equity, justice, and inclusion. And I have to tell you how excited I am by the fact that there seems to be a real groundswell in this area, in an incredibly short period of time. We now have the Mellon Diversity Fellowship that we’re fortunate enough to be participating in with five other presses, sister university presses. I believe we’re in our second year. With that we’ve got a couple of terrific fellows, and we’ll be doing that for one more year. In an ideal world, Jonathan, I would love to cement diversity fellowships at Cornell, separate from Mellon funding. So ideally, it would be internally funded from the institution or partner, perhaps with another appropriate unit on campus, I think it’s imperative that we start looking at hiring practices.

I think it’s imperative that we start looking at the list with a much more critical eye. I mean, one of our best-selling books of all time, if I’m not mistaken, is a groundbreaking book in the philosophy of race by Charles Mills, The Racial Contract. And, you know, I’m incredibly excited that we’ve signed the 25th anniversary edition for that, which will be coming out in a year or two. And this work is just so incredibly important. And it’s embarrassing, really, that it’s taken us a long time to wake up to that, but I think the last couple of years in this country has opened a lot of eyes. And I’m grateful, frankly, to former colleagues who pushed me in these areas. And, you know, I’ve been doing a lot of work on this personally and it’s time to bring that into the professional realm. So I’d like to see a really different landscape there.

We also have a terrific track record of publishing engaged scholarship, although I’m not sure that we’ve talked about it in that way. And what I mean by that is work that really reaches out beyond the academy to broader publics. And so some of the stuff that we’re doing with Three Hills, on regional books, a lot of the ILR books, a lot of the Comstock books, you know, these are incredibly interesting projects that the infamous, not mythical average lay reader can pick up and, you know, be really, really interested in and really engaged by and conversations can be started.

Jane Bunker: You know, the whole town-gown dynamic, I want us to bust out, come down from the hill and into the community, and, you know, participate much more in a much more integral way with some of the local festivals, the Spring Writes Festival. I’d like us to get involved in the local high school, perhaps, you know, so not just make sure that we have internships on campus with undergraduates, and hopefully get a couple of graduate fellowships off the ground, but see if we can get people interested in publishing at an even younger age. This was an idea that one of our colleagues had, that I think is terrific. And, of course, deepen our place as a campus partner. You know, right now, we are both literally and figuratively, off to the side, we’re right on the edge of campus, which is kind of a nice place to be, in many ways, you know, in a way, I feel like Sage houses right there in the very, very, very corner of campus, right in the edge of the Commons in downtown Ithaca. And, and that’s, that is, I like that visual, you know, of the spatial where we are geographically between campus and the rest of the world.

Jonathan Hall: On the borderlands

Jane Bunker: Yeah, yeah, yeah, the liminal…We’re dating ourselves now, that’s kind of a 90s Academic Word. But we need to become known as more of an integral part of campus and a recognized partner. You know, everybody I’ve spoken to, since I’ve come here, it has had nothing but the highest praise for the work of the Press. And yet, we’re still not known in a lot of quarters. So I want to do everything that we can to raise awareness of who we are and what we do.

And then of course, open scholarship is a big part of that too, right? And doing everything we can to increase the number of open access titles, I believe we are up to 167, which may not sound like many in a backlist of over 5000. But that’s a pretty good little chunk of the list. And you know, it’s it’s expanding all the time. And we have ongoing work in that area. We’ve got the benefit of grant from the NEH that’s helping us add more open titles now. And so these are all things that are really important to me, and, you know, areas in which I would like to see us make progress over the company.

Jonathan Hall: Wow, that sounds very exciting. I look forward to seeing these initiatives blossom over the next three to five years. Great. That’s great. Are there any books that have fascinated you or you’re excited about that we have published over the past year or about to publish?

Jane Bunker: Yes, I am a big birdwatcher. And so we have this new book When Birds Are Near, and it is a collected volume by terrific writers on a variety of topics. You know, one that pops out is by a guy, I think his name is Tim Gallagher. And he was the editor of Living Bird magazine, put out by the Lab of O over here, sort of pointing vaguely, in a direction because I actually live within walking distance of Cornell’s famous Lab of Ornithology, which I’m very excited about. He’s got a piece in there about going to South America looking for a particular type of woodpecker. And it’s just a heartbreaking story about hoping that this species is still alive somewhere in the dense jungle and literally risking lives to find the thing. And so it’s kind of harrowing and beautiful. And it’s a terrific book that anybody who loves birds would love to pick up. So I’m excited about that. Another book that I have not even had a chance to get my hands on yet, but I’m really excited to see is our new book on Hamilton and the Law, which I think was our lead book this season. And it’s being very well-reviewed. One book, this is an older book, but I want to draw attention to it. Because when I first moved here, I’d forgotten that E. B. White was an Ithaca resident and a Cornell person. And so I checked our website and found In the Words of E. B. White: Quotations from America’s Most Companionable of Writers, and that has been such a nice book to sort of browse through. Oh, and then the new book on Simone de Beauvoir and her writing, she did a sort of an advice column. What did they call that the something about aunts?

Jonathan Hall: Oh, agony aunts.

Jane Bunker: And that’s it. Thank you. The agony aunt column. And what a remarkable thing. So I studied philosophy, and I did not know that she did that, you know. So it’s, it’s really getting a lot of play and shows a side of her that, you know, people didn’t really know about, and that’s a terrific book.

Jonathan Hall: Yeah. It’s amazing that the lost art of letter writing—I mean we send text to each other all the time, I guess, people are probably writing more than they ever have, but it’s just in short spurts—we used to write long thought-out letters. And it’s amazing to see, you know, folks like Beauvoir, or any other major author, taking the time—I can’t imagine how much correspondence they had—but taking the time to write a handwritten letter back to the person. It’s incredible.

Jane Bunker: Well, she wasn’t wasting hours a day on social media.

Jonathan Hall: No, that’s true. We also had some exciting news about winning some awards at AHA, we won five awards this year. And again, we don’t like to brag, but we will for this.

Jane Bunker: Yeah, we’ll brag about this, because that that is really something five AHA awards. And I was looking at those books when they when it was first announced. And again, the diversity, the breath, you know, I think there’s one book on that won the award for early Spanish history, and then one for French history and one for European military history and one for international and cultural history since 1500, or something, and it’s just, it’s all over the map. And I’m just so proud of our acquisitions team, who consistently bring in these incredibly high quality books and the attention that they get. I think a lot of people know Cornell has this really unique pre-board process where everybody in the department has the opportunity to weigh in on the proposal and the reader’s reports and the author’s response to those reports. And so it’s a deeply collaborative process that helps make every book better. And that’s what one of the things that makes a Cornell book a Cornell book, which I’m so excited to be a part of.

Jonathan Hall: Yeah, I remember when you when you first came on board, you had mentioned collaboration is one of the key things that you really enjoy about the process. Could you have spend a little bit more about what what draws you to…what brings you to work every day? What gets you excited to wake up in the morning?

Jane Bunker: Yes, thank you for asking. One of the things that I’m deeply excited about is on the horizon. We need to do some collaborative strategic planning, because a lot of times people will ask the leader of an organization, what is your vision? And, you know, what are your plans? And I think that any good leader is going to check in with all of the team before answering that question, which is why it was incredibly important for me to do that listening tour that I did when I was very new, sitting down and speaking with everybody on staff about what they do here, and what they think the challenges and opportunities are. Because who knows better than the people doing the work day in and day out about, you know, what the possibilities might be, and where we might find efficiencies and ways to improve.

But also, you know, this is a creative organization, this we are knowledge workers, and the people who work for this press are so creative, and have such great ideas that I want to be able to put us in conversation and talk about, you know, where we might go together. That’s what gets me excited is, is sparking off one another and facilitating those types of discussions, and getting people thinking in a more holistic way about the entire enterprise. You know, sometimes people can get a little, a little tunnel vision, you know, they’re in a particular department, and they have their particular things that they have to do every day. But I always like to pull it back out and get that larger perspective of, you know, and it’s kind of my tagline, I like to hold up a book and say, “we make books, people.” That’s what we do here. So how can we do it better? How can we sort of deepen what we’re best at, and maybe let go of what we’re not quite so good at, and, you know, really serve the needs of readers everywhere. And that’s what keeps me excited.

Jonathan Hall: That’s great. That’s great. And then one final question, which I know all of our listeners are eager to know. We I know that you’re a huge fan of Scrabble. And I was curious to know, what are what are some of your favorite words to use in the game?

Jane Bunker: So my, my advice to anybody wanting to get better at Scrabble is learn the twos. You’ve got to know za. You’ve got to know qi, so that you can plunk those ten pointers down on a Triple Word Score, preferably in both directions. Yeah, I’m, I’m all about the big points. It’s not about longer words and better vocabulary words. This is where my real killer instinct comes out. Jonathan, I’m sorry. I’m deeply competitive. I like to win. I like to rack up the points in Scrabble. But it is also a learning opportunity, you know,

Jonathan Hall: for the other player…as you school them.

Jane Bunker: I will say there are certain people in my family who no longer like to play Scrabble. Oh, wow. Well, I mean, you’ve got to have a little bit of this in you to be a good publisher, right? Particularly if you come up in acquisitions, because we are very friendly and collegial. This is a deeply collegial industry, a very generous industry. Honestly. Another thing that I love about it is all of the generosity of my many colleagues, but you got to have a little bit of that killer Instinct, if you want to sign up the better books.

Jonathan Hall: That’s true.

Jane Bunker: Yeah. You maybe don’t want to keep that in this. (laughing)

Jonathan Hall: Oh, it’s all right, that’s all right. No, it’s fine.

Jane Bunker: This might get cut. (laughing)

Jonathan Hall: Well, it truly was a pleasure talking with you, and I look forward to working with you more closely. I mean, we’re working online, but in time, God willing, we will be back in Sage House working shoulder to shoulder and be seeing each other in person, and I’m looking forward to that.

Jane Bunker: Me, too.

Jonathan Hall: Yeah. So thanks again for talking with me. And yeah, we’ll talk to each other again soon.

Jane Bunker: Thank you very, very much, Jonathan.

Jonathan Hall: Alright, thanks, Jane.

Closing: That was Cornell University Press director Jane Bunker speaking with us on this special 100th episode. If you’d like to purchase any of our books, know that as a loyal listener to our podcast, you can use the promo code 09POD and save 30%. Visit our website at

Thank you for listening to 1869, The Cornell University Press Podcast!

*Transcribed by

Jonathan Hall is Digital Marketing Manager at Cornell University Press and host of 1869, The Cornell University Press Podcast.

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