It has happened: we’ve cleared into beyond the mid-semester mark of the Fall 2021 semester.
Kim is on the move during her sabbatical. Kelsey is clicking away with in-person teaching in Montreal. And, below, is a round-up of some our favourite pedagogical, performance, and activism articles from around the web.
Editing as Mentorship
Our very own Kim Solga has written a piece for University Affairs on editing as mentorship. As ever, Kim offers a unique, and activist-informed, perspective on how editing can be a collaborative, pedagogical, and yes activist approach for thinking about editing.
Mental Health in Canadian Universities
This week, the Walrus published an in-depth examination of mental health amongst students in Canadian colleges and universities. Written by Simon Lewsen, the piece offers an extended examination of mental and emotional health – and the challenges students face in accessing support – in the academy.
A Letter to a Colleague: Sara Ahmed and Lauren Berlant
Independent feminist scholar Sara Ahmed has long posted to her feminist killjoys blog. In late summer, she wrote a letter and tribute to fellow feminist and theorist Lauren Berlant, who passed away in late June. The letter offers a candid telling of the meaningful, if sometimes complex, nature of relationships forged in and through academia as well as a poignant letter to a colleague.
Experiencing the academy as a trans person
Kim is in the UK right now and was visiting colleagues from the University of Sussex on Thursday when philosopher Kathleen Stock resigned from that school after several weeks of controversy. Stock is a feminist philosopher who argues that allowing trans persons to self-identify their sexual identity will cause irrevocable harm to those born biologically female.
The row (transphobia? academic freedom?) at Sussex that was sparked by Stock’s work is a complex story that has been oversimplified in the media in unhelpful ways, so I won’t link to it here. But wherever you stand in relation to the issues at hand, I was reminded this morning that we all need to continue to pay attention to the material realities of what it means to be trans, as a student but also as staff and faculty, on academic campuses.
I found this great research, undertaken by Stephanie Mckendry and Matson Lawrence of the University of Strathclyde circa 2017: “Improving the experiences of trans and gender diverse staff in higher education” keeps our eyes on the key issue, even while Twitter catches fire with yet another zero-sum argument. Our trans colleagues, after all, aren’t memes or tweets; they are human beings with complex needs that we can all support with just a few simple adjustments to our daily practices.
Top tip: click on the “website” link in last paragraph of Mckendry and Lawrence’s article for many more easy to digest and share resources (like the excellent video embedded above). Great for sending out to colleagues!
In our last post, Kelsey reflected on a specific collaboration conundrum, and work-life balance in the pandemic. Today, Kim thinks about academic collaboration a bit more philosophically… with help from an amazing artist, Amanda Leduc.
Two weeks ago, I attended a book launch on Zoom. Not my first rodeo, either: we’ve been festival-ing and launching and doing all the conference things on Zoom for coming up to a year now. (March 12 is my Zoomiversary; what’s yours, Kelsey?)
But this launch was different.
The celebration was for Amanda Leduc’s new novel, The Centaur’s Wife, an extraordinary work that reflects on love, desire, grief and loss through a lens equal parts magic realism, fairy tale, and disability justice. (I HIGHLY recommend you order it. You can also check out Kelsey’s interview with Amanda, from 2020, here.)
We opened in now-utter-familiarity: the host, novelist and activist for literary equity Jael Richardson, was dropped from her internet connection mid-way through her delightful introduction. Turns out her power had gone off; in haste (though with spectacular grace, it must be said), fellow author Larissa Lai stepped in without missing a beat.
The launch then began in earnest not with Amanda, but with two of her collaborators: Victoria Carr, the musical artist who narrated the audio book (The Centaur’s Wife is the first novel in Canada to be published in all accessible formats simultaneously), and Anne Collins, Amanda’s editor at Penguin Random House. Victoria shared a song and then spoke to Larissa about her engagement with the characters, the process of recording the audio book, and the importance of being part of a small but mighty movement for literary accessibility (thanks to Amanda’s own perseverance). Anne and Larissa then talked about the long, sometimes messy, and always rewarding process of working with an author to bring the kernel of an idea into being as a novel-length work, written and rewritten again over a nearly five-year period.
Finally, Amanda stepped in to receive our applause, answer many challenging questions, and offer clear-eyed and fierce reflections on the work of literary artists (now more than ever).
I was riveted to the launch, and not just because Amanda is my friend and neighbour. It was compelling from start to finish precisely becauseit foregrounded literary arts as collaborative –writing and publishing as the work of “a community,” as Amanda noted at the end of the event, directing our attention to the acknowledgements at the back of her book and inviting us all to read them.
It takes a village to make a book: we all know this, whether we write novels or nonfiction or monographs for other scholars or books for students or children. We all, in the scholarly publishing community, have our own acknowledgements pages. But Amanda’s launch reflected much more than the basics of this kind of book-as-village feel: it mirrored the fulsome, utterly joyous, depth-of-flavour-process that birthed her new book into being, and as I listened to and then reflected on the discussions about collaboration peppered throughout the launch, I started to reflect on my own collaborative journeys.
And I asked myself: what exactly are we – we academics, in particular – doing when we collaborate? How thick, how deep, are those processes for us? Especially when it comes to making books – books we might call “solo authored” on our CVs – where are our collaborators, and how do we make that process richer and more meaningful (not to mention more visible!) for all?
I’ve been an editor most of my career; I’ve written solo books too, of course, but I have gravitated toward (and, somewhat to my surprise, stayed with) editing in part because of the satisfaction it gives me to support another writer as they try to locate the core of their argument, and then reorganize the skeleton of their work better to support it. This work is often long, it’s often fraught, and – spoiler alert – I don’t think it’s aided in any way by the discursive frameworks that traditionally describe the academic writing process (aka: publish or perish, anyone?).
Do you remember the first time you submitted a piece of work to an academic journal? You prayed for “accept”, braced for “reject”, and while you knew that “revise and resubmit” wasn’t ideal, it would be acceptable (after a day or two, and maybe after a good cry).
I remember mine: in the third year of my PhD I sent a lightly revised term paper (later to be published in Modern Drama, and I’ll come back to that) to Theatre Journal, one of the most prestigious venues in our field. I received a fast response: a reject from the then-editor, who had clearly sussed out that this was a term paper and needed a lot of work to be even peer-reviewable. TJ is a big journal, publishing four times a year and loaded down with submissions, so I don’t blame this editor (who was a volunteer!!) for ending at reject (plus a couple of sentences to ostensibly steer me toward revision) – although I do still think about the prof who encouraged me to publish the paper without offering me any further advice on how to do that. (Story for another time.)
I was devastated. But I was also aware that I was supposed to be devastated: only the best get published, right? You are clearly not good enough yet, Kim! Work harder! Graft alone to make that paper better! When it reflects that you are smart-smart-enough you will get the royal “accept”, and then you can feel like less of an imposter!
What a high, barred gate those three options, “reject”, “revise and resubmit”, and “accept” make together, yes? They keep out those who are not in the know; those who don’t have sympathetic mentors; those who do not come from academic or cultural privilege.
I learned this unspoken fact of academic life only through my connection to Modern Drama, where I was an editorial assistant: I was lucky enough to be working with then co-editor Joanne Tompkins on my research “day job”, which meant I could approach her for advice. I shared both the TJ editor’s note and my draft with her; she then took the time to teach me the difference between a term paper and an article (something every graduate student needs to learn sooner or later, btw, because it is not knowledge that sprouts unbidden from your degree certificate).
She guided me gently through a rigorous editorial process, then sent the paper for peer review at Modern Drama. It remains today one of the most downloaded papers in the history of the journal, and one of which I’m most proud.
Joanne is my editorial mentor, as I am mentor to others now. I’m not saying this to suggest that Joanne and I are special; we were/are able to do this kind of mentoring work because our work circumstances are fortunately such that we have the time to do the actual labour of editing – to undertake the kind of process Anne undertook with Amanda, a genuine, durational collaboration between author and editor, writer and curious, informed, but detached eye.
As Anne put it during the launch, we editors are privileged to invest in the work of authors for whom the piece under construction is owned, held dear; this allows us to hold and support them, cheer them on and push them harder, all the while letting them know that if the roof caves in someone is there with a fix, a hug, words of encouragement and a path forward out of the muddle. (I really like this metaphor of investment; it captures what I feel as an editor.)
In the academy, though, who really has this kind of investable time? Editing work is considered “volunteer” work among us profs, and detrimentally it often valued as such: I had to fight to make my editing labour “count” when time came for me to go up for promotion, and only one of the three external examiners of my portfolio made explicit note of my editing’s proper, collaborative value. We’re usually told not to bother editing: monographs or high-profile journal articles “count” for more than “edited” volumes, as though there is no work done in those projects. (HA!!!) Editing a journal? Be prepared for nobody at your institution to notice or care.
In other words: what (still) most “counts” in the publish-or-perish landscape is the labour you are expected to do alone, isolated, terrified even that the result will never be good enough.
Of course your finished book/article will bear the hands of others, and sometimes (rarely) those hands will be very hands-on, the hands of a supportive editor with the time and space to share. More often, though, they will be the hands of outsourced copyeditors paid a pittance, and publishers whose interest extends to “get the damn thing in on time”. At many crossover book publishers (Routledge, Bloomsbury Methuen, I’m looking at you), traditional peer review isn’t even guaranteed anymore, depriving us (when the reviewer is kind, when the reviewer recognizes their responsibility) of what little thoughtful third-party advice we could count on when it’s needed most.
This is a catastrophe. Editing labour is arduous but urgent and needs supporting and rewarding, at all levels of publication and among both academics and career editors. (When I talked to Amanda about this, she noted that Anne is herself a rarity in the world of fiction publishing.)
Further, sending graduate students out into the academic work world equipped with the belief that their careers stand or fall on the things they write while isolated, uncertain of their worth, and filled with anxiety is genuinely cruel and a recipe for ongoing exclusion and white-washing in the ivory tower.
Now might be a good time to remind ourselves that Amanda’s brilliant new book is at bottom about disability justice, about making space for others in worlds that demonize difference; it was made possible because Anne held Amanda, and Amanda worked with and for Anne, and through Anne’s support, over a period of years – culminating in a triumph.
How many of us can say that about even one piece of our academic writing? I’m genuinely curious.
What are your stories of collaboration in academic labour, friends? What are the highs? The lows? Is it getting better from where you sit, or worse? Let us know.
In the midst of a really rough week last week, something amazing happened: I received an email telling me that I, along with my dear friends and collaborators D.J. Hopkins and Shelley Orr from San Diego State University, have won the 2016 ATHE award for Excellence in Editing, possibly the highest honour that academic editors in theatre and performance studies can receive. We are the recipients for our joint collections Performance and the City(2009) and Performance and the Global City(2013), both of which were published by Palgrave MacMillan.
I was so excited, truly excited, about this news that I bounced up and down in my kitchen for about five minutes, freaking out the dog + cat. I was the kid who burst the piñata! I felt like, after years of swinging and pounding and swatting, I’d finally broken in, and caught the windfall.
In other words: this news was not just welcome, and not just thrilling; it was also incredibly validating. Because editing is some of the hardest, most valuable, and yet most under-sung labour in the academic world. At last, I – we! – were being sung about.
Those of you reading from university offices know exactly what I’m talking about, and are probably nodding along right now.
For those who are not so familiar with it, here’s the standard argument that all scholars hear – usually from the time we are graduate students – about why not to edit.
First: it does not ‘count’ for enough. It barely counts as an article; it certainly doesn’t count as a monograph! Editing stuff won’t get you tenure, or promoted. Stop right now! (This is because edited books aren’t generally thought to be as rigorously peer-reviewed as journal articles or single-author books. Never mind that I’ve had book chapters better peer-reviewed than my monograph was. Never mind that all of my edited books have been shepherded carefully by at least one, and usually two, senior academics in my field, who have read multiple drafts of the manuscript. Never mind that working with an academic editor IS built-in peer review!)
Second: it’s a slog. Lots of cats to herd! Academics are shit at meeting deadlines (me too, trust me), and many of our colleagues do not write all that well (it’s an open secret). To make a good edited book, you’ve got to do a lot of invisible labour making other peoples’ stuff better. That can be exhausting and demoralising.
Third: it takes a lot of time – time away from, you know, your own brilliant writing that you could otherwise be working on, in article or monograph form, in order to get tenure or promoted, and thereby come to inhabit a sense of yourself as a Productive Academic. I call that The Vicious Circle of Orwellian Academic Logic.
(As if by clockwork irony, last week I was reminded of all of these arguments by this – really fairly balanced – piece in University Affairs. Plus ça change!)
Are these arguments valid? Sure – in the business-as-usual version of the academy. But what if we chose not to subscribe to business as usual? What if we flipped things around for a minute, and examined the alternate view of the academy that could emerge from valuing academic editing differently?
Deej and I in January 2016 in Toronto; we generally prefer the ‘alt’ approach!
Here are the benefits of academic editing, as I believe and invest in them. These are the reasons I have edited five books over the course of the last ten years, and they are the reasons I’ve just taken up the post of Editor in Chief of the journal Theatre Research in Canada/Recherches théâtrales au Canada.
First: edited books often get a lot more traction than monographs – even good, popular academic monographs. I am far, far better known for my edited work than for the monograph I published in 2009; simply put, way more people have read bits and pieces of my edited books than even know I wrote the damn monograph! If we’re talking about ‘impact’, about generating a scholarly conversation and thereby shaping the future of our discipline, edited books often do this far more effectively than monographs.
(Why? I’m not sure. My guess is because they include so many more voices, so many diverse perspectives. They are crowd-sourced knowledge.)
Second: editing is collaborative scholarship at its finest. From the moment I approach a colleague to write on a specific topic, through the process of helping that colleague build their argument, to the final shaping and editing as we refine, hone, and nuance – me pressing and questioning, suggesting and rewording along the way – what we are doing is working together to create a dynamic argument about a scholarly topic compelling to us both. That kind of collaboration is all too rare in the academy; most academic work is profoundly ego-driven. (Regardless of how many conferences I schlep my papers to, I’m always anxious about feedback. Will they like me? Will they hate it? If I get good advice that might help make the work better, will I be able to take it? Usually, I just feel pinned to the spotlight, in front of the audience, wanting nothing more than for my quiet, lonely work to be pronounced ‘good’ already.)
Third: editing is teaching; it is a marriage of research and pedagogy that is incredibly satisfying and insanely productive. I’ve worked with a lot of graduate students over the course of my editing career, because I remember all too well what learning to turn my course essays and dissertation chapters into articles was like: harrowing, embarrassing, realising that I had no idea how to structure the argument of an article, where to put the damn lit review, how to articulate my position with force and without too much repetition (of my own ideas or others’). And I remember with so much joy and gratitude the work invested by my own writing mentor – herself an exceptional editor! – Joanne Tompkins. Thanks to Jo, I discovered my writing voice – she gave me the greatest gift a teacher can give a new scholar. And our shared learning happened around research topics important to us both; that’s true academic interdisciplinarity, if you ask me.
This summer I’m going through the process of seeking promotion to full professor; that’s the highest rank an academic in North America can achieve. According to the business-as-usual academic story, though, my case is somewhat dicey because I do not have a second ‘full’ monograph. (My second solo-authored book is Theatre & Feminism – a short book for students that is set to become the most widely-read piece of work I’ll ever produce. And I’m damn proud of it.) But I’ve decided to go up anyway – on the strength of all the editing I’ve done, and in honour of all the benefits it has had for me as a scholar and teacher and for the many colleagues and students with whom I’ve collaborated. I’m hoping to set an important precedent in my department, and at my school – and thereby help to shift, just a little bit, the story of academic business-as-usual.
Cross your fingers for me!
With huge thanks to all who supported our nomination, and to ATHE for the honour,