Henry Gee on the evolution* of scholarly publishing

November 14, 2013
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9780226284880Continuing our week-long series of posts for University Press Week, we asked Henry Gee, senior editor at Nature and author of The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution, for his unique perspective on university press publishing. Gee has contributed several books to Chicago’s lists in science and anthropology and is, of course, all too familiar with shepherding the work of scholars, reviewers, and critics through its final stage runs prior to publication. What follows below are thoughts on his experiences with the University of Chicago Press (including working with our Editorial Director for the Sciences and Social Sciences Christie Henry). Stay tuned tomorrow for a Q & A with Gee about human exceptionalism, science fiction, and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

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Chicago and I go back a long way. The first time I ever went to the United States, it was in Chicago I landed. It was the North American Paleontological Convention, in 1992. To this wide-eyed Brit it felt like I’d walked onto a movie set. I’ve been to Chicago many times since and I love the place—every grimy, shiny, rough, vibrant particle of it. There’s a table at the Valois “See Your Food” Cafeteria, between the aging academics and Chicago’s Finest, that will always be mine.

Three years later, at a meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Snowbird, Utah, I met the Susan Abrams of the University of Chicago Press. Or maybe she met me. Either way, she made an impression. She and her then-assistant Christie Henry wanted to get me involved with the Press. Either they had extraordinary percipience, or they were desperate, because I hadn’t, at the time, published a book.

Susan passed on in 2003, but I had the pleasure of working with Christie on two books—a reprint collections of papers from Nature, for which I wrote additional commentary. They were Shaking the Tree: Readings from Nature in the History of Life (2000) and Rise of the Dragon: Readings from Nature on the Chinese Fossil Record (2001). A single, stand-alone book by me, all on my own, as an author, eluded us, and I floated from publisher to publisher, never landing for long.

It was then I understood that Christie was playing a long game, waiting for me to write exactly the right book for the Press. That’s why I am thrilled that, eighteen years after we first met, Christie has been my editor for my latest book, The Accidental Species. I can honestly say that, as an author, I’ve never had more collegial or professional treatment than I’ve had at the Press. It feels like I’ve come home at last.

                                                                                                                                                                          —Henry Gee

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