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Writing for Wider Audiences as an Academic

On Tuesday, March 14, Paul Reitter, professor of Germanic Languages and the director of the Humanities Institute at Ohio State, spoke to current and former UC Davis graduate students about the benefits and sometimes pitfalls of non-academic publishing for the academic. Part of the PhD Unlimited lunchtime series hosted by the UC Davis Humanities Institute, the topic fit within the overall framework of career development for doctoral candidates in the humanities and social sciences.
Reitter, who recently published a collection of his essays called Bambi’s Jewish Roots and Other Essays on German-Jewish Culture, spoke about writing non-fiction pieces for venues that do not exclusively cater to academics. Journals and magazines like The Nation and Harper’s Magazine were among the many examples he cited and were in some ways the impetus for his interest in non-academic publishing.
As Reitter said, he wanted to publish in these types of journals because he liked the idea of writing for smart people who weren’t necessarily academics but were reading things he also found interesting. Academic audiences can be quite small because of the narrow focus of specialities, and Reitter hoped to engage with a wider audience than academic writing sometimes allows.
Reitter encouraged graduate students interested in pursuing a combination of academic and non-academic publishing to start thinking about it now. The humanities in particular have been facing criticism in the media and popular press, and in response humanists have been writing articles critiquing the academy as well as demonstrating the utility and value of a humanities degree.
Academic presses are also suffering. Giving the publisher of your dissertation turned book evidence that you have already found success writing to wider audiences can be a boon in these troubled times. Or it can be evidence that you’ll be a successful instructor because you can write to a larger more diverse audience.
Reitter did caution that writing multiple texts for two different audiences can be time-consuming. Some departments may not count such work towards merit and promotion and even, if you’re unlucky, discourage it. However, Reitter’s talk was generally positive and the advice seemed to be that if your department supports such work, and you have the time and desire, go for it.
For people interested in this type of publishing, Reitter emphasised networking. Find professors who have already published in venues like The Nation or The Times Literary Supplement and talk to them about their experiences and see if they might have a lead about where to start. For example, in response to a request for information Professors of English Beth Freeman and Joshua Clover responded that they publish pieces in non-academic journals.
Freeman writes for Avidly, the Los Angeles Review of Book’s online venue on occasion and her most recent piece was on Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. She says she enjoys “writing in ways that integrate personal storytelling and the analytic” and “it’s just a different part of my [her] brain to work with.”
Clover, a former journalist, regularly publishes in The Nation and sometimes in the New York Times as well as other eclectic venues. He continues writing non-academic pieces he says as a “carryover” from his journalist days. For a list of his extensive contributions to The Nation follow this link.
As for the hopeful writer, Reitter recommends looking at LA Review of Books, The Point, Public Letters Monthly, and Public Books. He also mentioned N+1, a journal founded by younger scholars interested in promoting this type of intellectual discourse outside of academic circles.
The next PhD Unlimited event will be a career networking opportunity on April 28 in the AGR Hall @ the Walter A. Buehler Alumni Center from 11A.M. to 4:30P.M. Sponsors are the DHI and the Institute for the Social Sciences. To register or request more information please contact: http://iss.ucdavis.edu/networking.
Cordelia Ross, GSR for the DHI and doctoral candidate in the English Department

This page was last updated: April 3, 2017



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