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University of Alberta Press takes pride in keeping the traditional doors of “scholarly publishing” wide open.
You get to UAlberta Press’s office through the main entry to Rutherford South, the University of Alberta’s original library building. With its calm polished marble floors, solid oak door frames and sky-high ceilings, the space evokes a sense of slightly remote, quiet scholarship—until you go through the doors to the press’s workspace. Here, the ceilings are still high, but a busy editorial team is bringing out books with their feet on the ground: current, informed and compelling to a range of readers reaching well beyond academic walls.
Douglas Hildebrand, UAlberta Press’s director and publisher, points to one particular new publication as an example of the evolving nature of scholarship. Indigenous Women and Street Gangs: Survivance Narratives might sound as though it belongs on a PhD thesis—and it does reflect the results of research initiated by Robert Henry, who was collaborating with a non-profit organization that works with people trying to extricate themselves from street-gang lives. However, the text is anything but a dry and “objective” summary of findings.
Instead, six women tell their stories of street lifestyles, in their own words and through photographs that they take themselves. Raw, powerful and direct, their narratives are evidence of the causes-and-effects of gang involvement. The writers are not passive stereotypes of victimization, and they are not observed through the lens of an outside researcher peering in.
Hildebrand points out that work like this pushes the edges of scholarly publishing in a variety of ways. First, there’s the deliberate move away from “speaking for” research subjects from the outside (the approach white ethnographers have historically taken). Instead, the women who share their narratives become partners in creating this record. They become knowledge providers, not merely “subjects.”
Indigenous Women and Street Gangs also reflects the Press’s objective of representing an urban West. “After all, the majority of Albertans live in major cities,” Hildebrand points out.
A book like this may not sound like your idea of “scholarly” publishing. But it does belong to the broad spectrum of work that the press is bringing to the public, ranging from focussed academic topics to creative memoirs and even poetry and short fiction. In the glass display cases in the hall beyond the office door, you can see copies of UAlberta Press books that map the territory of writing for engaged readers throughout and beyond the university.
Overall, scholarly research and writing is undergoing an intensive rethink, as academics try to step outside Eurocentric assumptions, methodologies and thought patterns—an urgent soul-searching reflected in recent titles like Troubling Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Education and Our Whole Gwich’in Way of Life Has Changed / Gwich’in K’yuu Gwiidandài’ Tthak Ejuk Gòonlih.
But there is also the more personal research-creation work of scholars like Brad Necyk, who turn the researcher’s eye on their own experience. In All Sky, Mirror Ocean (forthcoming) he braids on his own histories with Bipolar Affective Disorder and childhood medical trauma with his work as an artist in other communities experiencing grief and loss, as well as findings from research into neuroscience and altered states.
Then there are scholars like University of Alberta sociology professor Amy Kaler, who produce manuscripts that are not directly related to their own field of study. In Until Further Notice, Kaler recounts her personal experience of the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in real time—an internal seismograph of living through a global emergency, which in its turn becomes part of the record for future researchers.
And then there are books by writers who are not officially “scholars” but offer their own take on issues of interest and importance. These include titles in the Robert Kroetsch Series of Canadian creative writing, short stories, and poetry by writers across the country. As well, for the past two decades, the press has published the annual Kreisel Lecture in collaboration with the Canadian Literature Centre, in which authors like Tomson Highway, Margaret Atwood and Laurence Hill present their thoughts. The newest title in that series is An Anthology of Monsters: How Story Saves Us from Our Anxiety, by Cherie Dimaline—the tale of an intricate dance with life-long anxiety and how the stories we tell ourselves can help reshape the ways in which we think, cope, and ultimately survive.
Add to all this, a long list of downloadable open-access titles, which ensures fascinating but out-of-print books from the press’s 50-plus years of publishing are still available. They range from narratives of research in the High Arctic in the 1950s to the recent Rights and the City, about how we think our way through tensions between different concepts of our “rights” as citizens.
This is how books from University of Alberta Press keep exploring the wide range of scholarship. “You get to engage with ideas that are really powerful,” says Hildebrand.
It’s an invitation to open your own reading doors.
Published: Sep 20, 2022 by The University of Alberta Press
Published: Feb 15, 2023 by Canadian Literature Centre / Centre de littérature canadienne
Published: Aug 02, 2022 by The University of Alberta Press
Published: Jan 16, 2024 by The University of Alberta Press
Leslie McCartney , Gwich’in Tribal Council
Published: Dec 09, 2020 by The University of Alberta Press
Published: May 25, 2022 by The University of Alberta Press
About the Author
Alice Major has published twelve collections of poetry, including her latest book, Knife on Snow. She has also published an award-winning collection of essays about poetry and science. Alice has volunteered in numerous positions to help the writing community in Alberta and Canada, including her role as Edmonton’s first poet laureate and president of the League of Canadian poets. She received the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta’s Distinguished Artist award and an honorary doctorate from the University of Alberta.