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Wayne State Press writers, affiliates demand reinstatement of managers

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — Sixty "writers, reviewers and scholars" have signed an open letter insisting that the Wayne State University Press "immediately" reinstate the three managers it fired Friday.

More:Wayne State fires three managers in university press shakeup

"We are writing to express our shock and anger at what is tantamount to the destruction of this venerable institution," a portion of its opening paragraph reads. 

"Our commitment to Wayne State, despite its relatively small size, has been because of the high quality of work it produces," reads another portion of the letter. 

Read: Open letter to Wayne State Press

The firings of editor-in-chief Annie Martin, Kristin Harpster, a design and production manager, and sales and marketing director Emily Nowak, the letter says, "is a breach of trust with the authors who have built relationships and served as ambassadors of the press in the academic and wider community ... moreover, these decisions will undermine the ability of Wayne State Press to recruit and serve scholars and writers at all stages of the publication process."

Among the authors who signed the letter is Rachel Harris, whose latest WSU Press book, "Teaching the Arab-Israeli Conflict," was published last year, one of three she's done with the press. She told The News the sudden nature of the terminations could affect authors' willingness to bring their works to the press. 

"We tell each other who you want to work with, and why you want to work with them," Harris told The News Sunday. "There are all kinds of considerations that go into how we choose where we're going to publish. Wayne State had the best reputation in the field for just taking a risk, making sure that authors were happy with what was happening, and being included in the thinking about the process."

Another is M.L. Leibler, editor of the popular Made In Michigan series that Martin created. 

Michael Delp, who also edits Made in Michigan, has been publishing with the Wayne State Press since 1976.

The series was Martin's brainchild, he said. The thinking was that Michigan had a number of talented writers with stories worth publishing, who might not get that chance at a traditional publishing house.

"We have some terrific writers here who are not necessarily New York Times bestsellers, but they're terrific writers," Delp said. "Annie had the vision of bringing those people under the umbrella of the Made In Michigan writer series. "It just started on a really strong feeling for what we knew was out there in the state, in terms of writing and quality."

Delp, who signed the letter, told The News he's concerned about what the terminations might mean for the Press' future.

"I've worked with institutions that, over time, have become corporatized," Delp said. "I've seen it happen where (the mentality is), take no prisoners. It gets brutal and cold — almost reptilian....I don't like institutions that handle people in that way. And I don't want to be a part of institutions that do that."

Bruce Miller has been selling books for the Wayne State Press for the past 20 years through his Chicago-based business, Miller Trade Book Marketing, and has been selling books for university presses for 35 years. He spread the news of the terminations online. 

"It's highly unusual in the university press world for something like this to happen," Miller told The News. "We need to know more about what (dean of libraries Jon Cawthorne's) vision is, because he's the one making the decisions here." 

These days he does sales for about 20 similar presses. 

"I'm not a wealthy guy and being in publishing is not a way to get rich," Miller said. "So that's a bit of a quandary for me ... I'm more sad about what's happened to the press than I am about the money that they're paying me. 

Tara Reeser, interim director of the Press, and Wayne State dean of libraries Jon Cawthorne did not return requests for comment.

"The thing (the Press) doesn't seem to understand is, how do you pick up the pieces from this?" Miller said. 

Attorney Jennifer McManus, of Royal Oak-based Fagan McManus P.C., is representing the three former managers.

"They are going to hold off for a moment from talking while they see what may come out of this," McManus told The News on Tuesday. "They are still shocked by their termination, as it came without cause and no explanation has been given. And they're really concerned about the authors that they've been supporting through the years."

McManus said the trio has a combined 54 years of experience at the press. 

"This is who they are," McManus said. "This is their identity. And it was taken away from them without explanation."

The three are "considering all options" legally, McManus said.

Bonnie Jo Campbell, a 2009 National Book Award finalist for her Wayne State Press-published novel "American Salvage," did not sign on to the letter but told The News, via email, that "the whole Michigan creative writing community is nervous as hell about this shake-up."

Campbell said she hopes the Made In Michigan effort will continue.

"It's been so important to us," Campbell wrote.