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University of New Orleans Press Sacks Bill Lavender, Goes on ‘Hiatus’

By Harriet Staff

Some sad news from Inside Higher Ed:

The University of New Orleans has eliminated the job of the director of its university press, and plans to put the publishing operation on a “hiatus.”

A university spokesman declined to confirm the plan, except to say that the institution is facing a new round of deep budget cuts, and that officials would announce this week how to respond to the cuts. The spokesman also suggested that it would not be correct to say that any final decision had been made, and that the university would have no further comment. But the dean of arts and sciences — in an e-mail to the director, obtained by Inside Higher Ed — states that “we have put the press on hiatus.”

The same e-mail told the director, Bill Lavender, that his job was gone. He said that the press has some help from graduate assistants (who report they can’t get into the office) and no other staff for the press.

Lavender is indeed the sole employee of the press, as well as a longstanding member of the New Orleans and national poetry community. Nola.com reports that Lavender is seen as having “transformed the publishing operation during his tenure,” as well as the UNO Low Residency MFA and Creative Writing Program, which he led. A petition went out earlier this week with the hopes of halting Lavender’s firing—you can still sign it here—it makes a good point, considering the loss of UC Press’s Poetry Series not long ago:

Bill Lavender has been at the helm since 2007, re-establishing UNO Press after a decade of dormancy. Both as a writer and fine editor, Lavender enjoys a remarkable reputation among contemporary writers. Over 100 titles have been published by the press, across an impressive range of subjects, from Contemporary Poetry, to the Engaged Writers Series (including Reginald Martin’s Everybody Knows What Time It Is, winner of the Deep South Writers Competition), The Ezra Pound Center for Literature, The Neighborhood Story Project, and Contemporary Austrian Studies.

The Contemporary Poetry section is one of the few university press venues for contemporary avant-garde poetry, its peers such institutional presses as Wesleyan, University of California, and the University of Iowa, extraordinary company. The role UNO Press now plays in contemporary poetry publishing enhances the reputation not only of the press but of UNO itself both nationally and internationally.

A commenter writes:

In the literary arts, Bill Lavender is the face of UNO, period. He’s been a staunch ambassador for you, and he’s single-handedly created the sense that UNO matters for writers. Whether from a public-relations or (more important) ethical standpoint, it’s absurd to cut your connection with him.

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Posted in Poetry News on Wednesday, August 8th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.