Last week, we learned through Reading Local: Portland that Ooligan Press coordinator Dennis Stovall has been accepted into the Fulbright Specialist Program, which places innovative educators for visits at schools around the world. Stovall, formerly the publisher at Blue Heron Publishing, started the masters degree program in publishing at Portland State University ten years ago. A unique aspect of the PSU program is that the students operate their own in-house publishing company, Ooligan Press. As far as we know, no other university publishing program offers that. We asked Stovall a few questions:
What brought you to the publishing program at PSU, and what was your publishing experience before Ooligan? I started the publishing program and Ooligan Press after being hired in July 2001. Before that, I was publisher of Blue Heron Publishing, which I founded in the mid-80s with my wife, Linny. I got into publishing by way of my freelance writing career, when I found myself producing books for clients and became totally enamored of the process. That was in Pittsburgh. When we returned home to Portland and I was getting my freelancing rolling again, I learned that my market research was in high demand by other writers here. After giving it away, I decided to turn it into a book. Writer’s Northwest Handbook was born, as was Media Weavers, which soon became Blue Heron.
How many students are now involved in the program, and what is the graduation rate? There are 120 graduate students working toward an MA/MS in Writing/Publishing. The first class of eight graduated in 2003, so growth has been rapid and steady. As of the first of this year, 215 students had earned the degree.
How many graduates are still in the business? Where are they and what are they doing? Even with the lousy economy, students have found work, though it hasn’t been as easy. Their strength is that they’re so broadly and deeply trained that they can shoot for positions above entry level. Some go directly into management, and many have discovered that the kit of skills required of a publishing generalist simply have to be renamed to get one hired in other industries. But most grads want to work in publishing, and most also want to stay in Portland; that’s tougher. Nevertheless, they’re making it work.Quite a few businesses, from publishing houses and literary agencies to design firms and marketing groups, have been formed by former students. Recent graduates are working all over the world, from Chemeketa CommunityCollege, Literary Arts, Beyond Words, OHSU Library, Marylhurst College, TimberPress, Tin House Books, U.S. Bank, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and PSU here in Portland; to Bellevue College and Groundwire in Seattle; to Random House and Routledge in New York City; to Hawaii Community College; Benchmark EniroAnalytical in Sarasota, FL; Dark Horse Comics in San Francisco; Ashgate Publishing Company in Vermont; the French Institute Alliance Francaise in France; and Yennjin College in Korea.
How many books have been published under the Ooligan imprint, and who handles distribution? We’re doing some shuffling right now, but we’re at about 24 books in print and we’re publishing four to six new books annually, with one being YA and one poetry, with the others open, though we emphasize NW connections. Ooligan is distributed by Ingram Publisher Services.
Have you worked with other schools to develop similar programs, or do you hope that’s what will come of this Fulbright opportunity? One of my areas of expertise is classroom publishing, i.e., using publishing as curriculum to teach anything at any grade level from kindergarten through university. So, yes, I hope that my Fulbright opportunity can put that knowledge to good use. On the university level, the sad truth is that publishing is being pushed aside, but that’s where the institutions have to underwrite the program. We’re lucky because the model I’ve built not only supports itself, but contributes handsomely to PSU. There are several universities trying to figure out how to do this, but so far none has done it.
Do you have any idea what you will be doing as a Fulbright Specialist? Do you expect to do some teaching, or general presentations about Ooligan and the PSU program, or is it totally up in the air? To some degree, it’s up in the air. It’s my responsibility to arrange the opportunities, and I’m already casting my net. Actually, I was doing that before learning of the Fulbright, which suddenly makes it all easier. There are a number of areas in which I can lecture or consult—all related to writing, publishing, literacy, and teaching—but my approach will be tailored to specific sites and refined in my negotiations with them.