Director’s Cut: It’s a Wonderful Life of Books

cornell-guideI stopped into The Bookery on Tuesday after lunch at The Moosewood Café a few blocks down from our offices at The Sage House here in Ithaca. I discovered a book on Shakespearean actor Sir John Gielgud for $1.00 that I pulled from the discount rack. It referenced a friend of mine from my days in New York City. Ben Edwards lived in Chelsea and was a Broadway set designer. With his hickory-tinged Alabama accent, Ben would hold court over martinis with hints of ice skimming the surface in his brownstone telling stories about Tennessee Williams, Elia Kazan and Gielgud.

I noticed another book as I reached for my wallet. On the table was the “Guide to the Campus of Cornell University” published in 1920. The Cornell Press was on hiatus at the time, reopening in 1933. The trim size and feel of the book resembles our recent title, “The Inauguration of Elizabeth Garrett.” The “Guide” was advertised for fifty cents during its time. In 2015, the price had risen to $15.00. I gladly paid it.

The book contains many entertaining passages about the town and the university. We learn that it took seven hours to reach Ithaca by train from New York City in 1920 in the section entitled, “General Directions for a Stranger.” During the winter an “automobile omnibus plies daily from Elmira to Ithaca.”

There’s a section on “The Infirmary.” The Sage House was once an infirmary that contained “rooms, offices, and rooms for convalescent cases.” There were 75 beds in the house and “the number can be doubled in an emergency.” This is good to know for expansion possibilities.

In the “Biographies” section, Henry Williams Sage receives more than a page of copy for his contributions to Cornell. At the inauguration of the university in 1868 with tears in his eyes he told John McGraw, “We are scoundrels to stand doing nothing while those men are killing themselves to establish this university.”

It’s Christmas Eve 2015, and the Sage House is bustling with activity. It feels like seventy degrees outside. Our editor Roger Haydon is busily preparing manuscripts that will bring accolades to the university in areas that Cornell is known for and others that it is not. Mahinder Kingra is plying metadata as though he is wrapping gold chocolate coins to stuff in stockings. Ange Romeo Hall is readying her desk for another 50 or more titles to be published this Spring. Betty Kim is waiting for me to finish writing this.

In today’s volatile publishing industry, these folks and many others are striving to ensure the long-term survival of the Press. It’s an honor to work with them.

Please support your university press and have a tremendous 2016 filled with exciting literary discoveries.

—Dean Smith, Director

Director’s Cut: It’s a Wonderful Life of Books

Director’s Cut: Voices in the Band

Never Forget the Voices by Dean J. Smith, Director, Cornell University Press

As I read Dr. Susan Ball’s memoir, Voices in the Band, about working in the trenches of the AIDS crisis, I remembered the searing lines from Henri Cole’s poem “Paper Dolls” that was published in The New Yorker in 1995: “Straight as candles/His legs exposed/The eroding candelabrum/That was his body.”

Ball’s account brings back the patients she cared for in all of their tragic beauty. You accompany her on daily rounds and inside the group therapy sessions where doctors were trying any technique possible to deal with a deadly contagion that had become a national health crisis. You learn that many hospitals and doctors didn’t want to deal with these patients. She arrived to find the shoddy work of medical residents who were afraid to touch them.

On some days, she’d had enough:  Continue reading “Director’s Cut: Voices in the Band”

Director’s Cut: Voices in the Band