April 29, 2024

After a 14-year hiatus, Susquehanna University is celebrating the relaunch of its press with the announcement of its premier publication, Practice for Becoming a Ghost, a collection of short stories by author and alumnus Patrick Thomas Henry.

Founded in 1944, Susquehanna University Press, or SU Press, was established through a donation from Dr. Frederic Brush, an author, philanthropist and physician who, between 1946 and 1956, published three books of essays and poems with the press, taking a particular interest in forestry, conservation and preserving the literature and lore of the Susquehanna River Valley. In 1981, the press partnered with Associated University Presses, a publishing company that handled all production, marketing, distribution, legal and financial responsibilities. When AUP ceased production in 2010, SU Press went on indefinite hiatus.

“The slashed budgets and operational contraction of university presses across the U.S. in the 2010s led to the closure of a good number of smaller presses, including ours,” said Laurence Roth, Charles B. Degenstein professor of English and co-department head of the Department of English & Creative Writing. “But the SU Press was always valued in our department and by the administration for its potential as a teaching-learning vehicle. It opened up a real opportunity for us.”

Today’s SU Press is a unique collaboration between Susquehanna’s Department of English & Creative Writing and the Sigmund Weis School of Business, with the work of the press built into the curriculum, said Jessica Masterton, assistant professor of publishing and media entrepreneurship and director of SU Press.

“In the traditional university press model, the operation is often run by faculty or by a staff person who doesn’t have a lot of face time with students,” she said. “What sets SU Press apart is its integral role in the curriculum for publishing & editing majors, engaging students in all facets of operating a small press.”

The SU Press course, also known as ENG 370, seeks to bridge the gap between the creative and business sides of the publishing industry. Students gain real-world experience in copy editing, proofreading, cover design, typesetting, web development, marketing, management, accounting and strategic planning. Meanwhile, students taking Principals of Marketing, a business course, have developed and presented marketing plans to be put into action upon the book’s availability in August.

During the fall 2023 semester, students in SU Press collaboratively copy edited Of the Throat with Henry. The title is one of the 16 short stories included in his Practice for Becoming a Ghost. Since then, the students have been printing and hand-binding the short story into mini books that are currently available for purchase from SU Press.

Whereas the original SU Press published scholarly books, today’s SU Press will publish works of fiction, nonfiction and poetry written by Susquehanna alumni, authors who are connected to Susquehanna in some way or regional authors.

About Patrick Thomas Henry

Patrick Thomas Henry '08 speaks at the SU Press launch party. Patrick Thomas Henry '08 speaks at the SU Press launch party.After graduating from Susquehanna in 2008 with dual bachelor’s degrees in creative writing and political science, Henry went on to earn a master’s degree in English literature from Bucknell University, a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Rutgers University-Newark and a doctorate in English from George Washington University. He is currently the fiction and poetry editor for Susquehanna’s Modern Language Studies journal and is an assistant professor and coordinator of creative writing at the University of North Dakota.

Practice for Becoming a Ghost contains 16 stories that tread the line between the real and the fantastic, conjuring the ghosts that haunt both our past and our present. From Washington, D.C., to rural Pennsylvania to the 19th century Irish countryside, the stories in this collection grapple with grief and the fundamental truth that the act of living is always, inevitably, practice for becoming a ghost.

“During the early days of the COVID pandemic, I noticed that most of the work I was publishing and drafting kept returning to the same questions — questions of loneliness, of grief, of isolation, of who we are in these vulnerable moments,” Henry said. “The stories draw on my upbringing in Pennsylvania, my interest in ghost stories and fabulism, my fascination with pop culture and even my scholarly interests in British modernism.”

Winner of the 2022 Northeast Modern Language Association Creative Writing Book Award, the collection also is a semifinalist in the 2023 Iron Horse Literary Review First Book Prize.

‘A bit of home’

Henry said the process of working with Susquehanna’s SU Press students has been electrifying.

“Seeing a new generation of Susquehanna students receive that same, hands-on experience that I did has been one of the deepest joys of working with Jess and the current SU Press students,” Henry said. “The whole process has been electrifying, especially watching — sometimes in real-time — as Jess and her students energetically take on the publishing process and promote the press and its work.”

Having worked for literary journals and university presses, and volunteered for indie presses, Henry said he always knew he wanted to publish his first book through a similar venue. That that would come through a relaunched SU Press has made his accomplishment even more special.

“Even though I’m far away in North Dakota, working with the SU Press has made me feel like I always have a bit of home with me, wherever I go,” he said. “This has been an extraordinary privilege for me as an alum, because it means that a milestone in my creative career also helps provide today’s SU students with the innovative, experiential learning that was so important to my time at SU.”

A press for the 21st century

SU Press celebrated its relaunch and Henry’s award-winning book with an event at Susquehanna’s Downtown Center that featured preorders for Practice for Becoming a Ghost and sales of the press’ hand-bound mini books, as well as activities pulled from Henry’s short stories, such as tarot card readings. The press’ second title has not yet been chosen.

Roth said the transformation of SU Press serves as a prime example of the vital synthesis between academic learning and real-world professional involvement within the classroom setting.

“The inevitable resurgence of university presses as more nimble and technologically innovative publishers serving a crucial part of the publishing market meant that there was both room and demand for the sort of hybrid independent press that Dr. Masterton has developed,” Roth said. “In other words, the SU Press isn’t just another project-based class. It’s also a professionalizing experience that places our publishing & editing students at the forefront of the experimentation and reimagination of the university press for the 21st century.”