The University Press and Building Community

For Danny Caine, owner of the Raven Book Store in downtown Lawrence, Kansas, building community is just another part of the job.

“What are we without a community?” Caine asks with a sense of sarcasm. “Of course we’re working to build a community around books.”

In the two years since Caine bought the renowned Lawrence bookstore in 2017, the Raven Book Store and the University Press of Kansas (UPK) have partnered on dozens of author events. Caine is a passionate supporter of independent businesses and works tirelessly to promote companies he feels are fighting the good fight.

“Our relationship with UPK is mutually beneficial,” Caine explains. “We work hard to offer a curated selection of books to our audience, and the press provides the fantastic regional books that many of our customers want. UPK produces the beautiful, thoughtful works we want to put on our shelves, and we know when we host a UPK author that they will attract an engaged crowd.”

Caine’s work to build a literary community in Lawrence has taken an ambitious turn. This summer he announced the inaugural Paper Plains Literary Festival (April 23–26, 2020), featuring poets, novelists, and young adult fiction writers.

“I was confident Lawrence would support the idea of a festival featuring authors and poets,” Caine says. “We’re really excited about the lineup we have coming to town, and the feedback says the community will embrace it.”

Paper Plains will be Lawrence’s first literary festival. UPK has assisted in its planning and is excited to host author Dan Flores (American Serengeti) and a roundtable discussion featuring regional UPK authors.

“It’s great having UPK involved with Paper Plains,” Caine says. “The press has a reputation for producing engaging, challenging work, and we’re excited to have them involved in the festival.”

Much like the work Caine is doing at the Raven, Lawrence Public Library Events Coordinator Kristin Soper is actively working to serve the educated community in Lawrence.

“This is a university town, so we know our audience is expecting well-researched ideas,” Soper says. “Our relationship with UPK is great. Actually really great.”

Soper traces the library’s relationship with UPK back to a single book.

“Really, it was C.J. Janovy’s book (No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas) that spurred our relationship with UPK,” she says. “We hosted two events with C.J. that were really exciting and well-attended, and those were eye-opening for us.”

Soper says a relationship with the University Press of Kansas has helped fill a need.

“Since our first event [with] C.J. Janovy a few years ago, our relationship with UPK has really helped fulfill a need for regional topics,” Soper explains. “The press does a phenomenal job publishing books of regional interest, and we know when we bring in one of their authors we will draw a crowd of engaged, intellectual readers.”

The University Press of Kansas and the Lawrence Public Library have partnered on events ranging from C.J.‘s talk about LGBTQ activism in Lawrence to a local author’s story about his scientific grandfather.

“Our relationship with UPK is great,” Soper said. “Our job at the library is to serve our community, and working with the press and their authors has been a tremendous benefit for both of us. We get to bring in intelligent, thoughtful authors who have written great books, and the press gets to build their brand within the Lawrence community.”

 

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Author Events Calendar

Upcoming events for UPK authors…

01/29/18 – C.J. Janovy celebrates Kansas Day by discussing No Place Like Home at the Lawrence Public Library. 7:00 pm More info…

01/29/18 – George Frazier (The Last Wild Places of Kansas) is the featured presenter at the Washburn University Center for Kansas Studies’ Annual Kansas Day Lecture. 2:00 PM More info…

01/30/18 – Mark Harvey (Celebrity Influence) presents “Politics of the Rich and Famous: The Influence of Celebrities on Politics” at Johnson County Community College. 7:00 pm More info…

02/08/18 – Charles Calhoun (The Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant) discusses Grant’s endeavors in a variety of areas, including Reconstruction and civil rights, economic policy, the Peace Policy for Native Americans, foreign affairs, and civil service reform. 6:45 pm at The Smithsonian. More info…

02/10/18 – George Frazier (The Last Wild Places of Kansas) visits the Breidenthal Woods south of Lawrence, KS at the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center. 1:00 pm More info…

02/19/18 – Robert Rebein (Headlights on the Prairie) visits the Lawrence Public Library to discuss his memoir about growing up in Dodge City, Kansas. 7:00 pm More info…

02/21/18 – Robert Rebein (Headlights on the Prairie) stops by the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Public Library to discuss his memoir about growing up in Dodge City, Kansas. 6:30 pm More info…

02/22/18 – Robert Rebein (Headlights on the Prairie) is a featured speaker at the 2018 the Kansas Author Dinner in Wichita, Kansas. 5:45 pm More info…

An Ode to the Independents

img_8305Our press is located in Lawrence, Kansas.

The university town has long been a regional center for independent, free-thinking. Before Kansas was a state, Lawrence was ground zero for the abolitionist movement in the territory. After statehood, when a pack of guerilla bandits crossed the border from Missouri and burned most of the town to ashes, Lawrence dusted itself off, and got back to living its independent life.

We are proud to be supported by two outstanding independent bookstores. The Raven Bookstore and the KU Bookstore are vastly different operations, but share a common vision of supporting authors, readers and a fierce passion for getting the job done their way.

The Raven sits on a side street just off Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence. If you close your eyes and picture a quaint bookstore, chances are you’ll imagine The Raven. Old wood floors creak with each step and the store is full, floor-to-ceiling, with books. The shop has a reputation for stocking the best mystery novels available, but also carries a full line of non-fiction, best-seller, children and regional books.

Heidi Raak has operated The Raven Bookstore for 9 years (the store has been a staple for Lawrence readers since 1987). An independent store since its inception, Raak has weathered (and continues to weather) the changes in the marketplace.

img_8308“Obviously our biggest competition isn’t another store in town, but the internet,” Raak says with a matter-of-fact tone. “We have to overcome the ease of buying a book online with great customer service and knowledge. I think the atmosphere of the store and the experience of shopping for a book is a big draw. There’s something about picking up a book and holding it that is special. You can’t get that online.”

Raak works hard to create an environment around the store that keeps people interested. The Raven hosts countless book launches, readings and parties with authors. Those events bring people to the store and help establish the staff as go-to resources.

“We understand we’re part of a community,” Raak explains. “We support local artists and well-represented authors. We’re proud to carry books by the (University) Press. We appreciate the support Lawrence gives us, and we work hard to be the best, most-welcoming bookstore in town.”

img_8317Up the hill from The Raven, on the north edge of the University of Kansas campus, the KU Bookstore fills most of the 2nd floor of the Kansas Union. The store is one of only a handful of bookstores serving a major university that operate independent of the university.

“We are completely independent of the University of Kansas,” explains Jen O’Connor, store director. “We have no affiliation or obligation to the university. In addition, we are an operating non-profit, which helps us serve the students of KU more effectively.”

The great majority of university bookstores are operated by a larger, national bookstore. When asked to name other independent stores serving universities, O’Connor struggles to name more than two or three.

“I know there are more, but  honestly, not many,” she says with a laugh. “We are independent of the University but Student Affairs has oversight of the KU Memorial Union, of which we are a part.”

Much like The Raven, the KU Bookstore puts a lot of effort into bringing students, and the Lawrence community, into the store with events. O’Connor estimates they host one or two unique events a week either at the store or somewhere on campus.

“We have to stay relevant to the students,” she explains. “We know these students have a lot of options and we work hard to be their first choice. Luckily, not a lot of outlets carry every textbook they need.”

Because the store is a non-profit, they can often offer very competitive prices on trade, text and consumer books. In fact, almost half of the store’s sales are books or products not for a class.

“We don’t have to answer to sales numbers or investors,” O’Connor says. “We have to pay the bills and keep the lights on. That gives us a great opportunity to stay competitive on price – which is a big, big help.”

 

“An Ode to the Independents” is our contribution to University Press Week blog tour. Be sure to check out posts by the University of Texas Press, the University of Chicago Press,  Cornell University Press, University Press of Colorado, NYU Press  and our friends at the University Press of Kentucky.

Rock Chalk Jayhawk

9780700621187Just in time for The University of Kansas’ sesquicentennial anniversary, John L. Rury and Kim Cary Warren offer, “Transforming the University of Kansas:  A History, 1965-2015.”  The book reflects upon the people, politics, and developments that have transformed KU–making it the distinctive institution of higher learning that it is today.  Luminaries like Dick Bond, Bernadette Gray-Little, Mandy Patinkin, Rob Riggle, The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius, Bill Self, Delbert M. Shankel, David Shulenberger, and more offer reflections on the book, for example:

“When I think of KU, I’m young again.

It was the last place my father saw me do what I love to do: perform.

It gave me great teachers and lifelong friends.

It was a place that taught, supported and encouraged me to pursue what I loved

And it was the first place I fell in love.

I don’t know what more a person of any age could ask for.

Rock. . . chalk. . . Jay. . . hawk. . . K. . . you. . . ooo. . . K. . . you. . . ooo.”

–Mandy Patinkin, Tony® Award-winning and Emmy®-Award-winning actor