Friday, March 21, 2014

Small press spotlight: new and forthcoming historicals from university presses

If you believe that university presses produce only scholarly academic tomes, you may be surprised to learn that many of them also publish original works of literature including historical novels whose settings reflect the history of their region, or other areas of specialty. Many of them undergo peer-review as part of the publishing process, just as other works from the same press do.

Here's a selection of eight historical novels offered by a variety of university presses in the US and Canada.  I don't know about you, but selecting and typing out these lists means trouble for me, since I ended up putting several of the books in my Amazon cart this afternoon.

Lace-making, the creation of literature, and burgeoning religious conflict feature in this literary novel set in a convent in Granada during Spain's 16th-century Golden Age.  Texas Tech University Press, December 2013.

Biographical fiction featuring Jeanne Dugas, one of the earliest settlers of Ch├ęticamp in Acadia in the late 18th century, when families of French origin such as hers lived under threat from the British.  The author, who specializes in Acadian history, is a descendant of her subject; read more at her website.  Cape Breton University Press, June 2013.

The disaster known as the Great Flood overwhelmed and devastated the industrial city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, on May 31, 1889.  George frames this tragic event around the story of two reporters who interview a 103-year-old survivor about her memories and the plight of her missing twin sister over a century later. University of Pittsburgh Press, April 2014.

In the tradition of current historical novels which bring the wives and lovers of celebrated men into the spotlight comes this new entry set in 1940s California; it centers on Bea Franco, who was immortalized in fiction as Jack Kerouac's "Mexican Girl."  Based on the author's determined research, according to this story from Public Radio International.  University of Arizona Press, August 2013.

The star-crossed love story between an aristocratic spinster and a European-educated physician, a couple of disparate social classes and religious beliefs, plays out in Mexico City just prior to and during the country's revolution.  University of Wisconsin Press, April 2014.

Noted Haitian-American novelist Edwidge Danticat wrote the foreword to her fellow countrywoman's new novel about the early history of Haiti, an island with strong undercurrents of unrest in the mid-18th century. The Rosalie is a slave ship which figures in the personal history of the main character's grandmother, a slave who survived the Middle Passage.  University of Nebraska Press, October 2013.

Washburn, director of graduate studies in the American Indian Studies department at the University of Arizona, situates her third novel on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation in 1969, where Sissy, the sharply intelligent singer and guitar-picker for a band on tour, gets pulled into helping solve a local's murder. University of Arizona Press, February 2014.

Atmospheric and character-centered, this debut novel recounts the trials of a young mother from rural Appalachia in the '40s who has grown up hearing voices; the narrative also loops in the viewpoints of the people who love her.  Mercer University Press, September 2013.


  1. I have read a couple of really good university press books over the years. The hardest thing is finding out about them really, so thanks for highlighting these ones.

    1. I know what you mean. You don't usually see them in stores, so it's hard to discover them unless you're looking. I came across most of these because I got the catalogs in the mail, and others because they were submitted to HNS.

    2. I had heard of the Johnstown Girls and am very interested in checking that one out.

    3. It was set as a direct download on NetGalley recently, so I grabbed it there... not sure if it still is, though.