Faculty Book Manuscript Workshop Program helps faculty revise projects for publication

By Sarah Rogers // January 2, 2018

It may sound intimidating to walk into a room where up to fifteen people, among them experts in your field, are waiting to deliver critiques of your book-in-progress, but according to Duke faculty members Kimberly Lamm and James Chappel, the experience is well worth it.

After her book manuscript workshop, Lamm says, “I felt pretty galvanized right away. I had a strong sense of what I wanted to do.”

An expert commentator convinced Lamm, Associate Professor in the Program of Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, to stake out an explicitly feminist argument in her book, Addressing the Other Woman: Textual Correspondences in Feminist Art and Writing, forthcoming in February 2018 from Manchester University Press as part of its Rethinking Art’s Histories series.

The Franklin Humanities Institute Faculty Book Manuscript Workshop Program provides Duke faculty with constructive, informed criticism on a near-final book manuscript project. Originally funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (from 2008-2015), and now funded by Duke, the program allows faculty to invite two experts in their field and an acquisitions editor from a major scholarly press to campus. During a half-day workshop, these guests present their thoughts on the manuscript, followed by a response from the author and discussion with a broader group of invited faculty from Duke and other universities in the Triangle.

The FHI handles all logistics--issuing invitations to guests, making travel arrangements, printing and distributing manuscripts to workshop participants, and ordering catering. This allows faculty to focus on finishing their manuscripts in the months approaching the workshop.

James Chappel, Hunt Family Assistant Professor of History at Duke University, adapted his book Catholic Modern: The Challenge of Totalitarianism and the Remaking of the Church (forthcoming February 2018, Harvard University Press) from his dissertation. He credits the workshop with helping him to conceptualize the necessary revisions ahead.

“I came away knowing I needed to rewrite parts of the book with certain principles in mind,” he says. “A lot of people rush books out that are too much like the dissertation. I’m much prouder of the book than I was before.”

Chappel felt that his workshop brought together a community of scholars who cared about the book and wanted to see how it evolved. “I was able to write to them later and ask for advice. One expert commentator shared some unpublished work that became crucial to the project.”

The workshop may also streamline the book towards publication by connecting authors with a university press editor. “It was incredibly valuable having the introduction to the editor,” Lamm says. “It was an interdisciplinary project--art and literature--and it addresses both of those fields in a feminist framework. She understood that and wanted it right from the start.”

But perhaps the most valuable aspect of the workshop, according to Chappel?

“It gives you a deadline to be done with the book,” he says. “No one else is going to give you that deadline.”