As part of our ongoing Editor Spotlight Series, we connected with UC Press Executive Editor Niels Hooper to talk about his History, American Studies, and Middle East Studies lists, and how our program has developed over the time he’s worked at the Press. Niels also shares his journey from Oxford to California, and some advice for scholars who are interested in submitting their book ideas.
Read on and watch the video below to find out more about what Niels is looking for and how to connect.
What brought you to UC Press?
I’ve worked in publishing for almost twenty-five years. It’s easy to remember my ‘start’ date because the first book I worked on was the 150th anniversary edition of The Communist Manifesto published at Verso on May Day in 1998 with an introduction from the renowned historian, Eric Hobsbawm. It became an international bestseller, and we won the Benjamin Franklin Award for “Excellence and Innovation in Marketing,” generating headlines across the media for “Marketing Marx.”
I first came to the U.S. for graduate school in history, straight from my history degree at Oxford. At the University of Michigan, I studied African-American history under Robin D.G. Kelley, Earl Lewis, and Elsa Barkley Brown, and the history of sexuality under Carroll Smith-Rosenberg. By early 1997, I was in New York figuring out a dissertation on the racialized and sexualized history of policing. Later in 1997, the NYPD sexually brutalized Abner Louima, and in 1999 they shot Amadou Diallo 41 times for pulling out his wallet, but I didn’t know these things were going to happen.
I needed money and a work visa, and ended up at Verso Books, which was the best possible first job in publishing. I worked directly with my heroes from graduate school, such as Mike Davis, Benedict Anderson, Fredric Jameson, Rebecca Solnit, Michelle Wallace, Kate Millett, Christopher Hitchens, Peter Linebaugh, and Norman Finkelstein. I did all the publicity for Hitchen’s book on Clinton in 1999, No One Left to Lie To, one of several New York Times bestsellers I worked on at Verso.
After becoming the General Manager of Verso Books, I learned of the History Editor job at UC Press, which felt like an opportunity to return to my core interests. It also meant bringing my trade experience to UC Press, while continuing to work at an organization committed to social justice and change.
Relocating to the U.S. west coast was also an intellectual move. I realized that the strength my new geography offered was to decenter both Europe and the U.S. East Coast, and frame U.S. and World History from a perspective informed from the Pacific rim. UC Press already had a strong Asian Studies list, but as the largest publisher West of the Mississippi, we could foreground North American diversity differently from the Black-White paradigm of the East Coast perspectives —including Native-American, Mexican-American, and Asian-American histories. We could also be at the forefront of new directions in studies of empire, settler colonialism, and racial capitalism from our position at the margins of those 19th and 20th century processes. We have both the advantage and responsibility of our location within California to see beyond Eurocentric visions of history, and tell important world and U.S. histories that move from the Pacific world and the American West in the other direction.
You’ve worked at UC Press for many years. How has your focus changed over the years? What kinds of projects are you looking for now?
I have been publishing Middle Eastern and World History, as well as U.S. History and American Studies, since 2004. I find that these areas inform each other in stimulating ways. This has become truer as the U.S.’s War on Terror continues, Muslims in the U.S. are more racialized, and the growth of settler colonialism studies and studies of the U.S. as an empire have brought the U.S. West, the Pacific World, the Middle East, and other parts of the world into comparative focus. Recent books on my list, from Manu Karuka’s Empire’s Tracks to Alex Lubin’s The Never-Ending War on Terror, build on this perspective.
Publishing both World History and U.S. History has given me a unique advantage as American History has become more transnational over the last decade. In U.S. history, books such as Gary Okihiro’s American History Unbound and forthcoming Moon-Ho Jung’s Menace to Empire are a direct result. These disciplinary directions and books have also accomplished another vision I had for our U.S. history program which was reach further back into 18th and 19th century US.
UC Press was at the forefront of the social and cultural turns in history early on, and a pioneer in ethnic and racial studies, as well as labor history and gender studies. We are the publisher of the Martin Luther King Papers, of the Marcus Garvey Papers, and of classics in African-American history like Earl Lewis’ In Their Own Interests and Charles Payne’s I’ve Got the Light of Freedom. Our now decades-old American Crossroads series has helped establish ethnic studies as a respected field, and is still going strong with books like Stuart Schrader’s timely Badges Without Borders, Genevieve Carpio’s Collisions at the Crossroads, Catherine Ramirez’s Assimilation, and George Sanchez’s Boyle Heights.
I also started the new American Studies Now: Critical Histories of the Present series, which includes short, historically-informed books offering expert perspectives on key current affairs issues. These include Barbara Ransby’s Making All Black Lives Matter, Lisa Duggan’s Mean Girl, Julie Sze’s Environmental Justice in a Moment of Danger and many others. While most of the books on my list have strong archival bases, some of the most creative and exciting work in history has an interdisciplinary bent. We’re constantly thinking outside the box and looking for fresh voices.
Over the years, we’ve stuck to our strengths of publishing bold, creative books in ethnic studies, racial formation and racial justice, labor, and gender. Through the Obama years, the public and publishers moved towards a colorblind consensus. Meanwhile, we prioritized racial justice works, with books like Grace Lee Boggs’ The Next American Revolution, and Josh Bloom and Waldo Martin’s Black Against Empire—books that are on the bestseller lists again now. I find myself with new history books that speak loudly to our current crises, such as Joe Darda’s How White Men Won the Culture Wars; Kathleen Belew and Ramon Gutierrez’s Field Guide to White Supremacy; Damon Akins and Willy Bauer’s We Are the Land: A History of Native California; Nobuko Miyamoto’s Not Yo’ Butterfly; The Auntie Sewing Squad Guide to Mask-Making, Radical Care, and Racial Justice; Naomi Paik’s Bans, Walls, Raids, Sanctuary; Laura Briggs’ Taking Children and so many more. I have also published books that develop analyses of racial capitalism from Ruthie Gilmore’s Golden Gulag to Nikhil Singh’s Race and America’s Long War.
I am also looking to expand our history list on sexuality, which includes Daniel Hurewitz’s Bohemian Los Angeles, Nayan Shah’s Stranger Intimacy, Emily Hobson’s Lavender and Red, Martin Duberman’s Has the Gay Movement Failed?, Jack Halberstam’s Trans*, Laura Briggs’ How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics, LaMonda Horton-Stallings’ Dirty South Manifesto, Aaron Lecklider’s Love’s Next Meeting and more.
What’s your favorite thing about being an editor?
I’ve been wonderfully fortunate as an editor to have worked at two mission-driven publishers whose values I believe in. The teams I worked with have been incredibly supportive in valuing the books and authors I want to publish. Because of this, being an editor has given me enormous autonomy over my work. I get to choose the books and the authors I work with. I also get to see my books through every part of the publishing process —sometimes right from the germ of an idea, through the shaping of a manuscript, to its production, title and cover selection, and then the promotions of the book. I think very few jobs in today’s world give workers such control over the end results of their labor. I have always been driven not only to further scholarship, but to push books into the public sphere that will make a positive difference.
I also love being jack-of-all-trades. My authors are the experts on their topic, but editors get to bridge fields. I feel fortunate to go to several large academic conferences as well as various campuses every year, connecting with scholars and writers at the peak of their expertise. This gives me a broad sense of the cutting-edge questions across fields and a role in shaping those directions from area to area.
What’s something surprising people don’t know about you?
After living in several big cities (London, New York, San Francisco), I now live with my husband, who is a chef, in a small mountain town Truckee, not far from where we met at Burning Man. He’s from Mexico, via Canada, and a year before the pandemic he opened a small chef-made food-to-go grocery store in our town. The shop became busier through the pandemic and I’ve been moonlighting as a frontline food worker when he needs extra help. Customers say we’re like David Rose and his husband in Schitt’s Creek, gays with a cute store in a remote town.
How does your approach to working with authors align with the progressive mission at the press? What advice do you have for authors who are submitting to the Press?
Both UC Press and I are very aligned in wanting to publish the best new books by the best new writers —which means constantly questioning unconscious bias in the way we make publishing decisions. We prioritize the quality and originality of the work over what institution authors come from. I actively seek first generation scholars, scholars from underrepresented backgrounds and identities, non-traditional scholars, and scholars working in interdisciplinary fields, as well as scholars at the top of their field. I’m not interested in policing the borders of the discipline of history. I find the most creative work moves beyond these borders into other disciplines and forms of knowledge. I welcome bold, provocative ideas that are clearly expressed, well-evidenced, convincingly argued, and in the public good.
The skill that I find is hardest for new authors is getting to the point quickly. It’s also the most important advice I give for submitting a book idea. It’s a myth that editors spend all their time looking for new books (I wish!). At least 90% of our time is spent on shaping and producing the books we’ve already acquired. So, the quicker I can see what you’re doing—what you’re arguing, why it’s important, and why it’s interesting—the better. In the end, the success of the book will depend on your ability to broadcast these points for book buyers and readers, for review editors, for prize committees, and for instructors to think about teaching it.
How can aspiring authors connect with you?
If you’re interested in connecting about a book idea or just have a question about our program, please feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.