As part of our ongoing Editor Spotlight Series, we connected with UC Press Executive Editor Naomi Schneider to talk about her list and how she spots the right projects and authors. A long-time editor at the Press, Naomi has had the chance to develop an impressive Sociology list, and even create her own imprint. As a special treat, Naomi gives us a preview in the video below of one of her many talents — limerick-writing!
You have been an editor at UC Press for many years. How has your approach evolved over this time?
If you want to develop an exciting, eclectic list, you have to reach out to potential authors constantly. Those of us who’ve been at this for some time have extensive networks that direct people our way sometimes, but our job is to go beyond what comes to us and to seek out the most exciting writers, scholars, and activists around in new ways.
For instance, a few years ago, I started following a lawyer on Twitter whose tweets about issues of free speech, civil liberties, and the Muslim ban intrigued me. I ended up messaging him through Twitter about writing a book. We started a dialogue that had a few twists and turns: The first idea, an edited volume, went to Cambridge. Then I suggested he write a trade book as well. Khaled Beydoun delivered a manuscript entitled American Islamophobia that came out a few years ago and is now finishing a manuscript about Islamophobia around the world, from India to France and beyond. In my mind, Khaled is also a model of the scholar-activist who has been on the front line of Arab-American civil-rights work during this fraught moment.
For every 10 people I contact, perhaps half get back to me, and if there is one possible project that emerges from those 10 contacts, I’ve hit a home run.
Over the years I’ve developed more confidence in my voice within the Press and as an executive editor bringing in important, provocative, sometimes controversial voices speaking out on a range of issues, from abortion politics to the future of work to Black perspectives of class and race.
It’s handy to be voraciously curious about the world at large when trying to acquire: Reading The New York Times, digging into The Nation, Jezebel, The Intercept, or Contexts, scrolling through Twitter, to say nothing of reading nonfiction books as well as novels — it’s all homework for me. I like to joke with my colleagues that if you find me at my desk looking at Twitter, I’m actually working.
What drives your approach as editor? How do you help authors frame their work for a wider audience?
Publishing books has enabled me to combine my intellectual and political passions. I’m a nerd/leftist who still feels, naïvely perhaps, that books can change the world. The list I’ve developed reflects my commitment to publishing books that can shape conversations, and mold our understanding of key issues. This has given me a way to express myself as an intellectual and as an activist in ways that I didn’t feel I would be able to do as an academic.
My list speaks out on important issues, sometimes in controversial ways, whether it be on reproductive justice, gender politics, queer identity, free speech, class, or race. I didn’t move to Berkeley to be a shrinking violet or even to play by the rules all the time.
I work closely with trade authors to make sure they are writing for that ideal reader — perhaps the Upper West Sider who reads juicy, substantive books. Often it involves helping academics oriented to writing for colleagues to aim their prose at a larger, more eclectic audience. I work with authors to develop an exciting thesis and to craft a narrative arc in which each chapter builds the argument. Often, as we all know, the first chapter is the toughest to write, and I provide my own secret patented formula for how to organize it. Also, I ask them to employ vivid, non-jargony language, to use vignettes in chapter openings, and to write endings that segue into the next chapter. There’s a to and fro that can be tremendously energizing as people develop new literary muscles in presenting their writing.
How does the Naomi Schneider imprint represent your focus as an editor?
As someone who considers herself a scholar-activist who has sought to bring underrepresented, political voices to the fore, I’m thrilled to have an imprint focused on social justice and human rights. The late Sheila Levine, editorial director at UC Press, made that happen. She fostered my work for years and then approached me with the idea of an imprint to give more heft to my program and to tout even more loudly the kinds of books that UC Press publishes.
UC Press is a progressive publisher on the West Coast at the best public university system in the world, and we wear that mantle proudly. I see my imprint in conversation with my colleagues’ books and our list at large: Together our books pack a wallop! In addition to including Paul Farmer in my imprint, I’ve had the honor of publishing the Nobel laureate Jody Williams’s memoir; path-breaking scholarship on the politics of race by Aldon Morris; cultural analysis by Marcus Hunter and Zandria Robinson, a deep dive into Uberland by Alex Rosenblat and a chronicle of our (obscene) treatment of refugees kids over the last decades, by the legal scholar Phil Schrag.
In the last months I’ve just published the last book that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg participated in before her passing. The book was coauthored by Justice Ginsburg’s former clerk, Amanda Tyler, and contains a vivid range of materials, from a long conversation between the two women to the key decisions chosen by Justice Ginsburg, to a few speeches that were very special to her. Needless to say, I feel honored to be associated with this book which appears in a series I’m collaborating on with the Dean of Berkeley Law, Erwin Chemerinsky.
What books and initiatives highlight the directions you want to pursue in sociology?
I’m excited about the new directions that scholars of color and underrepresented minorities are bringing to us. I’m focused on bringing these scholars, journalists, and activists to our list. I’m jazzed by the success of a coterie of a group of Black women scholars that I’ve published recently. For instance, Celeste Watkins-Hayes’ Remaking a Life: How Women Living with AIDS/HIV Confront Inequality has just been awarded the Distinguished Scholarly Book Award by the American Sociological Society, and Danielle Raudenbush’s Health Care Off the Books: Poverty, Illness and Survival in Urban America has won the C. Wright Mills Award. Other authors that have received prominent awards include Dawn Dow, Orly Clerge, Adia Wingfield, Rocio Rosales and Laura Enriquez. Aldon Morris is President of the ASA this year, Cecilia Menjivar is an upcoming Vice President and Mignon Moore was just elected Vice President. I’m so proud of this diverse and outstanding group of authors.
My program has long focused on issues of gender disparities, racial faultlines and class inequalities and I continue to dig deep in this area. I’m doubling down on bringing more underrepresented, traditionally marginalized voices to my program and showcasing new generations of edgy thinkers and writers.
The future of work is on my mind and I’m very proud of recent titles that include Juliet Schor’s After the Gig: How the Sharing Economy Got Hijacked and How to Win It Back, Alexandrea Ravenelle’s Hustle and Gig: Struggling and Surviving in the Sharing Economy, Erin Hatton’s Coerced: Work Under Threat of Punishment and Alex Rosenblat’s Uberland: How Algorithms Are Rewriting the Rules of Work.
Different facets of work that highlight how gender and racial politics play out are highlighted in Adia’s Wingfield’s Flatlining: Race, Work and Health Care in the New Economy, Aliya Rao’s Crunch Time: How Married Couples Confront Unemployment, Pam Stone and Meg Lovejoy’s Opting Back In: What Really Happens When Mothers Go Back to Work, and two forthcoming books Gaslighted: How the Oil and Gas Industry Shortchanges Women Scientists by Christine Williams and The Trouble With Passion: How Searching for Fulfillment at Work Fosters Inequality by Erin Cech. In a related vein, The Dating Divide: Race and Desire in the Era of Online Romance by Celeste Curington, Jennifer Lundquist and Ken-Hou Lin, explores how class and race continue to create schisms in our intimate lives.
I continue to focus on the challenges of reproductive justice with books like Carol Joffe/David Cohen’s Obstacle Course: The Everyday Struggle to Get an Abortion in America, Reproductive Justice: An Introduction by Rickie Solinger and Loretta Ross and forthcoming titles from Krystale Littlejohn, author of Just Get on the Pill: The Uneven Burden of Reproductive Politics, and from Sara Matthiesen, author of Reproduction Reconceived: Family Making and the Limits of Choice after Roe v. Wade. Paige Sweet’s rigorous work entitled The Politics of Surviving: How Women Navigate Domestic Violence and Its Aftermath is about to appear as well. Of course, the ways that we are thinking anew about gender and identity are key. Authors like Tey Meadow, author of Trans Kids: Being Gendered in the 21st Century, Brandon Andrew Robinson’s Coming Out to the Street: LGBTQ Experiencing Homelessness and future books by Jeff McCune and Marlon Bailey are exciting new contributions in this area.
Our class faultlines are driving our society asunder and Jenn Sherman’s Dividing Paradise: Rural Inequality and the Diminishing American Dream as well as Jenny Stuber’s Aspen and the American Dream: How one Town Manages Inequality in the Era of Supergentrification and Rachel Kimbro’s In Too Deep: Class and Mothering in A Flooded Community.
Our immigration list is outstanding and includes new prize-winning books by Rocio Rosales, Fruteros: Street Vending, Illlegality, and Ethnic Community in Los Angeles, and Laura Enriquez, Of Love and Papers: How Immigration Policy Affects Romance and Family.
What is a fun fact about you that people might find surprising?
I’m addicted to true crime podcasts and have spent a lot of time during the pandemic walking the streets of Berkeley and listening to a variety of shows, from Shittown to Up and Vanished to Somebody Knows Something.
If I’m listening to something riveting, I’ll do onerous work, cleaning closets and coming to terms with my sons’ effluvia buried under their beds despite the fact that neither has lived here for well over a decade!
How can potential authors get in touch with you?
I’m easy to reach at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter, I can be reached at @naomiucpress. Take a chance and write to me.