Monday, May 17, 2010

Letter from Richard Ford to the Provost of SMU

The following letter to SMU Provost Paul Ludden comes via email from SMU Press. Ludden recently made an abrupt announcement that SMU Press would close its doors in June, touching off a raft of letters from writers who know and value the press's reputation for publishing excellent literary fiction. Among those who have voiced protest to Ludden is Richard Ford:

To Provost Ludden,
You know the argument: the arts and humanities are always the last in the lifeboat, and the first to be kicked out in a crunch. And no one argues there's no crunch in the society, in the culture, in the budget of your university. But the decision to close the SMU press is not an abstracted headline, it's not a line-item, it's not an acceptable loss, and the University (which has time and facility and support-budget for a new Presidential Library) simply ought not do it, if it wishes to maintain its status as a great University. Put most poignantly, how much is it costing SMU to support the Press? This, versus what the University achieves in prestige by giving a home to a vibrant press whose important cultural mission is be the publisher of new creative work -- the life-blood of the nation's imagination -- at a time when larger New York-based trade publishers are more and more reneging on their responsibilities. The answer is -- and you know this -- that you don't win back much money, in contrast to what the University, the larger university community, and the reading public unrescuably lose. When you look around your university, as you do, I wonder what forces are acting on you that cause a decsion to close the SMU Press to seem wise? Does it seem like a smart reallocation of your resources? Or is it just an easy one, a no-brainer, that'll cause you little strife in the doing? I think I know, and I think you know. The arts and the humanities -- which is what the SMU Press is all about -- are the soft tissue of any great Republic's, any great State's vitality. It's easy to overlook it, easy to think there's a never-ending storage of it, easy to think it'll replenish itself no matter what bad circumstances it endures. But that simply isn't true. Once it's gone -- and SMU is a University that prides itself on its staunch traditions -- it's gone for good. And gone with it is that crucial vitality, that grace note, that non-essential-seeming institution that asks important questions, the stirs lively debate, the gives new voices a chance, that supports Texas's claim as a place where literature and the arts can flourish. I fervently ask that you keep the SMU Press alive at SMU. It's worth it to everybody.

Richard Ford

photo credit: Crain