women reading books

ASU Now launches Sun Devil Shelf Life

By

Emma Greguska

Arizona State University abounds with academics who are also authors — often prolific ones — and their publications range from research-backed guides to literary works to theoretical explorations. So wouldn’t it be great if there was a one-stop shop where you could go to see who’s writing about what?

Now there is.

Sun Devil Shelf Life, a new resource for readers and writers, is an online platform that serves as a database for the myriad publications written by members of the ASU community, including faculty, staff and alumni.

Publications are searchable by author name, subject and genre. Listings provide a synopsis, author bio, publication information and details on where to find or purchase a copy (including links to the ASU Library when available). Those who wish to submit their publications to be included in Sun Devil Shelf Life should contact the communications officer of their college or unit.

Given the size of ASU and the breadth of academic fields, such a tool is extremely useful.

“[ASU] is so big that it can be really hard to know what everybody’s doing, to always have your finger on the pulse,” said Julia Himberg, assistant professor of film and media studies.

Her first book, “The New Gay for Pay: The Sexual Politics of American Television Production” — an examination of how television production influences societal notions of sexuality — became available in January. She’s looking forward to using Sun Devil Shelf Life to learn more about the work of others around her.

“I think this is an incredibly valuable resource for faculty and students to learn about each other because it’s such an important aspect of community building,” she said. “And I think ASU really believes in that.”

ASU alumni Fernando Pérez, an assistant professor at Bellevue College, and Tayari Jones, a professor at Rutgers, also have books released this year: “A Song of Dismantling: Poems,” and “An American Marriage: A Novel,” respectively.

All three authors shared with ASU Now the inspiration behind their books and the value of writing in addition to their other academic duties.

Julia Himberg

The New Gay for Pay: The Sexual Politics of American Television Production
University of Texas Press, 2018

Question: What was the inspiration behind this book?

Answer: I felt like what I did in my dissertation was a great lesson for me in how to undertake a big project, but I wanted to take that further and say something different in a book. And I didn’t want to just write it for the sake of writing a book. I wanted to fill a gap in the scholarship and speak to some issues that I didn’t think were being talked about by other scholars around sexual identity and gender identity, especially LGBT identities and how television has a major role in how people understand social change.

Q: Why do you feel it’s important to write in addition to teaching and other scholarly work?

A: It challenges your mind in different ways. So for me, the challenge of teaching is that you’re essentially breaking down existing knowledge, trying to make it relevant, digestible and interesting to students. That’s an incredible challenge. Writing and doing research is the opposite; it’s about building knowledge. You’re going from the ground up versus going from the top down.

The other thing is that the two of them go hand in hand much more than people realize. I think many professors would agree that their interactions with students in the classroom often greatly influence their research and writing. Students raise important questions and criticisms. I don’t know that students are often thanked enough for their impact on professors’ work. 

Q: Do you have any advice for academics on balancing their other duties with the huge undertaking of writing a book?

A: It is so hard. I had papers and books spread out everywhere. I was in chaos. There were tears involved. I had to separate teaching and writing completely. The days I taught were completely dedicated to teaching. It’s very rewarding when you have a great class session, but it’s really hard to feel satisfaction day in and day out writing a book that takes years. So it’s really tempting to spend all your time doing a fabulous job just preparing for class. I had to be really disciplined about separating those two things. On days when I wasn’t teaching, I was writing. And I had a plan of what to write that day. When you don’t have an agenda, it becomes too overwhelming; you have to break it into pieces. 

Tayari Jones

An American Marriage: A Novel
Algonquin/Workman, 2018

Q: What was the inspiration behind this book?

A: I overheard a couple arguing in a mall. The woman said, “Roy, you wouldn’t have waited on me for seven years.” I always feel like I have a novel when both characters have a legitimate point. At the time, I was at Harvard researching incarceration, but I was getting nowhere with my novel because I had a problem but no people. Once I had people, the novel snapped into focus.

Q: Why is writing important to you?

A: Particularly with fiction writers, I feel like we make the record of the intimate lives of our society. That’s where the real truth is. 

Q: While at ASU, you had the chance to work with Ron Carlson and Jewell Parker Rhodes. What was that like?

A: It was a really informative moment for me. [Carlson’s] advice was: Write about people and their problems; don’t write about problems and their people.

Q: Do you have any advice for writers?

A: My advice to people trying to write is this: You can do it. It may take you a long time. A lot of people feel like they need to write every day. That’s not true. My advice is try to write three hours a week. When other people are at the gym, you can write.

It took me six years to write this book. There were times I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish. What I learned is that patience is an important part of writing. You can’t force it. You have to be patient and have faith (in) the story. It’s almost like waiting for the story to meet you. The bus may not come today, but you need to sit at the bench until it does. You’ll get rained on. There will be some not-so-nice people there. But the bus will come. 

Fernando Pérez

A Song of Dismantling: Poems
University of New Mexico Press, 2018

Q: What was the creative process for this book like? 

A: “A Song of Dismantling” has been a work in progress since the MFA program [at ASU]. It looks nothing like my thesis, but at the same time so much stems from those same roots. I kept adding and revising and taking away poems. I enjoyed printing the manuscript draft out from time to time to hold it and look at it and edit it on paper instead of just on my laptop. I kept shuffling the order, and what I loved to do was something that [ASU Regents' Professor] Norman Dubie and Tito had suggested, which was to spread the manuscript out on the floor and tape it to a wall, just like a storyboard. 

Q: Why do you write? 

A: I first write for myself, to explore ideas/problems/obsessions. But I also write to play with language. Recently I have come to understand the writing and sharing of poetry as a kind of generosity. I am starting to embrace the idea that what is simultaneously happening is that I am writing for others too. I am giving voice and validation to an experience. In some ways we help people who cannot put what they experience in words; we help them feel as though we have put them right there in that moment of empathy. Poetry is empathy.

Q: Why do you think it’s important to practice what you teach?

A: I think it's about staying relevant. I would be writing and publishing anyway. The fact that I "do" and teach is a bonus for the school and my students, I guess. They seem to like [my class]. Maintaining a boundary for writing poetry is very important as a teacher. I have to say "no" to certain people or requests sometimes. 

Q: What tips would you give to emerging writers/poets?

A: Be vulnerable. First with yourself, in the privacy of your own writing; get out of your own way. Don't compare yourself to others. You are on your own journey. Look to learn from others, but do not compare. Read a lot. 

I make my students submit their poems at the end of the quarter. I want them to get used to rejection. Publishing is certainly about the quality of one's work, but it’s also just a numbers game. Eventually someone is going to publish your work. Even bad writers have places to publish, too. There’s room for everyone. I'd just say to be persistent. The world of publishing is a reflection of your peers in the field. Their rejection or acceptance of your work can be a gentle guide.

Sun Devil Shelf Life is a growing resource; check in over time as more entries are added. All members of the ASU community, past and present, are welcome; those who wish to submit their publications to be included in Sun Devil Shelf Life should contact the communications officer of their college or unit.