Published: August 22, 2017
Bruce A. Austin, PhD, director of RIT Press at the Rochester Institute of Technology, makes a living from words, be it writing for – or editing – scholarly reviews and academic texts or in his weekly blog. He’s also been known to enjoy clever word play via email. On the side, he writes about and deals in antiques and is an aficionado of the American Arts and Crafts Movement.
How long have you been at Rochester Institute of Technology and what have you done there?
I began teaching public speaking, small group problem-solving and mass communications at RIT in 1976. Later, I taught everyone’s mouth-watering favorite, the enticingly titled “Quantitative Research Methods.” While holding an endowed professorship, I created a series of international conferences about moving image preservation, access and use – “Fast Rewind: The Archaeology of Moving Images”- and an exhibition and catalog on American Arts and Crafts in Western New York. Later, as chair of the department of communication, we created three undergraduate and one graduate degree programs. Early on, my research focused on the audiences for mediated communications, especially theatrical film audiences; methodologically, I would have been described as one of the “quants.” More recently, I developed a two-gallery exhibition of midcentury ceramics created by Frans Wildenhain and wrote the accompanying catalog. Currently, I’m in my fifth year as director at RIT Press, the institute’s scholarly book publishing enterprise.
Tell us about the kinds of books RIT Press publishes.
We are a not-for-profit university press, and we began in 2001 focused on publishing books associated with printing, design, typography and related subjects. About ten years ago, we broadened our editorial scope to include scholarly research in all academic disciplines, as well as books of regional interest, such as the New York State Museum’s Art for the People: Decorated Stoneware from the Weitsman Collection, which we distribute. Recently we completed a very successful Kickstarter campaign to support republishing an important but out-of-print title – Vignelli: From A to Z – and will soon publish an exact reprint of a pretty obscure Aldous Huxley essay.
We just published a biography of an important American wildlife artist, Arthur Singer, and a chapbook-format profile of Jeannette
Klute and her color photography discoveries, especially the dye transfer color process. Forthcoming is the fourth title in our Comics Monograph series and two museum exhibition catalogs, one on an Abstract Surrealist and the other a quite famous Impressionist. The Press is co-sponsor of the longest running regional annual Antiquarian Book Fair in the United States – this year on September 9 – and we are organizing and sponsoring an April 2018 conference about photography titled PhotoHistory/PhotoFuture.
In my view, today is the best time to be in publishing since Gutenberg. Opportunities are unlimited, resources unparalleled and options unrivaled. I’m perfectly aware of the gloom and doom forecasts; they’re not new, we’ve heard them for the past century. The fundamental requirements for publishing persist: content and customers. And that’s what and who we focus on.
What’s the best part of your job?
Throughout my RIT career, I get to work with bright, talented, creative and ambitious scholars and professionals, and we share a passion for inventing and producing excellence in education, discovery, scholarship and publishing. And I get paid for that. Pretty good gig.
What are you reading – for fun, not for your job – right now?
Kenneth Bindas’s Modernity and the Great Depression, Peter Buse’s The Camera Does the Rest, James Jacobs’ Detached America and the memoir of the “father” of the American shopping mall, Victor Gruen. Although I never read fiction, I just started Richard Russo’s Everybody’s Fool; I got hooked on him with his earlier novel about college professors, Straight Man; every word is accurate and true. Academe, you know, it’s the petri dish for eccentricity and idiosyncrasy; mostly for the better.
In your spare time, you have a side job writing for The New York-Pennsylvania Collector. What do you do for them?
Show coverage, some auction coverage, features and book reviews. I’ve written for them through three publishers and for 30-plus years. I doubt there will be any journalism awards for my work, but it’s a great opportunity and a very nice break from the stiffer, more formal scientific scholarly writing or [shudder] administrative academic reports. And, as a part-time dealer and a collector, writing for the paper matches my interests in the same way as, much earlier, being a movie critic for a radio station dovetailed with my academic interests. It’s another pretty good gig.
Describe, Twitter-style, your forthcoming book marking the tenth anniversary of RIT’s Imagine Festival.
I’m a little worried about intruding on the president’s monopoly. Here it goes: From backstory to front story, four chapters in a photo-heavy hardcover text reveal how the nation’s premiere, interactive innovation and creativity festival drawing 30,000 people annually to RIT’s campus was successfully initiated and now moves into its second decade. Available April 2018.
Baking or cooking?
I’m a very, very good bakery customer and an appreciative restaurant patron. I do not claim an especially sophisticated palate. And am neither a baker nor a chef, for which many are grateful.
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