In 2012 the MA in Writing and Publishing program used a grant from the Vincentian Endowment Fund to launch a new venture, the Outreach Press.
"We want to give our students as much practical experience as possible,” says Michele Morano (associate professor and director of the MA program). "Outreach Press brings the real world into our coursework."
Outreach Press is a three-course series: pre-production (editing a manuscript) taught this year by Chris Green, an instructor in the English department; production (printing the manuscript) taught this year by Jonathan Messenger of FeatherProof press, a small high-quality Chicago publisher; and post-production (launching and promoting a book) taught this year by Miles Harvey, an assistant professor in the English department. Students can take all three courses or pick-and-choose.
“At the end of the sequence, they have something they can hold in their hands — a real book they’ve brought to print,” says Harvey. “That’s important, personally and professionally.”
“The intent of the press is to publish, once a year, a work that has both literary quality and a service component,” says Green. “Our first book choice was easy —‘How Long Will I Cry? Voices of Youth Violence’ — a collection of narratives gathered by students in Miles Harvey’s oral history writing class.”
“I became interested in youth violence in Chicago after the murder of Derrion Albert on the South Side in 2009,” explains Harvey. “I thought it would be a great idea to capture first-person stories, the thoughts and feelings of people affected by youth violence in Chicago — victims, parents, peers, gang members. As my students interviewed people in the community, it became apparent early on that the material was very strong, very moving.”
“The narratives are powerful, each voice distinctive,” says Green. “In the editing process, we maintained the integrity of speakers who describe a world most people can barely imagine.”
“The idea of ‘giving voice’ to one who isn’t heard otherwise — that was a perfect fit for Outreach Press, a perfect chance to move our Vincentian mission from the ideal to the real,” adds Morano.
Harvey is also adapting the narrative for the stage.
“Last year, I was having coffee with Hallie Gordon, the Artistic and Educational Director of Steppenwolf for Young Adults,” he recalls. “She proposed that the theater perform some of the stories and then take the show into neighborhoods as part of ‘Now is the Time,’ a citywide initiative to inspire Chicago’s young people to stop violence. We’ll provide free books, not just at Steppenwolf but also at the community presentations. And we’re getting copies into the hands of librarians and high school teachers, along with study guides.
“The narratives draw attention to a problem that must be solved. At the same time, working on the project changed how our students thought about their own writing — it broadened their perspective, and that’s important in the creative process.”
“An authentic publishing experience for our students, outreach and service learning, free books for the community — that’s what Outreach Press is all about,” adds Green. “We’re not creating ‘the’ DePaul press, but rather ‘a’ DePaul press. The service component is an unusual idea for a press: we’re trying to accomplish a lot of different things.”
According to Morano, “Outreach Press says, ‘Here’s what we do. At DePaul, a press looks like this.’ Because we’re not burdened with a for-profit business model, our students are getting a ‘perfect world’ experience.”
Keeping the press alive requires a new book project each year, as well as a new source of funding. “Right now, prospective students are really taken with the press,” says Morano. “I am really excited about this experiment.”