Print is not dead

UND’s premier literary journal, North Dakota Quarterly, returns to paper publishing after year-long digital-only run

The North Dakota Quarterly is set for a comback as a print edition in early 2019. Photo by Dima Williams/UND Today.

The North Dakota Quarterly is set for a comback as a print edition in early 2019 after a year-long digital-only run. Photo by Dima Williams/UND Today.

In a time of austerity, how do arts and humanities adapt – and remain relevant?

This inquiry unites a collection of articles in the first print installment of the North Dakota Quarterly (NDQ) in nearly two years, which is to arrive in the first quarter of 2019 alongside new poetry, fiction and essays.

Bill Caraher

William “Bill” Caraher

The premier publication of the University of North Dakota – almost as old as the institution itself – returns to paper, following University-wide budget cuts that greatly impacted every unit on campus, including the College of Arts & Sciences.

For a while, it lived exclusively online – until the journal editorial board negotiated a publishing contract with the University of Nebraska Press (UNP), the largest publisher in the region with more than 30 titles. UNP, based in Lincoln, Neb., handles production, subscriptions and distribution, while UND’s NDQ editors and the editorial board continue to oversee content.

“They know what they are buying,” said William Caraher, the journal’s editor and an associate professor in history at UND. “It is a good partnership for us and it breaks that spiral where if you don’t have funds, you cannot develop ways to attract funding and increase resources.”

“It is a labor of love,”Caraher added, explaining the work is on top of normal University contractual loads. “It is similar to efforts that you see across campus – to keep things of value alive, even in times of fiscal austerity.”

Hardship and hope

Financial hardship hit as student enrollment dipped, a phenomenon higher-education institutions across the country are grappling with.

Meager sums trickled to the Quarterly from a couple of endowments but they were far from enough to cover expenses.

“It is like being in a lake and dying of thirst,” Caraher said.

The editorial board decided to manage existing subscriptions and to develop a digital version of NDQ – but it didn’t give up on print.

“The editorial board and I have always seen the print edition being the definitive edition of the Quarterly,” Caraher said.

So he reached out to different presses until he found a partner in UNP.

“We’re excited to partner with the North Dakota Quarterly,” said Donna Shear, UNP director. “We can use our expertise in editing, production, marketing, and distribution to help expand the audience for NDQ and its excellent content.”

Restoring the subscription roster is a priority for NDQ, which will provide a revenue stream first to UNP and then help sustain the journal. While the publication is anything but starved for good writing, subscriptions will likely also widen the diversity and scope of submissions.

“Our subscribers are at least partly drawn from our pool of submitters so there is kind of reciprocity, which means that our readers and our writers are often similar people,” said Caraher.

North Dakota Quarterly

Even during its shoestring existence, NDQ stood out. Before they ran out of funds, editors published a volume that received recognition as a “notable issue” by the Best American Essays, a yearly anthology of outstanding essays. Photo by Dima Williams/UND Today.

Legacy to maintain  

It was not just the legacy of print that urged the board to seek a new publisher. It was the significance of NDQ as a repository of poetry and prose that can transcend and transform time and place.

Over the last five decades, the journal developed a national and international reputation. Its historic volumes relay the evolution of UND through a prism of literary investigations.

There’s the edition marked by a play by Maxwell Anderson, a UND alum, famed playwright and a Pulitzer laureate. His senior-year satirical play, which appeared on the pages of NDQ at the turn of the century, gathered all the prominent figures that shaped the University in his time.

Then, there’s the “Starcher volume,” Elwyn Robinson’s 25,000-word article on George W. Starcher’s presidency at UND, where he established the Honors program, the vice presidential positions and a string of schools including those for humanities, computer science and aviation.

“The balance between the deep roots in our local place and volumes that deal with complicated issues such as trans-nationalism represent the range of the Quarterly that I find appealing and make me excited to steer the Quarterly in the years to come,” Caraher said.

Even during its shoestring persistence, NDQ stood out. Before they ran out of funds, editors published a volume that received recognition as a “notable issue” by the Best American Essays, a yearly anthology of outstanding essays.

Each year in print, NDQ also achieved another remarkable feat – a testament to its national importance: a place on the shelves of the country’s most prominent university research libraries such as those at Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Michigan.

“It is a just a cultural asset that no amount of money in the future would be able to reconstruct,” said Caraher. “That defines the motivation of the editorial board [to team up with UNP] – to keep something going for our students, our faculty and for the institution.”

Subscribe to North Dakota Quarterly here.