For nearly 30 years, the American Book Review has been a staple of the literary world, spotlighting books published by independent presses that might otherwise have difficulty reaching a national audience. Now, this award-winning journal will have a new home at the University of Houston-Victoria, thanks to Dr. Jeffrey Di Leo, interim dean of the School of Arts and Sciences.
Founded in 1977 by novelist Ronald Sukenick, ABR was designed to offer a unique model for reviewing books, one edited by writers themselves in an effort to reproduce the interest they took in their peers’ works of fiction, poetry and criticism. This collective approach remained intact while responsibility for producing the journal was assumed by the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1987 and then by Illinois State University in 1995.
Under an arrangement to take effect this year, Di Leo will become co-editor of ABR, bringing the journal to UHV. He will manage a Victoria-based staff that will be responsible for editorial tasks including assignment of reviews; correspondence with publishers, editors and contributors; and development and arrangement of individual issues.
Di Leo has contributed to ABR in the past as a critic, providing reviews on several works of contemporary fiction. He also has extensive experience with journal publication as founder and editor in chief of Symploke, a journal of comparative literature and theory co-published by the University of Nebraska Press and Johns Hopkins University Press. So, when the opportunity arose to take over ABR, he acted quickly to enlist the support of UHV President Tim Hudson and Provost Don Smith in what proved to be a successful bid.
“It’s an honor to be entrusted with the stewardship of a journal I’ve admired for so long,” said Di Leo. “The American Book Review serves a very important purpose in the literary community.”
Noted for championing literature by women, minorities and other marginalized writers, the journal is published six times a year, each issue with a specific focus such as “New Southern Writing” or “Fiction on the Edge.” Di Leo suggested a focus on Hispanic literature may be one of the first themes explored by UHV after it assumes editorial responsibilities for the journal.
“Hosting a journal of this intellectual heft and influence is a sign of the continuing maturation of UHV,” said Hudson, who often picks his own reading material based on ABR reviews. “And it brings new opportunities for our students.”
As a result of ABR’s move to UHV, students at the university may gain experience in publishing and editing, or even have a chance to earn a certificate of study in these disciplines. Undergraduate and graduate interns who work with the journal will get firsthand insight into the workings of a major publication that is internationally distributed.
In addition, UHV students will have the chance to encounter some of the biggest names in the writing world. ABR’s list of contributing, advisory, and associate editors includes Charles Simic, Joyce Carol Oates, Marjorie Perloff, John Ashberry, William H. Gass, and Ishmael Reed. Di Leo hopes over the course of the university’s affiliation with the journal to bring some of these ABR contributors to Victoria.
When asked what developments he foresees for ABR as a result of its new affiliation with UHV, current editor Charles B. Harris responds, “Professor Di Leo’s impressive record as an administrator, scholar and reviewer ensures that ABR’s quality will be sustained and, as a result of the ‘new blood’ Professor Di Leo’s leadership will bring, rejuvenated for a new generation of readers.”
Currently, ABR has a circulation of about 8,000 copies. A recent grant from the National Endowment for the Arts will fund a subscription drive expected to significantly enlarge the journal’s readership. For more information on UHV’s involvement with the literary journal, contact Di Leo at (361) 570-4200.