Yesterday, Indiana University celebrated the long and distinguished career of former IU Press director Janet Rabinowitch at a reception held in her honor at the Wells House. Rabinowitch retired this summer after working at the Press for 38 years. In this interview, Rabinowitch reflects on her time at the Press and some of the 700 books she acquired—or as she likes to call them, her "old friends."
Publishing has been called the “accidental career.” Was it your intended career path?
Well, no. After receiving a doctorate in Russian studies from Georgetown University in 1965, my original intention was to pursue an academic career in that field. My husband, Alexander Rabinowitch (now IU Professor of History Emeritus), and I finished our PhDs at the same time in the same field. It was rare in those days for a university to hire two spouses, and even rarer for two spouses in the same field to find positions. So after Alex accepted a position in the IU History Department in 1968, I was only able to teach some evening courses. My initial involvement with editing came about that time, when Alex and I coedited a collection of essays, Revolution and Politics in Russia, which was subsequently published by IUP.
What was your first job at the Press?
When I began at IUP in 1975, I was both a copyeditor and an acquiring editor. Initially, my time was split 75%/25% between copyediting and acquiring. While the first books I acquired were mainly in Russian and East European studies, after about three years, when one of the acquiring editors left the Press, I inherited his areas, which included philosophy and African studies as well as sponsoring the books that IUP was then distributing for the Cleveland Museum of Art. With increasing numbers of my own projects underway plus authors and projects in these added areas, from 1978 on I became a full time Sponsoring Editor. As a Sponsoring Editor, my responsibility was not only to seek out, evaluate, and acquire new book projects but also to shepherd them through the publishing process. My early copyediting experience proved invaluable to my subsequent work as an acquiring editor.
What was the first book you acquired?
The first book I acquired was an import, licensed from a British publisher, The Edwardians: The Remaking of British Society by Paul Thompson. The IUP edition was published in fall 1975. It’s long out of print with IUP, but I noted on Amazon that it’s now available in a Kindle edition. The first original book I acquired was Cultural Revolution in Russia, a path-breaking collection of essays edited by Sheila Fitzpatrick, published in 1977. Fitzpatrick went on to become one of the most distinguished historians of Soviet Russia.
How many books have you acquired since you’ve been at the Press?
I’ve compiled a list of the books I acquired during my 38 years at IUP—they number around 700. Looking through the list is like visiting old friends.
What are your top five favorite IUP books and why?
I have so many favorites, it’s impossible to identify my top five. Here are a few, among many others:
Birds of Indiana—a landmark
The Complete Dinosaur, first and second editions—another landmark
Ovid’s Metamorphoses—IUP’s all-time bestseller
The United Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, volumes I and II (with five more volumes to come)—a magisterial work of research and scholarship with a worldwide impact
Investigating Olduvai: Archaeology of Human Origins—IUP’s first digital publication
Classic Russian Cooking: Elena Molokhovets’ A Gift to Young Housewives—one of the most engaging books I acquired and worked on
How did it feel to be named one of Book Business Magazine’s Top 50 Women in Publishing in 2009?
I couldn’t have been more surprised when I received a call from Book Business Magazine informing me that I had been selected. I was thrilled!
What other professional accomplishments are you proud of?
Being a bridge between AAUP presses and Soviet presses during perestroika. As a Russian speaker, I participated in AAUP delegations to the Soviet Union in 1987 and 1989 and helped host a group of Soviet university press publishers who visited AAUP presses, including IUP in 1988. For IUP, this resulted in several of our books being published in Russian translations by Russian publishers.
Being Director or Co-Director of two major innovative publishing initiatives funded by the Mellon Foundation: Ethnomusicology Multimedia, in which IUP partnered with Temple and Kent State university presses, and Framing the Global, together with the IU Center for the Study of Global Change.
What are some of the most important changes or developments you’ve seen in the publishing industry during your 38-year-career?
Technology has made huge changes in every part of the publishing industry. When I started at IUP in 1975, letters were typed with carbon copies, copyediting was done with a blue pencil, type was still being set with hot metal, and jacket designs were mocked up with colored plastic cut outs. The adoption of new technology in every one of IUP’s departments has brought major changes and opened new opportunities for disseminating IUP books and journals worldwide, thus heightening the Press’s impact in the academic community and beyond.
What advice would you give to people who are just starting their publishing careers?
Learn as much as you can about all aspects of publishing, be a team player, be proactive about taking on new responsibilities, love your work.
What kinds of books do you enjoy reading outside of work?
I enjoy reading novels with historical themes, histories, and books about contemporary issues—a few selections: Unbroken, Cutting with Stone, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, The Help, Sarah’s Key, And the Mountains Echoed.