From a snapshot of life in 1949 to the poetic ode to an ancient folk art, the North Dakota State University (NDSU) Press has published the words of regional authors since 1950. Today, the NDSU Press has a renewed mission to publish manuscripts that reveal the region’s inner soul.

Students operate the letterpress at the Braddock museum.

Students operate the letterpress at the Braddock museum.

“I moved to North Dakota in 2002 and at that time, I would say there was a sparsity of regional works, particularly for the Northern Plains and for North Dakota. There definitely were some, but there’s a lot of history here and we don’t really have an outlet for a lot of it,” says Dr. Suzzanne Kelley, editor in chief at the NDSU Press.

Begun in 1950 as the North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, the organization published about one book a year. In 2015, Kelley was hired to increase the visibility and stature of the press. In 2016, the name was changed to NDSU Press, increasing its submissions from about eight manuscripts a year to 65 a year.

“NDSU Press exists to stimulate and coordinate interdisciplinary regional scholarship. These regions include the Red River Valley, the state of North Dakota, the plains of North America (comprising both the Great Plains of the United States and the prairies of Canada), and comparable regions of other continents. We publish peer-reviewed regional scholarship shaped by national and international events and comparative studies,” the NDSU Press website describes. Submissions are accepted from any region for two book series: Contemporary Voices of Indigenous People and The Heritage Guide Series.

“Our aim is to have scholarly works, along with a few fiction, poetry and memoir pieces that help fill in the whole catalog,” Kelley says.

To meet guidelines of the Association of University Presses, a press must have a certain number of staff, publish more than five books every two years and acquire books through a peer review process.

When a manuscript is received, Kelley conducts an in-house review, then she locates two people who are experts in that field to complete a peer review and give a recommendation about the merit of the work. After the peer review, an eight-member editorial board certifies that the process was completed properly.

Through the process, the NDSU Press mines manuscripts that give the region a voice.

During the March 1 NDSU Press Party, which will be held at 7 p.m. at the NDSU Alumni Center in Fargo, six books will be launched. The event is free and open to the public.

The works include:

• “Operation Snowbound: Life Behind the Blizzards of 1949” by David Mills, Kansas, offers a glimpse into life when a legendary series of storms buried a region in ice and snow.

• “Sister Secrets: A Brother’s Reveal” by the Rev. Matt Valan, Fargo-Moorhead, shares the struggles of family and rural mental health issues.

• “Songs of Horses and Lovers” by Madelyne Camrud, Grand Forks, is a collection of poetry and original art related to her grandmother, mother and herself as generational immigrants from Norway.

• “The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape” by Bret Weber and William Caraher, both professors at UND, is a heritage guidebook to sites and features of that region.

• “The Prairie Post Office: Enlarging the Common Life in Rural North Dakota” by K. Amy Phillips and Steven Bolduc, Fargo-Moorhead, shares the importance of the post office to rural North Dakota communities.

• The NDSU Press created the sixth book in a unique way. The collection of poetry by North Dakota Associate Poet Laureate Denise Lajimodiere was assembled and printed at the Braddock Letterpress Print Museum by publishing interns.

“Thunderbird” is a poetic treatise on the historical, cultural, medicinal and spiritual properties of the birch tree, which Lajimodiere employs in her renowned birch bark biting art.

Lajimodiere’s poetry is linked to the creation of birch bark biting art, in which thinly peeled birch bark is folded, indented with teeth, then unfolded to reveal an impression of art. Each copy of the chapbook bears an original piece of birch bark biting art created by the students.

This is the second chapbook handprinted at Braddock’s antique press museum under the guidance of newspaper publisher Allan Burke, Linton. The first, published in the spring of 2016, was a collection of poetry by Larry Woiwode, North Dakota’s poet laureate.

“He had submitted a small selection of poetry and asked us if we might publish it,” Kelley describes. She had recently volunteered at the Braddock Letterpress Print Museum during Braddock’s threshing show.

“I just loved working with the equipment and that experience, along with the small collection of poetry, made me think maybe we could make our own book,” she says.

They printed 200 copies of “Land of Sunlit Ice” and in the spring of 2017, Kelley and her students returned to print 300 copies of “Thunderbird.”

The students edited and designed the books, and printed the copies using the turn-of-the-century presses, printing one page at a time.

“That gave the students the experience of acquiring the manuscript, doing all the production the old-fashioned way and also marketing and distribution,” Kelley says. “I think they took great satisfaction in the hands-on tactile experience of production, along with the responsibility of real-world deadlines and obligations.”

Kelley currently teaches two publishing courses at NDSU in which students learn the history and practice of publishing and gain hands-on experience.

Along with the students, she hopes the entire region benefits from the NDSU Press.

“The importance is driven by the mission of our press, and that is to learn about the region and to promote these significant stories that are from here,” she says. “We want to be the press of choice for readers and for writers of the plains and prairies.” 

Luann Dart is a freelance writer and editor who lives in the Elgin area.

Contact NDSU Press at:

North Dakota State University Press • NDSU Department 2360 | P.O. Box 6050 • Fargo, ND 58108-6050 • Telephone: 701-231-6848 | suzzanne.kelley@ndsu.edu
View a video of the chapbook printing at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXgL7cj48rA&feature=youtu.be