WSU Press provokes authors' backlash by abruptly firing these 3 leaders

February 11, 2020, 10:54 PM

Sales and marketing director Emily Nowak (top), editor Annie Martin (left) and design/production manager Kristin Harpster lost their jobs Friday. (Photos: WSU Press)

A trio of senior employees at Wayne State University Press were abruptly dismissed, prompting more than five dozen authors to criticize the academic publisher in an open letter.

Those dismissed Friday are editor-in-chief Annie Martin, sales and marketing director Emily Nowak and Kristin Harpster, manager of editorial, design and production.

Kurt Nagl of Crain's Detroit Business reports on the controversy: 

Wayne State University Press is facing blowback from authors and scholars who have worked with the book publisher following the termination of three managers. ...

A letter denouncing the layoffs was sent to the university Monday. It was signed by more than 60 authors and scholars who have worked with the publisher over the years.

"We are writing to express our shock and anger at what is tantamount to the destruction of this venerable institution. In a series of moves that has left both published and prospective authors in the dark about the fate of their books, and has undermined the viability of the press, the new administration has, without notice, discharged the press leadership without cause," the letter said. ...

"The summarial firing ... has violated the integrity of the press and the spirit of our publishing contracts. Their removal has left a gutted press staffed with people without editorial and publishing expertise, which undermines the ability of the press to operate and severely damages its reputation."

The statement with 68 names underneath adds: "We insist that for the future and well-being of the press that this decision be reversed, and we demand their immediate reinstatement."

The Detroit university's press publishes 35-40 books each year. Past authors include Detroit News writer Michael Hodges and former Free Press staffers John Gallagher and Rochelle Riley.

Another author, local history chronicler Dan Austin, awaits reassurance about the status of a Belle Isle book under way. "We have not heard from the publisher as to who our new point of contact is or who is taking over our project," he posts on Facebook. 

Austin adds: "My heart goes out to our WSUP friends who were let go. ... They worked hard to put out a number of incredible Detroit works." 

Kathy Wildfong, former interim director: "I am very concerned."

The dismissed trio also are saluted by Kathy Wildfong, interim director at WSU Press in 2017-19. She tells The Detroit News

"They're the heart of the press. They're the people that authors interact with directly the most. They're the people who are identified with the press, and they're the most public-facing. ...

"I am very concerned that this is a first step in closing or changing in some really profound way what the press is and what it does. I'm terribly worried about my former colleagues, both those who are staying and those who've been let go."

James David Dickson of The News, who broke the dismissals story Sunday, obtained a statement the press sent to its faculty editorial board on Friday It says, in part:

"We believe, moving forward, our future can be created through leadership and staff collectively committed and open to new ideas, deeper community connectivity."

Dickson also quotes a letter from Wildfong's successor, interim director Tara Reeser, who tells authors: "The press will continue to remain fully open ... [and] will very soon hire for four critical positions," including editor-in-chief.

Read more:  Crain's Detroit Business

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Photo Of The Day 

Potd_img_5014-2_630 James J. Brady monument built on June 23rd, 1928 and located on Belle Isle. James J. Brady was the founder of the Old Newsboys Association. The monument was designed by Samuel A. Cashwan and Fred O'Dell.

By: Michael Lucido