New publishing concentration introduced for English major

The College of Arts & Sciences will introduce a new concentration for the English major focused on the publishing industry starting in fall 2022. Students will take courses on the history and philosophy of publishing from the Gutenberg press to Amazon e-books. 

Martin Riker, a senior lecturer in English, partnered with Abram Van Engen, chair of English and dean’s fellow for educational innovations and initiatives, to develop the idea out of Riker's successful “Business of Books” course.

“Students liked that course not just because they learned about publishing, but because it actually changed how they think about what they’re doing in their other English courses as well,” Riker said. “More than a rubber stamp that would allow entry into a publishing career, the class was actually adding to their literary knowledge.”

Riker knows the publishing industry well. In addition to being a widely published fiction writer and book reviewer, he has worked at two award-winning independent publishers. Before coming to Washington University, he was the associate director of Dalkey Archive Press, which publishes lesser-known and avant-garde works. With Danielle Dutton, associate professor of English, he runs Dorothy, a publishing project, which has recently entered into a new distribution relationship with the New York Review of Books.

“For Danielle and myself, publishing matters not just as a job, but as part of our lives and practices as literary people,” Riker reflected. “Publishing doesn't feel like it's a separate thing from the other textual aspects of literary culture.”

The English major’s new publishing concentration stands out from similar publishing programs at other universities. Rather than being a vocational training program, it instead emphasizes publishing as an academic discipline. Riker was careful to find “just the right amount” of publishing to put into an English major. Students will study authors like James Baldwin and Zadie Smith alongside courses in advanced editing.

“Publishing brings the study of content, design, and distribution together,” Van Engen said. “Literature never comes to us from a void. So many hands go into the making of literary experience, and with Marty Riker’s lead, we have the tools, classes, and expertise to study literature in its making through the centuries and in the present day. I am so excited for this new concentration.”

Riker and Abram have partnered with faculty in Olin Business School to develop courses for the concentration that will develop expertise in business and marketing as well.

For more information about the concentration, students can contact Martin Riker.