August 12, 2004: Headlines: COS - Kenya: Publishing: Books: Spokesman-Review: Kenya RPCV Ivar Nelson's extensive experience will help shape the future of Eastern Washington University Press

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Kenya: Peace Corps Kenya : The Peace Corps in Kenya: August 12, 2004: Headlines: COS - Kenya: Publishing: Books: Spokesman-Review: Kenya RPCV Ivar Nelson's extensive experience will help shape the future of Eastern Washington University Press

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Kenya RPCV Ivar Nelson's extensive experience will help shape the future of Eastern Washington University Press

Kenya RPCV Ivar Nelson's extensive experience will help shape the future of Eastern Washington University Press

Kenya RPCV Ivar Nelson's extensive experience will help shape the future of Eastern Washington University Press

By the book

Ivar Nelson's extensive experience will help shape the future of Eastern Washington University Press

Ivar Nelson is the interim publisher of EWU Press and is shown with several of his favorite publications. (Christopher Anderson/The Spokesman-Review )

Stories by Dan Webster
/ Staff writer
August 12, 2004

Ivar Nelson shares something with Mark Twain. That would be Keokuk, Iowa. Nelson, the newly hired interim publisher of the Eastern Washington University Press, was born there. Twain then known as Samuel Clemens only lived there. But he did edit Keokuk's first city directory. Tenuous connection? Sure. But it's a good sign for the EWU Press because it shows that Nelson has ties to the heart of American literature.

"I'm a Midwesterner," Nelson says, "and in literary and book circles, I think that's a proud tradition."

No argument. As it turns out, Nelson has had little trouble transferring that sense of Midwestern literary pride to the Inland Northwest.

Until February, Nelson was the director of the University of Idaho Press. Until 1999 he'd been a Moscow-based independent publisher (Solstice Press), putting out not only books but literary publications such as the Palouse Journal.

And before that he was the owner of BookPeople, the popular Moscow bookstore that he founded in 1973 (and sold to current owner Bob Greene in 1981).

"His many years of experience, his familiarity with the authors and the readership in our region of the country are terrific assets for us," says Earl Gibbons, executive director of EWU's Division of Educational Outreach, which oversees the press.

True enough. The press needs all the help it can get.

Actually, all university presses do.

"This is an undeniably grueling time for universities," Peter Givler, executive director of the Association of University Presses, wrote in an online commentary. Although the economy seems to be recovering and books sales are up, Givler wrote, "(T)he recovery has not yet profited universities themselves."

Nelson, in fact, is at Eastern only because his former employer, the University of Idaho, summarily closed its own press in February, citing a $385,000 operating deficit.

He still shakes his head at the decision.

"I think it was unnecessary," he says. "I think it was sad."

Nelson admits that the university was "in a financial bind," and he says the press' deficit was even higher than reported.

But, he adds, "The irony is that in the last months right before we closed, we were in the black and making money. I thought, 'Hey, we made it!' I didn't realize that we were fighting past history."

At Eastern, Nelson is in a position to help shape the future of a university press that has the full support of its sponsoring institution.

"We believe in the press," Gibbons says, "that it has a value beyond whatever commercial success it has. It has a value to literature and to the community, and Eastern feels committed to that."

And that belief extends to Nelson.

Born in 1941, Nelson grew up in St. Louis. He graduated from Harvard in 1964 with a degree in modern European history, and like many people at the time got caught up in the positive attitudes of the Kennedy era.

Nelson says he took seriously JFK's challenge to "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

He joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Kenya. Later he would join the U.S. Foreign Service and spend more time in Africa (Swaziland). But he grew dispirited with the government and, after a short time teaching in a special school for returning Vietnam veterans, he looked west.

"I came out here to look at this place," he says. "I had the typical Midwesterner's fantasy of sitting next to the mountain stream that's bubbling past you. And the doe and the fawn and all this kind of nonsense."

Despite his melodramatic expectations, Nelson says, "I came out here, and I just loved it."

He started a bookstore, he says, "Because I had to do something. There just weren't a lot of jobs, and it's something that I hadn't done before."

It was a good choice. Despite being located in a small spot across the street from its present Main Street site, BookPeople "just went bang," Nelson says.

"For bookstores, it's a good idea if they can turn the value of the inventory three times for the whole year," he says. "We turned it three times in one week."

Over the next few years, Nelson started Solstice Press, sold the bookstore and made his name as a small, independent publisher.

Of the arts-oriented, now-defunct Palouse Journal, Nelson says: "We never really made any money on it. The Palouse just isn't big enough to support it. But we had a lot of fun. First publisher of Kim Barnes. First publisher of Bob Wrigley. You know, way back."

Eventually, though, he gave up on publishing and went to work for the University of Idaho. (His wife is Patricia Hart, a UI journalism professor.)

"It's just very difficult to make it as a small publisher," he says, "and it was exhausting."

Nelson hopes to find the kind of success at EWU Press that he enjoyed at the University of Idaho with Linda Lawrence Hunt's book "Bold Spirit: Helga Westby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America."

Hunt's book has won multiple awards, the latest from the Denver-based group Women Writing the West, and is in its sixth printing. (It's now being distributed through Caldwell, Idaho-based Claxton Press).

"Put that in your article," Nelson says. "We're looking for manuscripts like that."




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Story Source: Spokesman-Review

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