Faye Rapoport DesPres

New Anthology, THE ART OF TOUCH, to be Published by The University of Georgia Press

Almost two years ago, a long-time friend and colleague of mine named Joan Schweighardt (author of nine novels, a memoir, and two children’s books) approached me with an idea. She wanted to develop an anthology centered around the concept of “touch.” At the time, the pandemic had been with us for a number of months, and people were suddenly faced with losing elements of “touch” that had been a part of normal daily life: shaking hands, hugging a friend, even petting a dog walking on the street. Joan was moved one day when an acquaintance she’d helped with a doctor’s appointment mentioned that Joan had been the last person to hug her before it all started. Joan decided to explore the idea of developing an anthology on the topic, and a literary agent expressed interest in the project.

I had just been laid off from my last full-time job due to staff cuts caused by the pandemic. I had some time on my hands, and as I’d had some of my own work anthologized in collections, I was interested in the idea of editing an anthology. So, I signed onto the project.

Joan and I began a long, challenging journey to find the right contributors and ask if they’d send their work. We ended up with 39 contributions of prose and poetry that approach the concept of “touch” from a variety of perspectives. From a neuroscientist to a masseuse, from a grieving daughter to a grieving mother to a grandfather missing his family, from a writer facing life-saving surgery to a symbolic car on Storrow Drive, from a ghazal to a new take on the biblical story of Miriam, our contributors sent in work that dazzled us in its creativity while expanding our own perspectives. Most of the the pieces were new; a few were previously published. We read every piece, in some cases worked with the writers to edit and polish, and finally began the long process of attempting to find a publisher.

Several publishers who expressed interest for one reason or another were unable to say “yes.” As anyone knows who has worked to get a book published, the process can be a long and difficult. The pandemic raged on, and time passed. We began to wonder if it was time to give up hope. But we believed in the work, and we never quite gave up. In the end, our persistence paid off. Last week we signed a contract for publication of the anthology by The University of Georgia Press.

None of this would have been possible without the 38 contributors (one essay is my own) who agreed to take the time to either write or contribute work, or without Beth Snead, the acquisition editor at The University of Georgia Press who believed, and continues to believe, in our project. Of course even now, the publishing process will take time. Publication is tentatively planned for the spring or summer of 2023.

Our work is not done, but the most challenging parts on our end are complete. I can’t thank Joan enough for coming up with this idea and for inviting me to be her co-editor. Thanks also go out to every writer who sent in work, and of course to The University of Georgia Press.

Stay tuned next year for a publication date. I hope you’ll enjoy THE ART OF TOUCH: A COLLECTION OF PROSE AND POETRY FROM THE PANDEMIC AND BEYOND.