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Beacon Press Report, General Assembly 2014

General Assembly 2014 Event 338

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This report is part of a longer event. Go to General Session IV for the complete video and order of business.


JIM KEY: This is the Beacon Press report. Beacon Press has been publishing since 1854 and is an integral part of our association. As Chief Governance Officer, I'm keenly aware of the Board of Trustees' responsibilities, fiduciary oversight of our association, and that includes our very own Beacon Press. Helene Atwan is appointed director of Beacon Press by the Board of Trustees in October of 1995. So please join me in welcoming Helene Atwan, the director of our Beacon Press.

HELENE ATWAN: Thank you, Jim. Thank you all. I just love following the singing. I feel very brave—a brave soul out here.

So we're gathered here in Providence to talk about how Unitarian Universalism reaches out in love, and how, perhaps, we might stretch our arms even further. I want to tell you some stories about how your press is part of that mission. We publish books that aim to ignite hearts and minds, to change the way people think and feel.

And when we say, we publish books, please know that our work doesn't stop at printing, digitizing, and distributing copies of books by important thought leaders. The work includes broadcasting those progressive ideas into the wider world, which is the specific ministry of Beacon Press. Back in 1854, when AUA President Samuel Lothrop announced the founding of a press, he proclaimed proudly that we can send forth 1,000 volumes to be read by 10,000, for what it will cost to send one missionary to speak here and there to a few hundred.

Lothrop could not have imagined that the books which the press would publish 160 years later would be read on smartphones or listened to on digital download audio apps or discussed in the Twittersphere and on Facebook. He imagined that a persuasive book making a powerful argument was a better tool to achieve the mission of his faith than a missionary. But he could not have foreseen that the book, still that very powerful instrument for the mission, would be enhanced by readers talking on dozens of platforms, by viewers and listeners of the mass media, by fans gathering in real and virtual spaces, and then that the authors, through the use of all of these technological advances, would complete the circle by becoming missionaries, themselves.

Let me begin with a few facts. As I sat down to write this report, seven weeks ago, here's what was happening. We had two reviews scheduled in the New York Times science section. We had six authors scheduled to be interviewed on NPR, including one on Fresh Air, two on Tell Me More, and three on All Things Considered.

We had authors scheduled to be interviewed on This Week on ABCTV, on the News Hour on PBS, and on MSNBC, and even on Imus in the Morning. That's reaching millions of people with the messages we want Americans to hear. These authors were talking about racial and economic equality and about public health. Last year, Beacon authors spoke to Americans in over 750 reviews, features, and interviews.

And our authors are out in the community, helping to create conversation about the issues we care about. Last year, we had more than 425 events in 37 states. They happened in bookstores, museums, libraries, college campuses, synagogues, mosques, temples, wildlife sanctuaries, and of course, in UU Churches. So here are a couple of stories about our authors on the issue of immigrant rights.

The San Francisco Labor Council organized an event to celebrate David Bacon's The Right to Stay Home. 100 delegates, along with hotel union workers, attended. Lupe Sanchez, a hotel worker from El Salvador, read her story about being a virtual slave as a domestic worker. She broke down crying, and one by one, each of her four daughters read as much as they could before choking up. At the end, everyone gave them a standing ovation. Bacon continues to hold events like this one throughout the country, using his Beacon books as part of his powerful activism.

Journalist Mirta Ojito's Hunting Season—Immigration and Murder in an All-American Town was widely discussed in the media. Her book tells a very important story about a community struggling with violence against immigrants. She did a lot of speaking, but probably the most important event she did was in the All-American town of Patchogue, Long Island, where a man named Marcelo Lucero was murdered for the crime of being Ecuadorian.

Jean Kaleda, the Patchogue town librarian, who played a heroic role in the story, wrote to us, "Mirta's talk at the library was eagerly awaited. Audience members shared their reactions to the news of the murder, as well as their past experiences as immigrants, themselves, or their interaction with immigrants. One woman said, 'this book is a lesson for all, but hate is always looking for another place.' Mirta has done a great deal, in publishing this book."

I know many of you had a chance to attend Aviva Chomsky's workshop, yesterday. Avi credits Beacon with helping her to build a broad and effective public platform. She has become a vibrant voice for immigration justice, through her books and appearances. Her new book, Undocumented, illuminates the issue of living and working in America as an immigrant, an issue that continues to be central to UU activism, to our work in reaching out in love.

We were thrilled this year to publish inaugural poet Richard Blanco's wonderful memoir, For All of Us, One Today. This slim volume tells the story of his journal as a gay Hispanic engineer, ending on that gigantic inaugural lectern. I highly recommend this book to you all. I'm proud to say that the city of Seattle chose this book as their annual Seattle Reads selection, and Richard was able to speak to thousands of people, once again—this time, explicitly about the experience of being both an immigrant and a gay man. Believe me, to hear Richard Blanco is to have your heart ignited.

And Richard's platform isn't restricted to the 10,000 square feet of the inaugural stage. Oh, no—he has thousands of followers on Facebook and Twitter, alone. In fact, let me pause to point out that Beacon has been singularly successful in online outreach, this year.

We had almost 300 online features. Our Facebook fans grew by over 60%, to 15,000. Our Twitter followers grew 44%, to 10,000. We had over 1.6 million Scribd reads and too many YouTube views to count.

And reaching out in love, our authors out in cyberspace and on the road sometimes make surprising change. Sharon Morgan and Tom DeWolfe wrote a book called Gather at the Table, about interracial dialogue and reconciliation. Sharon Orlopp, the global chief diversity officer at Walmart, was so impressed by the book that she took seven of her colleagues on a plane to Milwaukee, to participate in an event featuring Sharon and Tom.

Since that time, Orlopp has written to her counterparts at other corporations, such as PepsiCo and Kimberly-Clark. She has, in short, become an evangelist for this book and its authors. So we have Walmart not only listening to our message about race relations in America but recommending other corporate giants take a listen. That's reaching out in love.

Last month, we celebrated the fifth anniversary of our historic agreement with Martin Luther King Jr.'s estate to be the exclusive trade publishers of his work. We celebrated at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, with representatives from the estate and some prominent King scholars. It was a moment of enormous pride for the press and the UUA.

I hope many of you receive the chapbook we published to commemorate the long and rich connection between MLK and the UU community. If you don't have it, don't fail to pick up your free copy at the UUA bookstore, with your registration coupon. And while you're there, you might also want to pick up a few other books.

With the generous support of the [? VH ?] program at Shelter Rock, we began work, last year, on a whole new initiative—the King Legacy for students. This year, we published A Time to Break Silence and worked with the King Institute at Stanford University to create an online curriculum to go with it. And this year, we met with over 2,100 teachers, to talk about putting King's words and his message back into the classroom in this powerful way.

And this leads me to another way we reach out in love—through so many of our other books, which are taught in schools. Over 100,000 Beacon books were used by college students last year. We offer free Teacher Guides for many. They had over 38,000 views last year. Oh, and your press is doing just fine financially. With the support of the UUA, of course, we're projecting our 12th consecutive year of surpluses.

If I had another 10 minutes, I could tell you much more. But instead, I urge you to look at our books at the UUA bookstore booth here, at our website, which is, to jump from the home page to wherever your heart takes you, whether it's queer concerns, environmentalism, economic justice, public education, public health, you'll find Beacon offering important, illuminating books—books to set your mind and heart ablaze—and making it our mission to be sure their messages are widely heard. Thank you so much.

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