When University of Akron psychology professor Ron Levant found his brother’s moldy, mildewed poems stuffed in grocery bags in a shed, he did what anyone would do: Assembled them as best he could into a book.
That became A Poet Drives a Truck, which UA Press is distributing, with a heady 50 copies already printed.
Press director Tom Bacher does not expect Lowell A. Levant’s book to make any best-seller lists. But then Bacher has never handled a book of poetry by a truck driver.
“How do we make money? We try to break even,” Bacher said. “It gets harder and harder, and our budget is never going to go up.”
The university kicks in about $200,000 a year to keep the press afloat; sales from more popular works buoy less popular ones, Bacher said.
In fact, the UA Press is a rare breed: One of only 120 university presses worldwide and four in Ohio, it focuses largely on Northeast Ohio history, culture and politics.
The press’s most popular book of all time was Wheels of Fortune, a history of the Akron rubber industry by Akron Beacon Journal writers Steve Love and Dave Giffels. As many as 15,000 copies have been sold.
Next in line might be last year’s Cleveland’s West Side Market: 100 Years Old and Still Cooking by Laura Taxel and Marilou Suszko that has sold about 4,000 copies.
However, most of the UA Press’ titles appeal to specialized academic tastes and won’t land on many coffee tables. Think British India and British Scotland, 1780-1830, by Martha McLaren, for instance, or The Cultural Context of Biodiversity Conservation by Peter Maass.
While the UA Press receives up to 200 proposals a year, it rejects upward of 95 percent of them. The press publishes only 10 to 15 titles a year and distributes an even smaller number of already printed titles that come into its orbit, such as Lowell Levant’s A Poet Drives a Truck.
Ron Levant said his brother developed his taste for poetry while at the University of California at Berkeley in the 1960s.
He studied under notable poet and UC professor Gary Snyder and was among up to 800 students arrested in the Free Speech Movement, a student protest in mid-1960s UC-Berkeley that soured his taste for college. He joined the Artists, Musicians, Poets and Sympathizers Local of the Industrial Workers of the World in San Francisco.
But he never got his bachelor’s degree. He had to put food on the table, so he turned to odd jobs and eventually to truck driving. He didn’t live to see his work published; he died in 2010 at age 65 in the San Francisco area.
Ron Levant said his younger brother so eschewed the business side of publishing that he made no effort to catalog his work nor to differentiate between several versions of the same poem.
That meant Ron Levant, a psychologist and former UA dean with largely academic tastes, had to decipher what was the best in concert with his brother’s poet friends.
He set up the Truck Stop Press at his home in Copley.
He did have connections at the UA Press for a distribution channel: His wife, press production coordinator Carol Slatter, prevailed on Bacher to distribute the book.
If you want to read poems such as To a Teamster Comrade, Truck-Stop and (take a deep breath) To a Fog-Covered Moist Carpet of Precarious Rivers, Pussy-Brambles, Eucalyptus, Moss and Cow-Dung – Dead and Alive, Uneven and Unordered, Just East of Tilden, With a Fence Around It, contact AtlasBooks at 800-247-6553, a local bookstore or online retailers, including Amazon.com.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3729.