University press

''Texas is unique in one respect; geographically it's so big that it's almost a region unto itself,'' says John Kyle, director of the University of Texas Press. The catalog of his press reflects the huge gamut of subjects that may be considered regional in the nation's second-largest state; it includes everything from volumes devoted to Texas weather, wildflowers, cactuses, trees, ''auto trails,'' shorelines, and seashells to substantial art books, fiction, history, Indians, and Latin American and Mexican border studies. In fact, a number of individual volum%s focus on flora and fauna in different regions within Texas.

But the University of Texas Press is not only a regional publisher. Mr. Kyle points out that ''only about one-half of our output represents books with geographical relevance to Texas. This reflects the fact that state-supported university presses tend to be concerned with their locale. But we also reflect other strengths of our university.'' For instance, as the university strengthens its science department, the press is issuing books on natural history and ''hard'' science. And, Kyle notes, ''Texas has the largest classics department in the United States. We are working to expand our classics list at present.'' Other areas of strength for the press include Middle Eastern studies and medicine.

With such a rich locale and large university with strong, diverse departments to draw upon, Kyle says he is in the unique position of resisting the urge to build too quickly on all the strengths of the university. While his lists ''vary enormously from one season to the next,'' he has built the press's identity and reputation on strengths in particular areas.

One such area is Latin American fiction in English translation. In common with other university press directors, Kyle is committed to publishing works that ''ought to be available to readers,'' whether or not the books are apt to be big sellers. Kyle says, ''With these books there may be a risk in respect to sales, but there's no risk as to whether or not they contain good fiction.'' The volumes, including novels and short-story anthologies with substantial introductions, are written by established Latin American authors who might otherwise never find an American English-speaking audience. An effort is also made to publish works by both male and female writers.

''Family Ties,'' by Clarice Lispector, is one gem from this ''Texas Pan American Series.'' The reasonably priced paperback ($6.95) is written by a worldly Brazilian, daughter of Russian emigres, whose writing reflects the influence of Jean-Paul Sartre, Virginia Woolf, and contemporary Brazilian writers. A very different volume in the series is ''The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories,'' by Horacio Quiroga (1878-1937), regarded as one of the finest short-story writers Latin America has ever produced.

With a staff of 40, the University of Texas Press has produced about 60 titles and 10 journals a year for the past several years, and at present operates at about a 15 percent loss, covered by the university. Many titles are subsidized by individuals, corporations, and foundations. ''The fullest possible credit must be given to the Mellon Foundation,'' says Kyle, ''whose three rounds of grants (since the mid-1970s) have helped with underwriting the costs of books in the humanities.''

Kyle has extensive experience in publishing, including work with Johns Hopkins University Press, work as founding director of the East West Center Press in Hawaii, and six years as president of Franklin Book Programs, a nonprofit corporation that encouraged development of publishing in third-world countries. When he assumed the directorship of the University of Texas Press in 1977, this native Oklahoman came home to the Southwest, where he now succeeds in combining a broad knowledge of publis ing and familiarity with the region to produce books of regional and general interest.

A regular monthly column.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.