Culture in the Bay area has changed tremendously since I moved here in the late 1970s. Dozens of galleries and music clubs have come and gone, and a once-vivacious theater community has dwindled to a scant handful of professional-level groups. Local dance, likewise has declined since the loss of the Tampa Ballet and the brief but brilliant tenure of the State Dance Festival. We have, however, scored some wonderful new cultural institutions: the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, the Gulf Coast Museum of Art, Heritage Village, the Botanical Gardens, the USF Contemporary Art Museum, The Dali Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Aquarium, to name a few.
One organization in particular has continued to grow quietly while making lasting contributions to our cultural landscape: The University of Tampa Press, directed by Richard Mathews, has published theater, art, history and literary works over the past 16 years.
I'm not generally a big fan of mission statements, but this one is so eloquent it's quotable: "The UT Press seeks to foster free expression, to promote intellectual inquiry and dialog, to encourage strong ethical and aesthetic values, and to serve the academic interests and aspirations of the community. The press is dedicated to discovering and bringing into print a variety of books, essays, and creative works which contribute in significant ways to the social and cultural values of our time."
And that's exactly what they continue to do.
The Pinter Review is UT Press' theater anthology, edited by Francis Gillen. Last year the journal awarded its first Pinter Review Prize for Drama, which included publication of a hardcover book plus royalties, $1,000 and a public reading of the winning work.
The press also has published a number of historical reference works of local importance, including books about Tampa before, during and after the Civil War (by local historian Canter Brown in collaboration with the Tampa Bay History Center); the NAACP; the Second Seminole War; life in early Lutz and Pasco County, and African-American pioneers, among others.
Tampa Review, which began publishing in 1988, is the most visible and elegant jewel in the UT Press crown. Published twice a year and edited by Richard Mathews, it features fiction, poetry, literary nonfiction, art, essays and interviews for serious readers.
Reading an issue of Tampa Review is like going to a very sophisticated party filled with art and intellectuals — except you don't have to leave your house or come up with anything intelligent to say. It's kind of like sitting in an art gallery and listening to All Things Considered or Fresh Air.
In the most recent issue, for example, you might tune into a conversation between Poetry Editor Don Morrill and author Richard Terrill, whose latest book is Fakebook: Improvisations on a Journey Back to Jazz. They discuss, among other things, the difference between playing jazz and writing about it, the value of pursuing artistic expression as a "serious amateur," and the nature of creative nonfiction.
Or you might ponder the Jerry Uelsmann photo of two headless Victorian lady mannequins with a doll baby in a wicker pram. A dramatic cloud occupies the space where the ladies' heads should be. On the facing page begins a poignant story by Sara Swanson called "Four: Mothers Who Aren't." It's three related stories that intersect around a mother who's not much of one and her daughter who never will be one. "We don't use the art as illustrations," says Mathews, "but we do try to pick art that in some way echoes the images or ideas in the stories."
Or you could read a poem out loud, which is always the best way to read poetry. The most recent issue features "A Portfolio of Poems by Julia B. Levine," one of two winners of the 2003 Tampa Review Prize for Poetry. She and the other winner, Sarah Maclay, each won $1,000, publication of a book by UT Press and a free public reading of their work, scheduled for 8 p.m. April 8 in the Reeves Theater (second floor, Vaughn Center on the UT campus). Levine, a child psychologist and mother of three, writes moving, lyrical poetry that plumbs the tenderness and cruelty in everyday moments. Maclay's verse is a bit more spare and oblique, but it's evocative and sometimes wry in its observations. "She has these amazing juxtapositions and ways of surprising you," says Mathews. "She challenges your assumptions about things."
The next issue of Tampa Review will feature a conversation with artist Audrey Flack, who will be in residence at UT's STUDIO-f April 5-16 and at Tampa Museum of Art for the dedication of her sculpture "Bella Apollonia ('The Muse')." (See this week's cover story for details about Flack's career and her Tampa appearances.)
Flack's artwork will be on the cover of the Review and interspersed throughout the lively interview, conducted by Weekly Planet art critic Adrienne Golub (who's also consulting editor to Tampa Review and who wrote this week's cover story about Flack) and Nonfiction Editor Elizabeth Winston. Prepublication copies of the upcoming Tampa Review will be released at Flack's Scarfone Gallery talk on April 14.
Tampa Review is one of the least expensive cultural experiences you'll find. A single issue costs $9.95. Subscriptions are $15 for one year (two issues), $25 for two years (four issues). What you get for the price are beautiful hardcover books with art and literature to linger over, to return to again and again. What you give is support to one of the area's cultural treasures.
For more information about UT Press, Pinter Review and Tampa Review, visit http://www.utampa.edu/academics/publication/utpress.html. The full catalog of press offerings is difficult to find through the links but worth a look. It's at http://utpress.ut.edu// index.cfm?fuseaction=homecatalog.
Contributing Editor Susan F. Edwards can be reached at [email protected].