Acquisitions editor Jermey N. A. Matthews discusses what publishing a YA graphic novel means for the MIT Press
Like most publishers, the MIT Press frequently grapples with the question of what types of books are the right fit for our list. This is a healthy and critically important exercise if we want to stay true to our mission to “push the boundaries of university-based publishing.”
Our track record advancing this mission can be judged by some of our most popular titles, many of which cover new areas of scholarship, challenge the status quo, or speak boldly to contemporary issues. Examples of such books include Deep Learning, which offers a broad perspective on an emerging field that’s relevant for students and practitioners alike; #HashtagActivism: Networks of Race and Gender Justice, offered online for free on MIT Press Direct, which outlines how marginalized communities use forums like Twitter to create networks of dissent; and Antivaxxers: How to Challenge a Misinformed Movement, which questions and refutes the anti-vaccination movement. We even publish a series of short accessible books that deliver expert overviews of subjects that range from the cultural to the scientific and often address real-world problems, including Extremism, Sustainability, Hate Speech, and Sexual Consent.
However, none of the books we’ve published would appeal to my teenage daughter—who, though a voracious bookworm, is not particularly interested in nonfiction or STEM topics (which represent the majority of the books I acquire and publish). And that’s okay; others are publishing the books she likes to read.
But that’s about to change this month with our release of The Curie Society, a YA original graphic novel about a fictional society of college girls who save the world using STEM skills and teamwork. You would be forgiven if you didn’t expect to see this book come from an academic publisher. The MIT Press has done fiction before. We publish STEM extensively. And we even recently released two well-received graphic books: The Dialogues: Conversations about the Nature of the Universe and A Brief History of Feminism. Still, publishing YA would be breaking new ground.
Despite that challenge, I was convinced that this was a book we had to publish after reviewing the materials and talking to the originators of the concept, Heather Einhorn and Adam Staffaroni. Heather and Adam are cofounders of Einhorn’s Epic Productions, a startup entertainment company in New York City whose mission is to create stories that feature female and diverse heroes for Gen Z and millennial fandoms.
Heather and Adam told me that they came to the MIT Press because they valued our experience publishing quality STEM books. They also wanted our help identifying women in science and science writing who could advise on the science and even serve as models for the fictional characters.
Coincidentally, at the time, we had recently established the MIT Press Fund for Diverse Voices, which aims to increase our publication of books by or about women and other underrepresented people in STEM. The Curie Society is one of the first books to receive support from that fund. The main characters are all female and some are queer and BIPOC—and so are most of the book’s contributors, from the production team, to the science advisers, to the team at Massive Science, which assembled and managed the advisory process.
The Curie Society has already garnered rave endorsements and media coverage, including from Andy Weir, Pia Guerra, Kirkus Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Shelf Awareness. But the MIT Press staff has also received valuable feedback and approval from some of us who have teenage children. For example, my daughter told us she found it “inspiring” that the characters “broke gender and racial stereotypes” and that the diversity of the characters was “treated as normal, as if these are just smart girls doing what they do best and were being recognized for it.”
Hearing that from my daughter means the world to me. When I was her age, it was uncomfortably obvious that it was abnormal to be Black or a woman in STEM. And that’s the power of fiction, and illustrated fiction, in particular: It can be used to imagine a world free of—or in direct opposition to—barriers, injustice, and stereotypes.
As a reflection of our commitment to this vision, we recently signed Einhorn’s Epic Productions for the next two volumes in what will become the “Curie Society” series. The Curie Society, Volume 2 and Volume 3, will pick up where the action leaves off from the first volume of this exciting new series. In volumes 2 and 3, the crew from Edmonds University goes global, faces threats involving nuclear weapons and advanced biotech and quantum tech, and uncovers a nefarious organization with twisted ambitions. Volume 2 is expected in fall 2022, with volume 3 to follow in fall 2023.
Although reaching Gen Z and millennial fandoms is new territory for us, we are excited about the impact that The Curie Society can have on the next (and current) generation of adults who will be responsible for advancing the push for ethics and equity in STEM.