Trinity University Press

Terra Firma: Trinity University Press blog

A Confluence of Civilizations

by Catherine Nixon Cooke on

Imagine 25,000 square feet of colored stones telling a story about people of diverse cultures and civilizations “meeting in the middle” to create a harmonious world. 

I am in love with the vibrant hues—and this message! It’s as relevant today as it was fifty years ago, when Mexican artist Juan O’Gorman created his Confluence of Civilizations mural for San Antonio. 

With a strict Irish father, a devoutly religious Mexican mother, and a grandmother who taught him to look for beauty in his own backyard, O’Gorman grew up in Guanajuato during the Mexican Revolution, and his life involved a fair amount of personal revolution as well. As a young architect, he designed Mexico’s first modern buildings. He was also recognized for his paintings and murals, which today are world renowned. 

Writing the biography of this complex and talented man was both a challenge and an opportunity to learn more about art, Mexican history, and the human spirit. I took several trips to Mexico to research the story; sipped tequila at the beautiful San Ángel Inn, where O’Gorman often entertained his international clients; and met architects, artists, and personal friends who shared insights and stories that helped me bring him to life. I even visited the house and studio that O’Gorman designed for his close friends Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and I sat on the austere twin bed where Rivera slept when he was mad at Frida. 

Now that Juan O'Gorman: A Confluence of Civilizations is published, I like to stop by O’Gorman’s famous mural in downtown San Antonio from time to time. It was the cornerstone of the city’s World’s Fair in 1968, and it will be a focal point for the new Hemisfair Park going forward, still telling its great story of diversity and harmony. It’s worth a visit!  

Jump into the University Press Week community!

by Eleanor Gilbert on

In 1978 President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation to recognize the importance of university publishing in the United States and around the world. The first official university press was established at John Hopkins University in 1878, and today, nearly 140 years later, we still celebrate university presses’ excellence and academic tradition.

Thanks to the Association of American University Presses (AAUP), established in 1937, more than 140 member university presses can fulfill their commitments to scholarship in a variety of disciplines. Forty-one states and twelve countries house at least one member press.

The AAUP uses the #ReadUP hashtag “to highlight on social media the best of what” university presses “are publishing all year long.” The theme for year’s celebration, November 14–19, is community, focusing on the impact of local authors, local booksellers, and local publishers.

Supporting each other every step of the way, the AAUP, university presses, and independent bookstores participate in book festivals and local celebrations to promote literacy and continued education. In addition, the AAUP’s partnership with the American Booksellers Association Indies First program promotes small bookstores and the university presses that help stock them.


Fun Facts about Trinity

  • Trinity University’s Elizabeth Coates Library has one the of country’s most extensive collections among liberal arts colleges.
  • Since its reopening in 2002, Trinity University Press has won multiple awards and accolades, as well as published almost 100 books since the launch.
  • Trinity University Press is a member of the Green Press Initiative, a nonprofit program dedicated to supporting publishers in their efforts to reduce their impacts on endangered forests, climate change, and forest-dependent communities.

Meet the Intern: Eleanor Gilbert

by Eleanor Gilbert on

 I’m Eleanor, the new marketing intern at TU Press.

I’ve always got a story on my mind and a new book I plan to read—when I’m not flooded with course work.

When I was younger, books and stories were a way for my mom and grandmother to teach me about the world and their experiences in it. Later the library became my favorite after-school hideout, where I would check out excessive numbers of books to find new worlds to explore. Sometimes teachers didn’t believe I was reading all the books I was carrying around!

Despite other people’s doubts, I kept reading, delving deeper into social issues and developing a penchant for writing. Working in publishing allows me to observe a book’s progress as if I am watching the growth of a very quiet child. It’s no one person’s baby because it takes more than one person to make it happen. Lucky for me, I am a part—however small—of that process.

Outside of the press, I immerse myself in working for the Trinity Review, watching Netflix, hanging out with fellow Swashbucklers, volunteering with my brothers in Alpha Phi Omega, and trying to learn something new. I like the informational overload, and I’m typically looking for more—until I pass out for the day, that is.

I know the work at the press is going to be hard, but it’s also fun. That’s why I’m excited to be a part of the team!

Meet the Intern: Claire Alford

by Claire Alford on

I’m Claire Alford, and I’m the new assistant to the director intern at TU Press!

My parents instilled in me from an early age the idea that books are cool, fun, and important, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. As I’ve grown older, reading has turned into more of a school-focused chore (the woes of a twenty-one-year-old).I am a junior communication major at Trinity with a love for film, television, music, and books (basically any type of media). I’m in limbo about what I want to do in the future, but one thing I know is that I want to be surrounded by creativity—and that’s exactly what I get here at the press.

At the press, I get to work on beautiful books, both inside and out. This has inspired me to begin reading as a pastime again—that is, for something besides school. If nothing else, I’ll become a more informed human being, and what could be wrong with that?

Aside from reading, I enjoy being a student at Trinity (especially now that I’ve finished my last midterm exam) and exploring everything San Antonio has to offer. I’m thrilled to be working at the press and am excited to learn the ins and outs of this wonderful business, from equally wonderful people.

Forests for the Trees

by Char Miller on

Leading environmentalist and historian, Char Miller, analyzes California’s ecological history in his new book Not So Golden State: Sustainability vs. the California Dream. For all the glitz and glamour that the state has to bring, Miller uncovers some of the less enticing environmental issues that hide just below the surface where most do not notice. Char Miller will be in conversation with Bob Rivard of The Rivard Report on "California Dreams, Texas Schemes: Two States in Environmental Crisis and What They Can Learn From Each Other.” Free and open to the public at the Trinity University Holt Center on Wednesday, October 25. Before that, Miller brings us a few words to open our eyes to one of the environmental isuues they will discuss. Seating is limited, but you will be able to view a livestream at More information on the event here.

The trees are dying. The forests are not.

This subtle but absolutely critical distinction is getting lost in all the angst over the tree die-off in the Central Sierra, coastal ranges, and other forests of the Golden State. Players ranging from the U.S. Forest Service to Cal Fire to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other public officials are ignoring this key fact in their rush to do something, anything, about the dying trees.

Feinstein, in a recent letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, urged him to transfer the tidy sum of $38 million to the Forest Service so that it can immediately harvest thousands of red-needled pine and other dead trees in high hazard areas in the Sequoia, Sierra, and Stanislaus national forests.

“After five years of historic drought,” she argued, “which has led to the death of an estimated 66 million trees in California alone, my state and its people face a heightened and potentially catastrophic risk of wildfire this year and for years to come.”

Her words are important, for how we talk about drought, fire, and ecosystem resilience is revelatory of larger issues. As I argue in Not So Golden State: Sustainability vs. the California Dream, “A wildland fire is never just a fire. Even as it burns through forests, grasslands or chaparral, it also eats into the political landscape, like acid on a copper plate. And in that etching, with the surface opened, we can glimpse a society’s most basic philosophical commitments, its deepest operating assumptions.”

Those assumptions are partly revealed in Senator Feinstein’s request for funding to harvest large swaths of the Sierra. She, and those who are co-promoting this policy, are calculating that dead trees equal catastrophe. To avoid catastrophe, clearcut the forests. Their calculation is flawed.

 Consider the attention-getting figure of 66 million dead trees (or “snags”), widely publicized this summer. It seems like a lot, yet the figure shrinks when set in its wider, arboreal context. As Doug Bevington of Environment Now has reported, there are 33 million forested acres in the state, meaning that the recent pulse of tree mortality on average has increased the number of dead trees by a mere two snags per acre.

“To put that number in perspective,” he writes, “forest animals that live in snags generally need at least four to eight snags per acre to provide sufficient habitat and some species require even more snags.” Portions of California’s forests suffer from a deficit of dead trees, not a surfeit.

Besides, dead trees are not dead. They are essential to the life chances of such cavity-nesting species as the endangered California spotted owl and the increasingly rare black-backed woodpecker. Ditto for the little-seen Pacific fisher, a forest-dweller related to the weasel whose diet in part consists of small mammals that take advantage of snag-ecosystems. A host of other organisms feast on dead trees upright or fallen, so that what on the surface might seem like a ghost forest in fact is a biodiversity hotspot, a teeming terrain.

While countless living things thrive off of the “dead” trees, fire does not. This seems counterintuitive, which may account for the head-scratching, heated rhetoric that Senator Feinstein, Gov. Jerry Brown, and firefighting agencies have deployed to make their case that California is on the verge of burning up. In doing so, they have dismissed the findings of fire ecology research demonstrating that snags do not burn with a greater intensity and that their presence does not accelerate the spread of fire.

As scientists reported in the 2014 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “Contrary to the expectation of increased wildfire activity in recently infested red-stage stands, we found no difference between observed area and expected area burned in red-stage or subsequent gray-stage stands during three peak years of wildfire activity, which account for 46 percent of area burned during the 2002–2013 period.”

Even the state’s firefighter-in-chief, Cal Fire’s Director Ken Pimlott, agrees with the “emerging body of science that has found dead trees don’t significantly increase the likelihood of wildfires.”

Don’t get me wrong: there are legitimate reasons to log some snags located in portions of the wildland-urban interface to ensure public safety and protect vital infrastructure. But slicking off tens of thousands of trees willy-nilly—let alone the 3.7 million that have been proposed for harvest in the Central Sierra national forests alone—cannot be defended in terms of science or policy; and doing so would break the bank.

Nor can it be defended as a kind of political logrolling, in which agencies and their allies spread fear of imminent ecosystem collapse that can only be averted with a massive infusion of federal and state dollars to prop up the collapsing timber and biomass industries. The latter turns board-feet into kilowatts, a process as inefficient and CO2-spewing as coal, accelerating the planet’s warming. Not climate-smart.

So let’s take nature seriously. Those who mourn the loss of the iconic, pine-scented sweep of green, for example, should remember that the “death” we perceive in California’s forests presages their regrowth, a point I also stress in Not So Golden State.

“Set aside the concept that fires inevitably, irreparably destroy forests,” I observe, “and consider instead the idea fire may have a regenerative capacity.”

But don’t take my word for it. Read John Muir, the troubadour of all things Sierra, who in 1878 concluded that natural disturbances were how his beloved sequoia flourished. Erosion and floods, the “burrowing of wolf or squirrel,” and the “fall of aged trees” cleared the way for successive generations to flourish. Even fire, “the great destroyer of Sequoia . . . furnishes bare virgin ground, one of the conditions essential for its growth from seed.”

Muir’s penetrating insight was controversial in the late nineteenth century, but it shouldn’t be today.

The trees are dying. The forests are not.