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By Gus Bode

For Jason Emerson, inspiration lied in a decades-old steamer trunk.

Emerson, author of ‘The Madness of Mary Lincoln,’ recently had his title selected as one of’s Top 25 Books From University Presses. The Southern Illinois University Press in Carbondale published Emerson’s book.

For his award-winning piece, Emerson researched a biography of Robert Lincoln when he discovered, in a steamer trunk, letters that Mary Todd Lincoln had written while in an insane asylum. An asylum Robert Lincoln had her committed to, according to bookXYZ’s synopsis.


‘The letters were written while she was in an insane asylum in Batavia in 1875,’ Emerson said. ‘They had been missing for over 80 years.’

Emerson said he decided to shelve his Robert Lincoln biography when the owners of the letters gave him the go-ahead to write the book. He had to write about it immediately, in case the letters were donated somewhere and another author had the chance to write about them, he said.

He already had a contract with the SIU Press for his Robert Lincoln biography, but shifted to writing one about the lost letters and Mary Lincoln’s mental problems, he said.

Publishing his book was not a problem as he said his relationship with the SIU Press has been great.

‘They have good ideas, but they also listen to the ideas that I have,’ he said.

Lain Adkins, the press’ director, said SIU’s specialty is publishing anyone writing in rhetoric and composition.

The books the press publishes and markets are not commercially viable properties. Sometimes the books the press publishes that win awards might not sell more than 500 copies, he said.


However, selling copies is not the press’ main goal.

‘Our mission is to facilitate communication between scholars,’ he said.

They are able to pursue this mission with a small subsidy from the university to publish books commercial companies would not, he said.

The press, which has been in operation for 52 years, is well known in select areas such as the Civil War and recently, film. That prominence makes the SIU Press one of the first places an author in those fields will submit a book, he said.

The SIU Press offers authors the chance for other experts in the book’s subject to give the author feedback prior to a contract being signed, he said.

‘If someone submits a book to us, we send it to expert readers in their field who know the subject area and have them read the book,’ he said. ‘The readers recommend publication or not, or recommend the book after revisions.’

Emerson has enjoyed the freedom and decision-making abilities the press has offered him, like input on cover art and titles.

‘I’m really thankful that I found them when I was first pitching my first book around,’ he said.

Luke McCormick can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 275