Bison Books – 50 Years of Great Reading

In 1961, the University of Nebraska Press took a gamble that changed people's views of paperback books and made literature accessible and affordable to everyone from truckers to school kids.

“Throughout the entire 50-year history, our mission of publishing affordable, quality, classic books has stayed the same.”

UNP published eight paperbacks under its new Bison Books imprint. Selling for $1 to $1.50 each, these included poetry, history, literary criticism and Old Jules by Mari Sandoz. Editors selected books for their accessibility, popular appeal and lasting value. It was risky. Consumers were used to seeing pulp novels and dime-store Westerns on paperback racks, not serious literature.

"As it turns out, there was a hunger for affordable books with scholarly or literary merit," said UNP Director Donna Shear. "It was a bold move that continues to be successful."

In 2011, UNP celebrates the 50th anniversary of its popular imprint. Several classics will be re-released as anniversary editions, and excerpts from 18 classic Bison Books editions will be collected in The Golden West: 50 Years of Bison Books. This collection includes excerpts from Mari Sandoz’s Crazy Horse, Elinore Pruitt Stewart’s Letters of a Woman Homesteader and John G. Neihardt’s Cycle of the West, all originally released in the early years.

Conceived in 1960 with first copyrights in 1961, Bison Books titles were immediately popular. By 1978, paperbacks constituted more than half of UNP’s total sales, proving a medium-sized academic press could hold its own on paperback racks in dime stores and rest stops nationwide.

Bison Books, like UNP as a whole, is known for publishing Western fiction and history, military history, indigenous studies, sports history, memoirs and literary translation. Recently, Bison Books has released new editions of pulp novels and dime-store Westerns the imprint initially competed with. Bison Books has helped to keep Jules Verne’s science fiction, Harold Lamb’s fantastical stories and A.B. Guthrie Jr.’s murder mysteries in print and accessible to new audiences.

"The titles and genres we seek out continue to change and evolve," said Tom Swanson, Bison Books’ manager. "But throughout the entire 50-year history, our mission of publishing affordable, quality, classic books has stayed the same."

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Associated Web Content

University of Nebraska Press

Old Jules

Crazy Horse

Letters of a Woman Homesteader

A Cycle of the West


The 2009-2010 Annual Report is published by the
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Some articles are based on earlier stories from University Communications and IANR News Service and written by Kelly Bartling, Troy Fedderson, Sara Gilliam, Sandi Alswager Karstens, Daniel R. Moser, Judy Nelson, Tom Simons,
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