Karen Copp, University of Iowa Press
Karen Copp first visited Iowa in 1990 to interview for a position with the University of Iowa Press.
As design and production manager, she's since made her mark on hundreds of UI Press books. Copp earned a BFA in studio art from the University of Texas at Austin and always has been intrigued by good design.
An fyi interview provides insight into her work and sense of style.
You graduated from the University of Texas. Are you a Texan?
No, I really can’t call myself a Texan as I wasn’t born in Texas. My family moved around when I was growing up. My dad was a sociology professor, and we lived in Pennsylvania, then outside Washington, D.C., and moved to Texas when I was about to start high school.
That must have been a bit of a transition.
It was, especially because I didn't know anything about football. But I wanted to fit in at my new high school, so I joined the pep squad. Then I realized I didn't have any pep. I simply wasn't interested in football. So that was a lesson in learning to follow things about which you're truly passionate. Since then, I've been able to find pep elsewhere.
Does that include your job?
Yes, I like the variety. In my previous job, I worked only on journals, which had a set format. Here at the UI Press, each book has unique elements, so there are always new subjects to dip into and new problems to solve. I'm involved in figuring out the cover art for different books, and I enjoy finding a good match for the content. The process sometimes is nonlinear; I'll be looking for something for one book when I discover something for another. The authors often have interesting ideas, too.
Could you describe an "uh-oh" experience you've had at the press?
We wanted to start doing laminated, folded guides a few years ago. I looked at samples for similar guides, talked to a number of printers, and didn't think they'd be that difficult to produce. Well, the first guides wouldn't stay folded. They'd pop open no matter what. We even tried ironing them. It turned out that making laminated, folded guides is a complex process. In fact, for the particular configuration of panels we use in our guides, the process (hinged lamination) is patented. We've since produced eight Iowa natural history guides as part of the Bur Oak series. They fold up nicely and stay shut.
Which book have you most enjoyed producing?
I’ve worked on a lot of interesting books but two of my favorites were Claudia McGehee's illustrated books, A Tallgrass Prairie Alphabet and A Woodland Counting Book, which were the press’s very first children's books. They're full of neat natural history information and the illustrations are so energetic and playful.
What are you working on now?
A book on the butterflies of Iowa—we don't yet have one for the state. I'm getting the maps and photos ready for design. It's been fun to work on but the Latin names of all the butterflies are starting to look weird to me.
You work with books all day. Do you read for pleasure?
I enjoy reading fiction. I just read the novel The History of Love by Nicole Krauss.
What else do you like to do outside of work?
Some typical hobbies like gardening, bike riding, making cards for friends. But I also like to yodel in the car along to music that has yodeling in the refrain. I'd like to really learn to yodel. Maybe it's a karaoke delusion but I think I'm getting the hang of it. I also like to think up fake book titles. It's a residual effect from the job. One title is Make Your Bed with Yourself Still In It.
I'd read that. Have you seen any good movies lately?
Limbo, a John Sayles movie set in Alaska. I was able to relate to it because my fiancé, Steve Hendrix [UI professor of biology], and I went there together in September. Alaska is such an interesting mix of raw nature and tourism, and for the time of year, warmer than I had expected.
What’s something coworkers might be surprised to learn about you?
I used to make a lot of my own clothes.
What put an end to that?
I never could figure out how to alter them, so they didn't fit quite properly. Frankly, I wasn't very good at it. I'm thinking of taking up knitting. I might be better at it than sewing.
by Becky Soglin