In Remembrance of L.E. “Les” Phillabaum

Les Phillabaum, director emeritus of Louisiana State University Press, died on Wednesday, January 14, 2009. A legendary press director, champion of distinguished authors and poets, and former president of AAUP, he will be greatly missed by the university press community.

Phillabaum had a long history of involvement with AAUP, serving a term as AAUP President from 1984-1985, and co-authoring, with Sheldon Meyer, the pamphlet "What Is a University Press?" First published in 1980, the revised pamphlet from 1994 has been made available for viewing on AAUP's website in PDF format.

Born in Cortland, NY, in 1936, he received his master's degree in English from Penn State University. It was at Penn State's press that he began his career in scholarly publishing as a manuscript editor, moving next to an appointment as editor-in-chief of the University of North Carolina Press in 1963. In 1970 he went to LSU Press as executive editor and associate director, and was named director of the press in 1975. He held the position of director until his retirement in February of 2003, and at which point he was named Director Emeritus.

During Phillabaum's tenure at LSU Press, the press experienced tremendous growth: more than doubling its yearly title output and staff size, and publishing over 1,700 books. He helped publish numerous award-winning books, including A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. This legendary novel won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the first time a university press publication had received that honor. Phillabaum also worked with Mobil to develop the Pegasus Prize for Literature, promoting translations of award-winning fiction from other countries. In 2003, he was made an honorary member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers for his "service to the cause of southern literature."

Phillabaum was also known for his commitment to publishing poetry. Under his directorship two books won the Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry (Henry Taylor's The Flying Change and Lisel Mueller's Alive Together); and he is credited with helping to revive interest in the poet Robert Penn Warren. LSU Press established the L. E. Phillabaum Poetry Award in 2005 to honor this commitment and his venerable career.

Phillabaum is survived by his wife, Robbie; their daughter Diane and her husband; their son Scott and his wife; and two grandsons, Trey and Stephen.