January 14, 1959–August 28, 2017
Anthropology lost one of its finest editorial visionaries with the untimely passing of Rebecca J. Tolen on August 28, 2017. For most of her career, Tolen served as sponsoring editor for Indiana University Press, where she worked for 17 years. She opened her own editorial business, Textworks Editorial services, in 2015. Tolen (known to her friends, family, and colleagues as Becky) was instrumental in building IU Press into an innovative and highly regarded publisher of works in anthropology and related fields. She was the sponsoring editor for several series, including New Anthropologies of Europe (now 28 books), Tracking Globalization (14 books), Public Cultures of the Middle East and North Africa (23 books), and Middle East Studies (28 books). She also helped to spearhead the Framing the Global program, a multiyear Mellon-sponsored initiative between Indiana University and Indiana University Press.
Anthropologists who worked with Tolen had the great good fortune to have an editor with three degrees in anthropology (BA from Carleton College, MA and PhD from the University of Chicago). She did her research in highland Ecuador, and wrote a dissertation entitled “Wool and Acrylics, Countryside and City: Dress, Race and History in Chimborazo, Highland Ecuador” (1995). Before embarking on her career as an editor, Tolen taught at the University of Rochester, Ball State University, and Indiana University. As an editor, she had the rare capacity to be both visionary about a book’s larger possibilities and meticulous when it came to good, incisive writing. She had a gift for making scholarly books accessible, compelling, and worthwhile for readers to engage with. Not only could she identify strong ideas from her authors in their earliest stages, but she also knew how to help authors bring them to fruition. One author who worked with her described how she worked with him to reshape what initially seemed like “a hare-brained proposal” (Jonathan Shannon). Others describe her as “daring” with “rare courage and foresight” (Christa Salamandra); as “smart, incisive, and rigorous” (Adeline Masquelier); as both “generous with her time and wisdom and rigorous” (Sean Metzger); and as a “champion” who “helped me to shape my book” (Chaise LaDousa).
While Tolen worked across the humanities and social sciences, her deep knowledge of anthropology made her an exceptional resource for anthropologists. In the areas of language, performance, and media she edited books including Robert J. Foster’s Materializing the Nation: Commodities, Consumption, and Media in Papua New Guinea (2002), Jane Goodman’s Berber Culture on the World Stage: From Village to Video (2005), Brad Weiss’s Street Dreams and Hip Hop Barbershops: Global Fantasy in Urban Tanzania (2009), Chaise LaDousa’s House Signs and Collegiate Fun: Sex, Race, and Faith in a College Town (2011), Sean Metzger’s Chinese Looks: Fashion, Performance, Race (2014), and Jonathan Shannon’s Performing al-Andalus: Music and Nostalgia across the Mediterranean (2015).
Becky combined intellectual depth with depth of compassion, and civic and community engagement with curiosity about a wide variety of lived experiences around the world. She had uncompromising commitments to scholarship, teaching, editorial excellence, her authors, and her fellow beings—human and otherwise (particularly feline). She leaves behind a legacy of thoughtfully constructed stories, compassionately examined lives, fine writing, widely collected knowledge from around the world, grateful authors, and an appreciative group of friends, families, and colleagues who miss her. (Jane E. Goodman and Nancy Lightfoot, and the Society for Linguistic Anthropology)
Cite as: Goodman, Jane E., and Nancy Lightfoot, and the Society for Linguistic Anthropology. 2018. “Rebecca J. Tolen.” Anthropology News website, February 21, 2018. DOI: 10.1111/AN.781