Indie Spotlight: Stillhouse Press

stillhouse press

Founded in January 2014, Stillhouse Press has one book out of the hopper, five more slated for publication in 2016, and the press is poised to take the literary scene by storm. Stillhouse was founded by novelist Dallas Hudgens, who also began Stillhouse’s sister imprint, Relegation Books, and the press operates as a collaboration between Northern Virginia’s Fall for the Book festival and students from George Mason University’s creative writing programs.

Stillhouse’s first book, Helen on 86th Street and Other Stories, is a Helen86_Final Cover.inddwonderfully sardonic collection of stories by the late Wendi Kaufman, author and professional champion of authors through her work with Alan Cheuse’s NPR show “The Sound of Writing.” The title story of Kaufman’s collection appeared in the New Yorker, and the rest of her book is equally as strong, with a terrific cast of women narrating their navigations through the modern world at various stages of life. Stillhouse’s other titles, which are slated for release throughout 2016, look to be an exciting mix of poetry and prose by new and established authors.

Currently, Stillhouse accepts submissions of poetry, literary fiction, and creative nonfiction, asking a mere $5 reading fee through Submittable. Stillhouse also awards the Mary Roberts Rinehart prize—$1,000 plus publication; the Rinehart prize alternates between nonfiction and fiction each year for a literary manuscript of 60,000-90,000 words. The 2015 winner is Jacqueline Kolosov, whose manuscript Motherhood, and the Places Between, will be published in September of 2016.

For Ploughshares, Editor-in-Chief Marcos L. Martínez elaborates on the genesis of Stillhouse and shares the essentials of what readers and writers need to know about this exciting new press.Continue Reading

Indie Spotlight: Autumn House Press

autumn press

Autumn House Press was formed in Pittsburgh by poet Michael Simms in 1998, just as commercial and scholarly presses were responding to economic woes by slashing budgets and shrinking lists, abandoning established poets along the way. Autumn House made a name for itself by publishing an impressive roster of notable poets, including Gerald Stern, Ada Limon, Ellery Akers, Chana Bloch, Richard Jackson, Ed Ochester, Frank Gaspar, and Andrea Hollander. In 2008, the press expanded into fiction and in 2010 began publishing nonfiction; the press also is known for its influential contemporary anthologies.

In June 2015 after several years of training his replacements, Simms turned over the running of Autumn House to Christine Stroud, who selects, edits, and promotes new releases, and Alison Taverna, who manages business affairs. Simms continues as president of Autumn House, but his role is primarily that of mentor and advisor to the staff.

Autumn House’s most recent books include Twin of Blackness by Clifford Thompson, a terrific memoir in which the author, born in 1963, recounts his upbringing in a lower-middle-class black Washington D.C. neighborhood alongside his “twin”: “I feel toward blackness the way one might toward a twin. I love it, and in a pinch I defend it; I resent the baggage that comes with it; I have been made to feel afraid of not measuring up to it; I am identified with it whether I want to be or not—and never more than when I assert an identity independent of it.”

Other new titles are Our Portion: New and Selected Poems by Philip Terman, recently excerpted on Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor, and So Many Africas: Six Years in a Zambian Village, Jill Kandel’s quiet and candid memoir of moving to a remote part of Zambia as a newlywed in the early 1980s.

Autumn House primarily accepts book-length poetry, fiction, and nonfiction submissions through its three annual contests, which award publication and a $2,500 prize in each genre. Through its online imprint, Coal Hill Review, Autumn House also sponsors a yearly chapbook contest in poetry whose deadline of November 1 is quickly approaching.

For the Ploughshares blog, Autumn House founder Michael Simms shares more about Autumn House’s history, aesthetic, and outlook, and he discusses Vox Populi, his new publishing venture.

Kate Flaherty: Autumn House initially published only poetry. What prompted the addition of fiction and nonfiction? How has the press evolved as you’ve expanded?

Michael Simms: Our fiction and nonfiction initiatives came about as a result of natural growth in our community. My former colleague Sharon Dilworth, who had been the fiction editor at Carnegie Mellon University Press for ten years, put forward some interesting ideas about book projects she wanted to work on and she brought considerable talent and a wide network of authors, including Stewart O’Nan and Kathleen George. Later, Phillip Lopate encouraged us to start a nonfiction line, and he agreed to judge our nonfiction contest for the first couple of years.Continue Reading

Indie Spotlight: The Backwaters Press


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Eighteen years ago, The Backwaters Press was established by poet Greg Kosmicki in Omaha, Nebraska, and immediately made its presence known with the anthology Times of Sorrow, Times of Grace: Writing by Women of the Great Plains/High Plains, which won two Nebraska Book Awards in 2003. The Backwaters Press has continued to produce illuminating anthologies celebrating the work of writers living and working in the Great Plains/High Plains, including Road Trip, a collection of interviews with Nebraska poets, as well as anthologies of personal reminiscences about unsung, brilliant writers Weldon Kees and Thomas McGrath. In addition to these titles, The Backwaters Press also has published literary fiction and nonfiction, but the bulk of its books are collections of poetry.

The Backwaters Press remains loyal to its Great Plains roots by publishing poets such as William Kloefkorn, Marjorie Saiser, Twyla Hansen and Mark Sanders, and the press also celebrates the work of poets around the globe through its annual Backwaters Press Prize. A small sample of The Backwaters titles include To Live in Autumn by Lebanese poet Zeina Hashem Beck, We Grow Old by Taiwanese poet Yu-Han Chao, and Bulrushes, by New York native Michael Madonick.

Current Backwaters Press titles are Only the Dead Are Forgiven, by renowned poet Greg Kuzma, and Wakpá Wanági: Ghost River by Trevino L. Brings Plenty, a collection described by Joy Harjo as “poems of a hardcore rez visionary,” that was recently named Book of the Month by the radio program “Native American Calling.”

Having made its mark in the Great Plains and beyond, The Backwaters Press’s current editor Jim Cihlar shares with Ploughshares what’s on the horizon as Backwaters Press closes in on publishing its 100th title. Continue Reading

Indie Spotlight: Tupelo Press


Founded in New England by Jeffrey Levine in fall of 1999, Tupelo Press made a splash with its first five collections of poetry, primarily by emerging writers, and it hasn’t looked back since. Tupelo quickly established a reputation for poetry collections that were both exacting and exciting, published to the highest design and production standards. Housed in North Adams, Massachusetts, Tupelo’s most recent titles include Ye Chun’s Lantern Puzzle, a “self-translated” collection of poems that effortlessly move between cultures, countries, and time itself; Soldier On, a collection of smart, conversational poems by Gale Marie Thompson; and, most recently, Fountain and Furnace by Hadara Bar-Nadav, exquisite poems that are deceptively minimal and powerfully deep.

In addition to publishing more than 150 titles thanks both to poetry contests and open submission periods, and expanding their list to include prose, Tupelo also hosts intimate writing conferences in California, New Mexico, and Maine and sponsors two online poetry-writing marathons. First is a 30/30 project where poets volunteer to write and post a new poem every day for 30 days and second is “The Million-Line Poem,” where, thanks to contributions of poets around the globe, a poem currently is growing couplet by couplet, until the final product will be celebrated with readings across the country.

Finally, Tupelo Press has established a Teen Writing Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, offering workshops and camps to high school aged students. Poet Jeffrey Levine, founder and editor of Tupelo, shared with me how the press has managed to grow so quickly while maintaining its level of excellence.

KF: With its conferences, teen center, and online presence, Tupelo has greatly expanded since your five titles from 2001. How do you juggle so many concurrent activities while maintaining your high publishing standards? Do you see the conferences, online projects, or teen writing center as venues for discovering new Tupelo authors?

JL: Certainly, the conferences and the Tupelo Quarterly bring us into contact with a rich pool of talented writers, some of whose books we’ve already solicited. But our secret is an extraordinary team. Continue Reading

Indie Spotlight: Etruscan Press

etruscan press



Etruscan Press began in 2001, founded by Philip Brady, Robert Mooney and Steve Oristaglio, who currently serve as Executive Director, Executive Editor, and Business Advisor. Housed at Wilkes University and partnered with Youngstown State in Ohio, Etruscan is probably best known for poetry (three titles have been chosen as National Book Award finalists and other collections have earned a lengthy list of accolades), but Etruscan also publishes a complete range of rich and varied literature. Novels, memoir, short story and essay collections, criticism, translation, and anthologies all have found their way onto Etruscan’s list.

In 2015 alone, Etruscan is putting out Cannot Stay by Kevin Oderman, a collection of travel essays to destinations that are common, uncommon, and even imagined; a gritty coming-of-age memoir, Crave, by Laurie Jean Cannady; and Poems and Their Making: A Conversation, an anthology “moderated” by Philip Brady and described as “a collection of original poems and essays by a diverse cast of inter-connected contemporary American poets, delving into the origin and development of poetic thought, line, and structure.”

Finally, Etruscan is publishing three collections of poetry this year, most notably The Other Sky, a collaboration between poet Bruce Bond and visual artist Aron Wiesenfeld that will surely show up on a number of “best of” lists by the end of this year. For Ploughshares, Executive Director and poet Philip Brady will share how the press achieves its mission of producing a “body of work in fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, criticism, and translation [that] subverts traditional boundaries and manifests the impulses beneath conventional modes.”

KF: Etruscan’s catalogue describes the press as devoted to “producing and promoting books that nurture a dialogue among genres and cultures,” yet your list of titles share such a contemplative and careful approach to both subject matter and precision of language that it seems every Etruscan title could be called poetry. What do you think makes a manuscript uniquely Etruscan? Does genre matter all that much to you over aesthetics?

Continue Reading

Indie Spotlight: McPherson & Company


McPherson & Company began with a simple mission just over 40 years ago. Bruce McPherson was enamored of his friend Jaimy Gordon’s manuscript Shamp of the City-Solo, so when Gordon was unable to find a publisher, he decided to put it out himself. While he didn’t intend to continue in the publishing world, the novel’s success convinced him otherwise.

McPherson has since put out two more of Gordon’s novels, including 2010’s National Book Award Winner Lord of Misrule, as well as more than a hundred fifty award-winning and best-selling titles that expand far beyond the realm of contemporary fiction.

McPherson & Co. now publishes translations, such as Divine Punishment by Nicaraguan writer Sergio Ramírez, which Carlos Fuentes lauded as “the quintessential Central American novel,” and a fantastic line of “Recovered Classics,” republishing authors whose work has been long out of print, including modernist writer Mary Butts and poet and essayist Edward Dahlberg. Plus, there are books on art and culture, belles lettres, and even some esoteric film DVDs of early art “happenings” by Claes Oldenberg.

Almost as impressive as McPherson & Co.’s wide range of offerings is the company’s support of independent bookstores. McPherson carefully manages its distribution, sending titles to independent bookstores weeks before they’re available elsewhere, with the rationale that independent bookstores inevitably support “independent writers from independent publishers,” and deserve McPherson’s support in return.

For Ploughshares readers and authors, McPherson shares how he’s remained independent these four decades, what he looks for in a McPherson title, and where McPherson is headed in the 21st century.

KF: McPherson has had an amazing run since its inception as Treacle Press in 1974. It’s almost a given at this point that every year a McPherson title will win national recognition, whether it’s an Independent Publisher IPPY award, a Pen Center or National Book Award, or inclusion on any number of “best of” lists. What editorial decisions regarding manuscripts do you think contribute to this level of excellence?

BM: It may sound pretentious to say that I simply publish books that seem to me important and worth sharing. But as an independent publisher, without directors and shareholders, I’m free to take risks that others perhaps can’t. I go for the best I can find (or who find me), and throw everything I’ve got behind the books I choose to do. It’s not really all that hard these days to find material of the highest quality. The Big Six still publish excellent books, of course, but seem to have relinquished entire provinces of literature to smaller publishers. Over the years I’ve been fortunate to meet and become friends with writers not only from around the country, but from around the world. Add to this that it’s not uncommon for my authors to point their friends in my direction. Sadly, the front list is very small, three or four books a year. I can’t begin to take on all the books I’d like to publish, and it’s painful having to disappoint authors whose work I revere. At the Book Expo America the other day, a Canadian publisher said he thought we’re living in a golden age of literary publishing. I believe him; the difficulty comes with convincing the reading public.Continue Reading

Indie Spotlight: Brighthorse Books

blog brighthorseHaving published their inaugural titles in 2015, Brighthorse Books is a brand-spanking new venture from novelists Jonis Agee and Brent Spencer. Based in Omaha, Nebraska, the press currently considers poetry, short fiction, and novel manuscripts through its annual Brighthorse Prize. By utilizing print-on-demand technology, Brighthorse also offers authors a 50/50 split on net book-sale profits, which, as most starving writers know, is pretty darn sweet.

More importantly, Brighthorse Books has hit the ground running with its initial trio of prize-winning titles. The novel Leaving Milan, by Elizabeth Oness, shares the quiet and powerful story of Harper Canaday, a young woman with more strikes against her than she deserves, who desires nothing more than a better life than the one she sees out her apartment window in a depressed Midwestern town. Rick Christman gives us Searching for Mozart, a collection of poetry both straightforward and poignant exploring the pain that lingers when a soldier returns home from Vietnam.

Maggie Boylan “a spiky little burned-out sparkler of a woman,” stars in Michael Henson’s The Way the World Is, a devastating short fiction collection about the incestuous relationship between local law enforcement and drug dealers as well as the clients they both share—hapless and resourceful addicts, of which Maggie is queen. Henson’s collection is easily the best fictional account of the widespread meth and Oxy wreckage in Appalachia since Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone.

The reading period for all three contests began on February 19, and Brighthorse will remain open for submissions until August 16, 2015, so you can enter nowFor Ploughshares, Brent Spencer explains the genesis of Brighthorse, what goes on behind the scenes, plus their plans for expansion in the future.

Kate Flaherty: The first question for any new independent press has to be why? What made the two of you agree to take the plunge into publishing?

Brent Spencer: Over the years, as writers and as teachers of creative writing, we’ve seen many manuscripts that should be published but don’t always find their way into print. At a certain point, we looked at each other and said, “Why don’t we publish them?” We’d each had experience as editors, and I ran a university press for several years, so we thought that, together, we might have the necessary skillset. We also wanted to find a way to give our graduate students in creative writing real-world experience as editors.Continue Reading

Indie Spotlight: Unbridled Books

imgresUnbridled Books was founded in 2003 by co-publishers Fred Ramey and Greg Michalson, who together have more than 50 years experience in publishing plus a terrific track record for finding and promoting literary fiction that sells in the commercial market. Self-described as an independent publisher focused on producing books that are “moving, beautiful, and surprising,” Unbridled’s list is an international patchwork of well-told tales set everywhere from Cuba to Iceland to Afghanistan, as well as America coast-to-coast. For the Ploughshares blog, Ramey and Michalson share the secrets of their indie success as well as what makes a writer Unbridled.

KF: While your press publishes stories from across the country and around the globe, what seems to bind Unbridled books together is a life-affirming humanity. Even in the inherent tragedy of Solveig Eggerz’s World War II-era novel Seal Woman or in the dark criminal underworld of Ed Falco’s Toughs, for example, there exists a spirit of hope and survival that can be difficult to find in these cynical times. What attracts you, as editors, to these types of novels? 

GM: I don’t mind dark, but I’m not much interested in “despair and die.” I’ll leave that to other publishers. If a reader is going to invest the time and energy into a book I publish I’d prefer there was some pay-off that affirms something about the world. Writing, after all, is in the end a hopeful enterprise. 

FR: We’ve published a good many novels that go to dark places in the heart, but I think you’re right. We’re probably less interested in novels that are all razors and needles. It seems we’re drawn more to the story that is finally in some way affirming and that knows full well why and how it got there. This isn’t a question of our being—or the authors’ being—idealistic.Continue Reading

Indie Spotlight: Leapfrog Press


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Leapfrog Press began in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, in 1993 as the brainchild of writers Marge Piercy and Ira Wood, whose initial goal was providing an outlet for literary fiction overlooked by the big New York houses. While Piercy has served as judge for Leapfrog’s annual fiction contest, the press currently is in the hands of Managing Editor Lisa Graziano and Acquisitions Editor Rebecca Schwab. Now based out of Fredonia, New York—in storied Chautauqua County on the shores of Lake Erie—Leapfrog’s list has moved on as well. In addition to literary fiction by both new and established writers, Leapfrog publishes a smattering of nonfiction and poetry and a diverse list of middle grade and YA fiction.

What makes Leapfrog stand out as an independent press is their refreshing lack of fear when it comes to compartmentalization. Despite publishing a small number of titles per year, they’ve put out everything from mysteries to memoir, science fiction to how-to, hardboiled exposé to tender and poignant story collections. When Leapfrog says they simply want “writing that expands our webs of connection with other humans and the natural world; books that illuminate our complexities,” they really mean it.

For Ploughshares, Lisa Graziano helps readers understand the why and how of their editorial decisions, provides details on Leapfrog’s annual fiction contest (deadline is May 1!) and gives the inside scoop on Leapfrog’s future.

KF: From Mary Malloy’s historical fiction/mysteries, starring adventurous academic Lizzie Manning, whose expertise and mettle could put even Indiana Jones to shame, to Michael Mirolla’s fascinating and frightening sci-fi tale The Facility, where the future is filled with Mussolini clones, to Li Miao Lovett’s powerful novel In the Lap of the Gods, set in China during the controversial construction of the Three Gorges Dam project, Leapfrog’s list is wonderfully quirky. What qualities do your divergent titles share? What marketing challenges does this wide range of titles bring you?

LG: Good storytelling first, and we do like quirky, as you put it. But our books share a few themes to which we are partial. Many have a grounding in science, sometimes subtle, sometimes not. Some are based in important cultural and/or historical questions, whether or not they are “historical.” We don’t perceive these themes as separate. They tend to run together in many our books. Continue Reading

Indie Spotlight: Ampersand Books

imgresFounded by Jason Cook, Ampersand Books is the epitome of publishing in the twenty-first century—brash, fresh, and aggressive. Ampersand, and its imprint Bloody Fine Chapbooks, have moved at a breakneck pace on a shoestring budget to produce a list of books thick with dark wordplay and wry humor. From the haunting (and haunted) poetry chapbook Ear to the Wall by Carrie Causey, to the clever collection When You Say One Thing But Mean Your Mother by Melissa Broder, to Roberto Montes’ funny and frightening I Don’t Know Do You (just named one of the “best, most original poetry books of the year” by NPR), Ampersand hit the ground running in 2009 and hasn’t looked back. For Ploughshares, Jason Cook divulges a secret or two of Ampersand’s success and what he sees as Ampersand’s place in the literary landscape of the future.

Kate Flaherty: Ampersand’s manuscript submission process—where you only consider manuscripts from authors whose work has appeared in your magazine, Ampersand Review—seems supremely practical. What were the grounds for this process? Does it make Ampersand’s inbox slightly more manageable?

Jason Cook: The inspiration for that process is, essentially, laziness. I knew that if I wound up in a staring match with a stack of unread manuscripts, I’d almost immediately surrender and go play on Facebook for 3 hours. Engaging in a conversation with a writer whose poem or story you just published is a whole different thing than reading yet another query letter, and usually you can give a “nay” or “maybay” before seeing it.

I think it also makes writers feel a little more comfortable about pitching me books that don’t exist yet. I don’t think many indie publishers do that, but I’m having fun shaping these books as they emerge.

KF: While distinctive from one another, Ampersand titles share a certain air of cynicism tinged with nostalgia for a world that never was. Ampersand’s fiction titles are particularly melancholy—for example the wistful snapshots that make up Joseph Riippi’s The Orange Suitcase or the exhausting psychological paralysis of Spencer Dew’s Here Is How It Happens. Explain this Ampersand worldview.

JC: Since the editorial staff is composed of exactly me, I guess that’s just what I like. I like books with a broken heart, but with enough self-awareness to wonder whether it matters.Continue Reading