Indie Spotlight: Press 53

press 53

Press 53, based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was founded in 2005 by Kevin Morgan Watson as a publisher of short fiction and poetry. Although they put out a smattering of memoirs and novels for a short time, in 2011 they narrowed their focus to publish only poetry, short fiction, and flash collections. They publish about a dozen new titles each year, including winners of their two contests—the Press 53 Award for Short Fiction, beginning every September 1, and the Press 53 Award for Poetry, beginning every April 1. The press has an imprint, Press 53 Carolina Classics, which republishes books of note by North Carolina writers that have gone out of print, and Press 53 also has an online presence with Prime Number Magazine, which has a downloadable app for its free 53-Word Story Contest.

While Press 53 clearly has a commitment to publishing southern writers, they also publish a wonderful range of writers from all over the country. Fiction collections include C.D. Albin’s Hard Toward Home, a complex set of stories set in the Ozarks, Jodi Paloni’s They Could Live with Themselves, interrelated stories set in a small New England town, and Damn Sure Right by Californian Meg Pokrass, sharp and funny flash that could be everywhere and anywhere. For poetry, there’s Hedy Habra’s Under Brushstrokes, poems inspired by great art, Linda Annas Ferguson’s Dirt Sandwich, a collection that considers the fleeting and interrelated nature of beauty and art and life itself, and the delightful Joseph Mills, whose latest collection with Press 53, Exit, pursued by bear, poems inspired by Shakespeare’s stage directions, was just published in April. Nearly all Press 53 titles garner awards and recognition regionally, nationally, and internationally.

For Ploughshares, Kevin Morgan Watson will provide readers and writers with his insights on the editorial process at Press 53, and what his team looks for in an author.

Kate Flaherty: Would you say Press 53 books have an “off the beaten path” feel to them, as though the writers, like the places their books or ideas are set, had been hidden gems prior to publication? Why or why not?

Kevin Morgan Watson: That’s an interesting way to describe our books. I think it’s accurate in that we are not paying attention to what styles of writing or themes are popular, and we steer clear of experimental and academic writing. Personally, I set out to find writing that takes me someplace new and interesting, that introduces me to characters who intrigue me, whose dialogue is natural and surprising. I ask our poetry series editors to do the same: go out and find writing that moves you and bring it home. Often these writers turn out to be debut authors and poets, those hidden gems you mentioned, who have been writing and publishing individual pieces for years but have not yet published a collection. But we’ve also attracted veteran masters like Pinckney Benedict, Kelly Cherry, David Jauss, Cathy Smith Bowers, Robert Morgan, and David Bottoms.Continue Reading

Indie Spotlight: Bellevue Literary Press

 

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Bellevue Literary Press was founded in 2005 by Erika Goldman and Jerome Lowenstein, author, M.D., and Professor at New York University School of Medicine, where he also began the Program for Humanistic Aspects of Medical Education. Bellevue is currently headed by publisher and editorial director Erika Goldman, who cofounded the press after over twenty years with a variety of major New York publishers.

The mission of Bellevue Literary Press is ”publishing literary fiction and nonfiction at the intersection of the arts and sciences,” and the press quickly established itself with groundbreaking titles that transcend the simple categories of fiction and nonfiction, art and science.

Just a few of Bellevue’s notable titles include the novel Tinkers by Paul Harding, which gave Bellevue national mainstream recognition when it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2010, The Leper Compound by Paula Nangle, a girl’s coming-of-age story like no other, set in the last years of war-torn Rhodesia, Jerome Charyn’s A Loaded Guna imaginative and unprecedented look at Emily Dickinson that is part biography, part literary criticism,and altogether fascinating, and The Cage by Gordon Weiss, a nonfiction account of the devastation suffered by Sri Lankan civilians when the Sri Lankan military defeated the Tamil Tigers in 2009. The Cage was such an important exposé that United Nations diplomat Charles Petrie credited it when reporting on the atrocities committed during the last stages of that war.

Bellevue Literary Press also engages in several outreach programs, most notably within the New York University School of Medicine, where their authors have served as lecturers at the NYU Medical School’s Colloquium of Medical Ethics in the Master Scholars Program, and also guest lecturers at Medical Grand Rounds at the NYU School of Medicine.

Erika Goldman shares with Ploughshares what drives Bellevue’s unique editorial objective, and what it’s like to helm a press that has truly changed the literary landscape, if not, in some small measure, the world.

KF: Your titles all carry such a weight of importance with readers, in part because of the subject matter but also because of the quality of the storytelling, no matter the topic. When you’re choosing a manuscript or working with an author, what qualities would you say contribute to this merging of story with subject, art and science?

EG: While we are committed to publishing books of ideas, it all comes down to the craft; a fine writer can write about any subject and make it compelling.
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Indie Spotlight: Canarium Books

canarium

With assistance from the University of Michigan, Canarium Books formed in 2008 out of the journal The Canary, which had been founded by writers Joshua Edwards, Anthony Robinson, and Nick Twemlow. Now based in Marfa, Texas under the collective editorship of Joshua Edwards, Nick Twemlow, Robyn Schiff, and Lynn Xu, Canarium publishes three to four collections of poetry or poetry in translation every year.

Canarium Books has compiled a carefully curated catalogue showing a breadth of vision in the style and content of its titles, as well as a commitment to its authors, many of whom are on their second book with the press. Titles include John Beer’s The Waste Land and Other Poems, a collection as intellectually ambitious as it is delightfully down-to-earth, Darcie Dennigan’s sharply crafted and many layered Madame X, and The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa, translated by Sawako Nakayasu.

Sagawa, described by the New Yorker as “one of the most innovative and prominent avant-garde poets in early-twentieth-century Japan,” had virtually disappeared from the cultural map until Canarium published Nakayasu’s translations. The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa was recently awarded the 2016 PEN prize for poetry in translation.

For the Ploughshares blog, Joshua Edwards will share what makes Canarium tick, and provide prospective Canarium authors some guidance on how to get added to their esteemed author list.

KF: The press was founded in Michigan and now is based in Marfa, Texas, a location giving new meaning to the term “middle of nowhere,” while also being a ridiculously unique cultural mecca. While not all of your editorial staff resides in Marfa, how does the location contribute to and complement Canarium’s vision?Continue Reading

Indie Spotlight: Sarabande Books

sarabande 

Founded in 1994 in Louisville, Kentucky by Sarah Gorham and Jeffrey Skinner, Sarabande Books began with a mission to publish and distribute with “diligence and integrity” books of poetry, short fiction and essays. Their first two titles appeared 20 years ago as winners of the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction and the Kathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry (this year’s reading period for both prizes opens March 15). Now Sarabande publishes 10 to 12 titles per year and has added two regional prizes—The Linda Bruckheimer Series in Kentucky Literature and The Flo Gault Poetry Prize for Kentucky Undergraduates.

Even the shortest selection of Sarabande’s most recent titles shows the press’s impact on contemporary American literature. Kerry Howley’s collection of essays on the lives of two cage fighters, Thrown, made at least a half-dozen “best of” lists in 2014, Caitlin Horrocks‘ collection of stories This Is Not Your City earned a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers distinction in 2011, and Amy Gustine’s collected stories You Should Pity Us Instead with a hot-off-the-press February 2016 publication date is already piling up a year’s worth of accolades.

Adding to their award-winning offerings in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, Sarabande has published a varied and valuable collection of anthologies as well as their Quarternote Chapbooks, a remarkable series of titles from contemporary American poets including Stephen Dunn, Louise Glück, C.K. Williams, and James Tate.

Sarabande’s careful expansion over the years extends beyond book publication. The press produces the online resource Sarabande in Education, which provides reading guides and interactive material for educators, runs a writers’ residency program at Bernheim Arboretum and Research forest near Louisville, and operates Sarabande Writing Labs, which delivers arts education to underserved communities in Kentucky.

For Ploughshares, Editor-in-Chief Sarah Gorham shares her insights on Sarabande’s place in independent publishing today, and gives readers and writers a preview of where the press is headed in the immediate future.

KF: Sarabande’s first two titles were Lee Martin’s short fiction collection The Least You Need to Know, and Jane Mead’s poetry collection The Lord and the General Din of the World. Martin has since gone on to publish several books of fiction and nonfiction and been nominated for the Pulitzer; Mead has collected Guggenheim, Lannan, and Whiting accolades. That’s quite a one-two punch for your first two authors, and your track record of plucking talent from the slushpile and prize entrants continues to be strong. What distinguishes a Sarabande author? How exciting is it to see your writers rise in respect and recognition?
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Indie Spotlight: Pressgang

pressgangBegun in 2012 by fiction writer Bryan Furuness, Pressgang is based at Butler University and is affiliated with Butler’s MFA program and the Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writer Series. Pressgang’s initial publications have come from its Pressgang Prize, which awards $1,500 and publication to a book-length fiction or memoir manuscript. Its initial two titles show a determination to publish wonderful range of styles, from the quirky and poignant collection of stories by Jacob Appel, Einstein’s Beach House, to Teresa Milbrodt’s delightful collection of vignettes Larissa Takes Flight.

Pressgang’s current Editor-in-Chief is writer Robert Stapleton, and he is the force behind Pressgang’s newest and most ambitious title, just published this month. Flashed: Sudden Stories in Comics and Prose is a fantastic collection of stories both written and illustrated. Editors Josh Neufeld and Sari Wilson recruited several trios of writers and cartoonists to “respond to one another’s work with original pieces of flash fiction,” producing a rich collection of collaborative riffs from an amazing range of writers and artists. Lynda Barry, Aimee Bender, Junot Díaz, Steve Almond, Sherrie Flick, and so many more not only created the stories and comics in the collection, they also discussed the collective creative venture they took part in.

For Ploughshares, Robert Stapleton discusses Pressgang’s latest publication and current status, and shares what the press has in store in the future.

KF: Your submission guidelines request work that blurs boundaries: “Think Lorrie Moore, think Laurie Anderson, think Lemony Snickett,” and your initial publications exhibit that refreshing eclectic flavor. How will Pressgang’s editorial choices evolve now that the press is under your leadership?

RS: Bryan and I have had neighboring offices at Butler since 2010. We share many similar aesthetic and publishing interests, and Booth and Pressgang have naturally risen from our daily conversations. Since Pressgang’s inception, I have been intimately involved with its editorial board and the decisions of what to publish, just like Bryan has always been, and still is, integral to Booth’s editorial curation. The primary distinction is that I tend to champion graphic design whenever possible.

KF: You’re also editor of the online and print journal Booth. Do you see a collaborative future between the journal and press? How do you manage both enterprises?Continue Reading

Indie Spotlight: Small Beer Press

small beer press

Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant, a writing and editing superduo based in western Massachusetts, began Small Beer Press in 2000, and immediately built a list of titles that garnered a number of awards for science fiction, fantasy, and horror and also landed on a variety of “best of” lists from publications as varied as Time, Salon, Booklist, and The Village Voice. Small Beer books defy genre while also celebrating it; their titles are wondrous and fantastical, blurring the line between the speculative and the concrete in ways that are sometimes dark, sometimes delightful, and altogether original.

Small Beer and its imprint Big Mouth (which publishes fiction for readers 10 and up) have quite the stable of authors, not least of which is Kelly Link herself. Joan Aiken, Holly Black, Peter Dickinson, Lydia Millet, Ursula K. Le Guin, Delia Sherman, and Howard Waldrop are just a few of their notable names.

New discoveries, like Ayize Jama-Everett, author of a trio of Small Beer novels featuring Chabi, a half-Mongolian, half-black female martial arts expert, and flash and short story writer Mary Rickert, whose collection You Have Never Been Here was published by Small Beer this fall, are just beginning to rack up the awards and notoriety to continue Small Beer’s quickly established legacy. Rickert’s book in particular is an excellent embodiment of the dance with genre that exemplifies a Small Beer book. You Have Never Been Here is full of fairy tales and ghost stories, otherworldly and gothic, but Rickert’s stories are also as frighteningly familiar as the nightly news headlines or the small town “strange but true” tales that get passed around at the beauty shop or the bar.

What might be most remarkable is that Small Beer Press still accepts unsolicited submissions the old-fashioned way; they ask writers to submit the first 10-20 pages via snail mail with a forever-stamped SASE to their PO Box in Easthampton, Massachusetts.

For Ploughshares, Gavin J. Grant and Kelly Link and share what goes on behind the curtain at Small Beer, what prospective authors need to know, and what surprises they have in store for readers in the new year.Continue Reading

Indie Spotlight: Short Flight/Long Drive Books

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Short Flight/Long Drive Books is an independent press that emerged from the online literary magazine Hobart, founded by writer Aaron Burch in 2001. Hobart, which currently posts a wide variety of new literary and contemporary culture content on a daily basis, launched Short Flight/Long Drive Books in 2006 with fiction writer Elizabeth Ellen at the helm.

Ellen has worn many hats at Hobart since 2002, serving by turns as Hobart’s co-editor, fiction editor, and poetry editor, and she has collected a number of distinguished and daring titles for SF/LD that are smart rather than merely clever, well-crafted without being overwrought.

SF/LD books range from the near-classic NowTrends by Karl Taro Greenfeld, stories mixing absurdity with the dark underbelly of international adventure, to Jess Stoner’s I Have Blinded Myself Writing This, an unsettling meditation on philosophy, memory and pain, to Selected Tweets by Tao Lin and Mira Gonzalez, whose Twitter conversation serves as an apt medium for disjointed narratives to form a story of personal connection in this fractured 21st century.

For Ploughshares, Elizabeth Ellen explains what makes Short Flight/Long Drive tick, as well as what’s on the travel itinerary in their near future.

Kate Flaherty: Like Short Flight/Long Drive, several new independent presses have evolved as an offshoot of a literary website. What motivated Hobart to expand to book publishing?

Elizabeth Ellen: Aaron and I had been working together to edit Hobart (both the print journal and the online journal) for about four years at that point, and while I enjoyed co-editing, it was clear that Hobart was Aaron’s baby, so to speak—that he had the last say-so when it came to anything Hobart-related—and I wanted my own baby to have say-so over. Books seemed a natural offshoot.Continue Reading

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