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?
PB: The press emerged from years of conversation with my co-founder, Bob Mooney. Bob is a fiction writer and I’m a poet, and we were asking about the nature of these enterprises. Are they completely different activities which happen to share the technology of the alphabet? Are they modes of the same creative activity? Etruscan contends that poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction and criticism are not merely traditions and sets of conventions; they emerge from human impulses: to sing, to tell stories, to remember, to understand. So, yes, poetry is striated throughout the works we publish, even when we call it prose.
KF: Etruscan’s outreach program, where authors work with underserved students in area high schools, utilizes a handful of powerful titles including Fast Animal by Tim Seibles, a poetry collection with a range that easily proves the Whitman “I contain multitudes” adage, as well as Kazim Ali’s The Disappearance of Seth, a novel using the destruction of New York City’s twin towers as a touchstone for understanding the other. What elements do these books have that make them perfect for this kind of program? How do you think your outreach program benefits the authors in addition to benefiting the students?
PB: Our outreach program partners with the Youngstown State University Poetry Center to bring authors and new books to underserved populations in high schools, community centers, prisons, and retirement homes. We’ve brought many Etruscan authors and their books to Youngstown, including Tim Seibles, Diane Raptosh, Bruce Mills, Claire Bateman, H. L. Hix, Bruce Bond, Peter Grandbois, Renee D’Aoust, Remica Bingham, Bill Heyen, Carol Moldaw, Lynn Lurie, and Sean Dougherty.
The exchanges are powerful. For the high school students at East High, Choffin Career Center, and Early College, these authors offer a glimpse into the possibilities of the wide world. The books they bring are often the first books the students own which aren’t class texts or works aimed specifically to their age group. We bring mystery to these classrooms. As you say, Kate, we “contain multitudes.” Because there are no tests, the construction of meaning is in the hands of the students. When I hear “No child left behind” I think of a line, a hierarchy. Our motto is “No child left out.” We mean community.
For instance, I think of one prison student who said after a poetry slam, “That’s the most fun I’ve had in prison—of stuff we’re allowed to do.” I think of an East High student who asked where I lived, and when I said I lived nearby, she replied, “I didn’t know authors live around here.” Our authors feel it too. They are deeply moved by this experience—an experience of sharing their work in a context very different from the usual reading. After one intense and insightful class discussion with incarcerated students, one author said, “I’m really angry. How can these readers be in prison?” We have future plans to bring our outreach program to Pennsylvania, working with Wilkes University, which houses Etruscan.
KF: The Other Sky is such an exciting collaboration; was the process of publishing this book more challenging than other titles? And do you have more multimedia titles planned?
PB: I love The Other Sky. In conception, it illustrates the kind of collaboration Etruscan strives to support. Bruce Bond is a great poet, and he brought his matchless craft to the strange and haunting paintings of Aron Weisenfeld. Weisenfeld’s paintings have also received quite a lot of notice in the literary world. We’re using one of his paintings on the cover of Joseph P.Wood’s forthcoming YOU. Nin Andrews, one of our advisory board members, is using another Weisenfeld painting on the cover of her new book from BOA, Why God Is A Woman. But the thing is, Kate, I love all our books. And each one has a story behind it—usually more than one story—which is why editors so often sound like the ancient mariner. We can’t stop yarning our joys and woes.
KF: What else is in store from Etruscan? Any plans to delve into more genres? Graphic novels? Flash fiction?
PB: Yes, our first flash fiction book, Meg Pokrass’s The Dog Looks Happy Upside Down, is coming out in Sprng 2016. We’ve got some wonderful books in the works. This fall, in addition to Crave, which you’ve mentioned, we’ll release H. L. Hix’s American Anger, a screed that delves into the source of the American empire—and talk about form-bending: behind the text, barely legible, is inscribed the history of class, race, and gender oppression in grayscale boustrophedon. Thorpe Moeckel, whose poetic kin are Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder and whose roots are deep as Hesiod, is releasing a trilogy, Arcadia Road. Next spring, we also have a pair of books hearkening back to Homer: David Lazar’s prose poems, Who’s Afraid of Helen of Troy and D.M. Spitzer’s A Heaven Wrought of Iron, a new version of and commentary on the Odyssey, in the mode of Alice Oswald and Christopher Logue.
So, as the Irish poet Michael Longley says, we’re “walking backward into the future, like a Greek.”