Hobblebush Books, founded in 1991 by author, editor and publisher Sidney Hall, Jr., is a small press in southern New Hampshire known best for its Granite State Poetry Series and its eclectic list of prose titles. While its poetry series only publishes authors who live in or have a strong connection to New Hampshire—most recent titles are the dark and playful Talismans by Maudelle Driskell and Falling Ashes by James Fowler, a collection primarily of haiku and haibun on “war and love and the rest”—prose offerings are slightly more wide-ranging.
For prose at Hobblebush you’ll find Poor Richard’s Lament, a fascinating novel by Tom Fitzgerald exploring the what-if scenario of Benjamin Franklin plunked into the twenty-first century; you’ll discover Creating the Peaceable Classroom by Sandy Bothmer, a wellness guide for educators, parents and students; and finally, you can pick from an assortment of memoirs that take you anywhere from the top of Mount Washington to the ports of New Orleans and Nova Scotia to the plains of East Africa.
For the Ploughshares blog, Sidney Hall, Jr. discusses Hobblebush’s mission, acquisitions, and its increasing public presence in the region (let’s just say they have a reputation for throwing great readings).
Q: Why did you establish Hobblebush Books? What publishing niche does Hobblebush fill?
SH: After publishing a small-town newspaper and running a commercial printing business, I decided to put those skills together with my interest in writing and poetry. I love everything about the written word, the look of fine typesetting, and the smell of ink. It was a natural progression. When I was at Reed College in Portland Oregon, I admired a local publisher named Breitenbush Books, both for their authors and their beautiful books. I wanted to do the same for New England.
I think our niche at Hobblebush is finding important new authors and giving them books that are in the best tradition of fine book-making. The look and feel of our books is as important as the content. A book undergoes a poesis, a conscious making, just as a poem does. We have a separate business called Hobblebush Design that produces books for other publishers, academic presses, small presses, self-publishers, anyone who is interested in well-designed print books. This business is very important to us because it helps us fund the publication of our own books.
Q: Even though several Hobblebush titles are set in far-flung regions, the press clearly has a strong kinship with New Hampshire. How does your sense of place inform your mission? Would you consider Hobblebush a regional press?
SH: We publish writers mainly from New England, but only a few of our books are designed for a regional audience. We want them to reach a national audience. However, there is a very strong sense of New Hampshire and New England in nearly everything we do. A poet like Charles Pratt is pure New England. The concept of place finds its way into a fair number of our books.
Q: Your catalogue of memoir titles in particular is geographically varied, but your stable of authors seems linked by their desire to form a deeper connection with the natural world. Because you don’t currently accept unsolicited manuscripts for prose, how did you discover these authors? Have you ever considered establishing a Hobblebush memoir series or contest that would solicit prose manuscripts? Why or why not?
SH: Well, we do invite queries. One particularly entertaining query letter led to our publication of Rime of the Ancient Underwriter: How I Stowed the Day Job and Went to Sea, a delightful memoir about sailing around the world in a three-masted barque. The query just showed up on my email door stoop and invited itself in. We do have a deep interest in books that explore the relationship of individuals to nature. We’ve never considered having a series of memoirs, or a contest, but it’s an interesting idea.
Q: New Hampshire has such a rich poetic history with writers who have garnered national acclaim—Robert Frost to Maxine Kumin, Jane Kenyon to Donald Hall, just to name a few—what role do you hope the Granite State Poetry Series will play in the twenty-first century? What New Hampshire poets are you most excited about right now?
SH: Since we began the Hobblebush Granite State Poetry Series our admiration for the richness of New Hampshire’s poetry tradition has only grown. We have been able to choose from a plethora of very accomplished poets and we believe that the few we have published are truly worthy of national attention. The two newest books in the series, Talismans by Maudelle Driskell and Field Guide A Tempo by Henry Walters are particularly exciting. Walters is a musician with words. As Rosanna Warren says in her endorsement of the book, he is a poet who is “unafraid of ecstasy. . . Every line ignites.” This book will be out this fall. We expect this and a number of our other titles to be more than a flash in the pan.
Q: It’s terrific to see how Hobblebush has turned the humble and quiet poetry reading into a true event, whether it’s at a winery in Amherst, at a city park in Nashua, or—this coming Sunday, September 28—along the paths of the John Jay Forest Ecology Trail in the Fells of Newbury. What’s Hobblebush’s goal with these readings? What discoveries have you made as the press has ventured into the local community?
SH: These events are the brainchild of Kirsty Walker, our talented marketing director. She felt that the audience for poetry should be broadened, and that readings should not be academic or staid affairs. We have fun. We have our office dog Holly up on the stage. We drink wine and we have readings where the poets can react in the moment to the audience or to other poets. Our authors have responded very favorably to these new venues and the audiences get to see a relaxed and dynamic side to our authors. It is satisfying all around. We hope to dream up more new venues. All of our events are listed in an online calendar on our website, www.hobblebush.com. We also put out a monthly newsletter which we try to make entertaining and informative. Readers can subscribe to it on the website.