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Small Press Points

On January 1, Sam Hamill stepped down as editor and artistic director of Copper Canyon Press (www.coppercanyonpress.org), the small publishing house that he cofounded with Tree Swenson 33 years ago in Port Townsend, Washington. Executive director Michael Wiegers has assumed Hamill’s role as artistic director, choosing which of the approximately 16 to 18 books of poetry the press publishes each year. Hamill made headlines in recent years, first for his work in the Poets Against the War movement, which started when he refused an invitation by Laura Bush to attend a poetry symposium at the White House in 2003. Then, just months before Copper Canyon announced Hamill’s departure, he was removed from his job as director of the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, sponsored by Centrum, the nonprofit arts organization that invited Copper Canyon to be its literary-press-in-residence in 1974. Despite the changes, Hamill recently received not one, but two awards for his efforts: The Washington Poets Association named Hamill the winner of its 2005 Lifetime Achievement Award, and he received the first $1,000 Stanley W. Lindberg Award for Excellence in Literary Editing, given in honor of the longtime editor of the Georgia Review (www.uga.edu/garev) and sponsored by the Rainer Writing Workshops in Tacoma. In April, Hamill’s Almost Paradise: New and Selected Poems and Translations will be published by Shambhala Publications (www.shambhala.com), a small press founded in 1969 by Sam Bercholz and Michael Fagan, in Berkeley, California.

In other news: Other Press (www.otherpress.com), the small New York–based publisher founded in 1999, recently joined W.W. Norton’s roster of distribution clients. Forthcoming from Other Press in April is Hosack’s Folly, a novel by Gillen D’Arcy Wood; And the Word Was, a novel by Bruce Bauman; and The Return of the Blue Cat, a collection of poems by F.D. Reeve. Handsel Books, the Other imprint edited by Harry Thomas, will publish the selected poems of Dick Barnes and translations of poems by Eugenio Montale in the spring.

Anyone who wanders onto the Web site of Suspect Thoughts Press (www.suspectthoughtspress.com) will quickly surmise that this isn’t your typical independent press. The San Francisco–based publisher labels itself “a terrible infant hell-bent to publish challenging, provocative, stimulating, and dangerous books by contemporary authors and poets exploring social, political, queer, spiritual, and sexual themes.” It is not—nor is it trying to be—everyone’s cup of tea. A little further down the page is a link to Suspect Thoughts: A Journal of Subversive Writing. The Enter Here—Adults Only button should be enough to give readers suspect thoughts of their own. Despite (or more likely because of) the transgressive subject matter of many of the books of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction it publishes, Suspect Thoughts Press was the winner of the 2004 Best of the Bay Award for “Best Brand-New Badass, Superqueer Press” and a finalist for the 2003 Lambda Literary Award for Best Independent LGBT Press. Suspect’s titles are distributed by Publishers Distributing Company in Los Angeles. Forthcoming in April are two books of fiction, One of These Things Is Not Like the Other by D. Travers Scott and Attack of the Man-Eating Lotus Blossoms by Justin Chin.

Occasionally a small press produces books whose value is instantly apparent—in the way they look and feel—to readers who are willing to take a little extra time to appreciate a book as a piece of art before cracking it open. Case in point: Vernacular Press (www.vernacularpress.com) in New York City. On the surface, the mission of Vernacular Press—“to discover, preserve, and promote the expression of original voices”—is like many others. But the collectible books in which those original voices are preserved are unique. Launched in 2002 by Hilary Hamann, Vernacular Press has published only a handful of books, but with plans for several more titles, an online magazine, and a literary contest open to high school and college students, the six staffers—Hamann, Christine Vecoli, James Benard, Tatiana Vasiliou, Jovan Mastrofilippo, and Matt Colabraro—are, to use the vernacular, swamped.

Kevin Larimer is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

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Small Press Points (March/April 2005)
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