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Small Press Points

Fifty years ago, Lawrence Ferlinghetti founded City Lights Books (www.citylights.com) in San Francisco. The first book in the press’s signature Pocket Poet Series was Ferlinghetti’s own Pictures of the Gone World, which was followed by volumes by Kenneth Rexroth and Kenneth Patchen. But it was the fourth title, published in 1956, that established the press as a revolutionary independent. The publication of Allen Ginsberg’s landmark Howl and Other Poems led to the arrest of Ferlinghetti—along with Shig Murao, a clerk at City Lights, the bookstore Ferlinghetti cofounded three years before—on obscenity charges. The American Civil Liberties Union defended Ginsberg’s work in a highly publicized trial in San Francisco, which concluded in October 1957, when Judge Clayton Horn ruled that Howl had redeeming social value. If City Lights Books had never published another title—the press has published nearly two hundred books of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and translations—this year’s 50th anniversary would still be cause for celebration. On June 2, the press will host a party for City Lights authors and staff at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project in New York City. The next day, Ferlinghetti will join Consortium (www.cbsd.com), the distributor for over 80 independent publishers—also celebrating an anniversary this year, its 20th—at the distributor’s booth at BookExpo America, the U.S. publishing industry’s largest trade show. Forthcoming titles from City Lights Books include The Other Side of the Postcard, an anthology of poems about living in San Francisco, edited by the third poet laureate of that city, Devorah Major; and The Island of My Hunger, an anthology of Cuban poets, edited by poet and essayist Francisco Morán.

Verse Press (www.versepress.org) recently announced that the nonprofit poetry publisher founded in 1999 by Brian Henry and Matthew Zapruder is being swept away—“absorbed” is the official verb—by Wave Books, a new poetry press based in Seattle. The news isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds. Wave Books was recently founded by philanthropist Charlie Wright, the former executive director of the Dia Art Foundation in New York City, and is committed to preserving and expanding the vision of Verse Press. (That vision has seen the publication of two dozen books of poetry in six years.) Wave Books will maintain editorial offices on both the East and West Coasts—the former Verse Press headquarters in Florence, Massachusetts, will be staffed by Zapruder and managing editor Lori Shine; the Seattle office of Wave Books will be headed by a new editor, Joshua Beckman, the author of three books of poetry and an audio CD published by—that’s right—Verse Press. Verse magazine, edited by Brian Henry, will continue to function separately, through the nonprofit Verse, Inc.

Jean Casella recently stepped down as director of the Feminist Press (www.feministpress.org), the independent publisher of women’s writing founded by Florence Howe in 1970. Casella, who worked at the press for nine years—five as editorial director and four as publisher and director—says the board of directors voted not to renew her job contract last December. The problem, Casella explained in a group e-mail, was not her performance in acquiring, publishing, and selling books. “They were dissatisfied with my work as a fund-raiser, and felt that the press now needed someone with more experience in administration and financial management, and a strong record in raising funds, rather than someone whose primary strengths lay in publishing and selling books.” Casella’s contract officially expires on June 30. As of this writing, a successor has not been named; Livia Tenzer is serving as interim director of the press.

Ig Publishing (www.igpub.com) promotes itself as “a small press with a large voice (or a big mouth).” Several independent publishers with even bigger mouths—annoying in social situations, but essential in promoting small presses—quickly come to mind, but Ig’s mission is loud and clear: “to publish literature that is BETTER and DIFFERENT than most of what is produced today.” The latest release from the Brooklyn-based outfit is Our Napoleon in Rags, a novel by Kirby Gann, the managing editor of Sarabande Books (www.sarabandebooks.org) in Louisville, Kentucky.

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

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