In an interview published in the July/August 2000 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, Dave Eggers did not mince words when he expressed disdain for procrastinators. “I’m murderously frustrated with people who are ambivalent about making things, who can think of reasons not to make things, who watch the bottom line, who can wait six months or two years to bring something into the world,” he said. “I honestly want these people dead.” As far as anyone knows, Eggers hasn’t killed anyone—yet. But he has demonstrated the ambition that fueled those remarks, and built quite a nice little literary empire in the process. In addition to Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, the literary magazine he founded in 1998, Eggers has launched Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, an online version of the journal, and McSweeney’s Books (www.mcsweeneys.net/books), a small press that has published titles by David Byrne, Lydia Davis, Stephen Dixon, Amy Fusselman, Jonathan Lethem, Neal Pollack, and Eggers himself. Then came the Believer, a monthly literary magazine, whose debut issue was published in 2003 and which, earlier this year, was named a finalist for a National Magazine Award. And now there is Believer Books (www.believermag.com/believerbooks), the new McSweeney’s imprint that will publish four books annually. The first two titles from the San Francisco–based press are The Polysyllabic Spree, a collection of essays from Stuff I’ve Been Reading, Nick Hornby’s monthly column in the Believer; and H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life by Michel Houellebecq. Forthcoming titles in the Believer Books series—which is being edited by three of the monthly magazine’s founding editors, Heidi Julavits, Vendela Vida, and Ed Park—include The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers in October and Voyage Along the Horizon by Javier Marías in December.
Not all small presses publish books, of course. Some deal in funky-looking chapbooks, spoken-word compact discs, elegant broadsides, or, in the case of Tell Tale Press (www.telltalepress.net), greeting cards. No, these aren’t Maya Angelou’s newest Hallmark verses—they are “Story Cards,” a line of products launched last November by the new press based in Takoma Park, Maryland. The nicely designed cards, which are sold in boxes that resemble books, feature the beginning of a different short story on the back of each. The stories continue on the Tell Tale Press Web site, where visitors can write their own endings and enter them in a free writing contest. Winners receive a $400 prize, including a $200 U.S. Savings Bond, and online publication. The first three winners will be announced this month, and biannually thereafter—on December 31 and July 31. The cards are available in a few dozen bookstores across the country.
For twenty-eight years, Wings Press (www.wingspress.com), the independent publisher founded in 1975 by Joanie Whitebird and Joseph Lomax in San Antonio, Texas, quietly published a solid list of books by such notables as Vassar Miller, Naomi Shihab Nye, Robert Phillips, Donald Hall, and Virgil Suarez, in editions of five hundred to two thousand copies. The press established itself as “an informal association of artists and cultural mythologists dedicated to the preservation of the literature of Texas.” But Wings Press started receiving national media attention in 2003 with its publication of Street of the Seven Angels, the posthumous novel by John Howard Griffin, the writer best known for his 1961 book Black Like Me, a nonfiction account of his travels through the South disguised as a black man. The following year, Wings Press published a new edition of Black Like Me with a new foreword by Studs Terkel and several previously unseen historical photographs. Along with the attention, including reviews in Newsweek and the New York Times Book Review, Wings Press secured national distribution through Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Brodart. Now, the thirty-year-old press, under the leadership of Bryce Milligan, publishes approximately seven titles annually, with an emphasis on books by Latino writers. Forthcoming from Wings Press are two poetry collections, The Angel of Memory by Marjorie Agosín and Drive: The First Quartet by Lorna Dee Cervantes, and Ana Castillo’s play Psst!…I Have Something to Tell You, Mi Amor.
Kevin Larimer is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.