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Small Press Points

The beauty of the aurora borealis—you know, the Northern Lights—has inspired enterprising individuals from all walks of life. There’s John Taylor, the CEO of Borealis, a leading developer of polyethylene- and polypropylene-based plastics products; Jesse Devitte and Phil Ferneau, the cofounders of the venture capital firm Borealis Ventures; and who could forget Grit Laskin, Bill Garrett, Paul Mills, and Ken Whiteley, the founders of the Borealis Recording Company, representing the best in Canadian folk music. For those who are looking for some inspired literary talent, however, there’s Borealis Books (www.borealisbooks.org), an imprint of the Minnesota Historical Society Press, in St. Paul. Launched in 2003, Borealis Books publishes fiction and creative nonfiction titles that “illuminate our shared quest for identity and heritage.” Recently published books include The St. Paul Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, edited by Patricia Hampl and Dave Page; The Minnesota Stories of Sinclair Lewis, edited by Sally E. Parry; and A Northern Front: New and Selected Essays by John Hildebrand. While most of the books have a decidedly Midwestern slant—one shouldn’t expect the Minnesota Historical Society Press to specialize in urban thrillers or chick lit, after all—they are marketed as having “universal appeal.” Forthcoming in October is The Summer of Ordinary Ways, a memoir by debut writer Nicole Lea Helget.

Small press publishing can sometimes seem like an activity pursued primarily by young whippersnappers who never had to pick up a rotary phone to make a publicity call. From the perspective of the senior members of the literary community, the small press fairs that are now common in larger cities must seem like high school reunions of the class of 1998. Moreover, the voices published by these independent publishers often reflect their relative youthfulness. Fresh thinking is never a bad thing, of course, but, luckily, there are also small presses dedicated to publishing older writers—just to even things out. In 1990, Kendra Kopelke released the first issue of Passager, a biannual literary magazine dedicated to writers age fifty and older, and during the past fifteen years, it has featured work by Lucille Clifton, Michael Glaser, Ruth Stone, and many others. In June, Kopelke, along with coeditor Mary Azrael, published the first title from Passager Books (raven.ubalt.edu/features/passager/Passager_Books.htm), a small press with the mission to honor “creativity in the later stages of life” and make public “the passions of a generation.” The press’s first book, A Cartography of Peace, is the debut collection by eighty-five-year-old poet Jean L. Connor, who lives in a retirement community in Shelburne, Vermont. One of the poems in the book, which Connor wrote during the last ten years, was selected for publication in Ted Kooser’s weekly newspaper column, American Life in Poetry. In the poem “The Gift,” she writes: “I’m happy, this late in / the season, to have flowers // to give you.” Passager Books plans to publish a single book of poetry, fiction, or memoir each year.

And then there’s Gorsky Press (www.razorcake.com/gorskypress), the Los Angeles–based independent publisher that seeks “to give a voice to writers who are willing to take risks, to move their writing beyond easy classifications, to take the reader out of his normal world, and to allow the reader to reexamine contemporary, day-to-day society.” In short, it’s the opposite of Passager Books. Founded in 1999, Gorsky Press has published a total of thirteen books of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction—including titles that, as the press’s mission states, defy easy classifications—by writers with names like Bucky Sinister and Ben Snakepit. Editors Felizon Vidad, Todd Taylor, and Sean Carswell, who also publish the bimonthly music magazine Razorcake, acquire three to four books annually. Recent titles from Gorsky Press include Guru Cigarettes, the third novel by Patricia Geary, whose Strange Toys (Spectra Special Editions) won the Philip K. Dick Award in 1987, and Sinister’s Whiskey & Robots, a collection of poems that is probably best described by the following image: “Buddhas drinking beer from plastic cups.”

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

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Small Press Points (September/October 2005)
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