A small press doesn’t normally attract the attention of a large publisher like HarperCollins, especially a small press that publishes mostly chapbooks and maintains a backlist with titles like Museum Quality Orgasm, Doll Head Eater, St*rf*ck*ng, and Girl Juice. But that’s what happened when Future Tense Books (www.futuretensebooks.com), a small press based in Portland, Oregon, published Please Don’t Kill the Freshman, a short memoir by pseudonymous author Zoe Trope, in 2001. Within a year the high school sophomore was offered a six-figure deal for an expanded version of the memoir by HarperTempest, an imprint of the nation’s third-largest trade book publisher. The longer memoir was published last year; the paperback was released in July. But that kind of exposure hasn’t altered Future Tense founding editor Kevin Sampsell’s goals for his press. He still publishes two to three books per year—most of them poetry and fiction chapbooks available at Amazon.com and Powells.com. Forthcoming from Future Tense Books are titles by Charles Ullmann and Magdalen Powers. And in 2005, Sampsell will team up with Manic D Press (www.manicdpress.com), the small San Francisco–based publisher founded by Jennifer Joseph in 1984, to edit a line of books tentatively titled Future Tense Series. “Manic D and I have been mutual admirers for a long time, and they’re giving me a chance to do more with these great writers I tend to find,” says Sampsell. At Manic D, Sampsell’s selections will benefit from wider distribution by Publishers Group West (www.pgw.com) and Small Press Distribution (www.spdbooks.org). Although it’s too early to tell, Sampsell likens his Future Tense series to Dennis Cooper’s Little House on the Bowery series at Johnny Temple’s Akashic Books (www.akashicbooks.com) in New York City. The four books in Cooper’s series, which launched in July 2002, have attracted national media attention.
The future appears bright for Nightboat Books (www.nightboat.org), the new press that launched in May with a reading by Susan Wheeler and Shao Wei, among others, at New York University. So far the press has published two chapbooks—Wind in the Trees by Katherine Dimma and Tinder by Daniel Lin—in print runs of 125 copies, and editors Jennifer Chapis and Kazim Ali are working on publishing an expanded version of Fanny Howe’s The Lives of a Spirit, originally published by Sun & Moon in 1987. Plans are also under way for a Nightboat Books reading series at the chThonic Clash Coffeehouse in Beacon, New York, a small town in the Hudson Valley. And what happens when a small press builds up a little momentum? It launches a contest, of course. The usual: $1,000 plus publication for a book-length collection of poetry. Nightboat’s first annual contest, which has a submission deadline of November 30, will be judged by Jean Valentine, whose volume of collected poems, Door in the Mountain, will be published by Wesleyan University Press (www.wesleyan.edu/wespress) in November.
The mission statement of Autumn House Press (www.autumnhouse.org), a small, nonprofit press in Pittsburgh, is composed of a few simple principles that seem obvious but read like revolutionary amendments to a small press constitution: “Because fine literature never goes out of style, the press is committed to keeping its books in print permanently” and “In the belief that a book is not only a readable text but also an object of art, the press is dedicated to producing beautifully designed books,” among them. The guidelines have served Autumn House well. Since the press was founded in 1998, Executive Director Michael Simms and the all-volunteer staff of 12 have produced 13 books, including Snow White Horses by Ed Ochester, editor of the Pitt Poetry Series at the University of Pittsburgh Press (www.pitt.edu/~press). The annual list of Autumn House titles will include the winner of the poetry prize it launched last year. In case anyone needs a reminder that this is indeed a small world, look who’s judging the 2005 contest: Jean Valentine. Autumn House Press will also publish Gerald Stern’s 15th book, A Fire I Understand, next month.
Kevin Larimer is the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.