Alice James Books celebrates its fortieth anniversary this year, making it one of the oldest poetry presses in the country. To mark the occasion, the press has announced a series of new initiatives that will shape its next forty years. In addition to launching a new book prize, the Farmington, Maine–based publisher has vowed to renew its original mission: to support the work of women writers.
Alice James Books was established in 1973 not only to provide women with an opportunity to be published, but also to collaboratively involve authors in the process. In addition to championing the early work of women such as Jane Kenyon, Cole Swensen, and Mary Szybist, the press has also put out a number of collections by men, including Reginald Dwayne Betts, Jamaal May, and Brian Turner. While Alice James will still publish poetry by men, it gained the ability to refocus its mission and more effectively devote its resources to women writers this past April through the formation of a second board of directors. Previously, the nonprofit had only one board, which handled everything from reading manuscripts to approving budgets; under the new structure, the board of directors, led by president and poet Anne Marie Macari, will oversee business operations while an editorial board will concentrate on discovering and publishing new poetry.
Leading this editorial effort is Carey Salerno, who served for the past six years as the press’s executive director and in April was named executive editor. The new position will afford Salerno more time and autonomy to curate the Alice James list, guided by the press’s original mission. “Alice James Books was founded as a feminist press, and the hardships for women writers that existed in 1973 are still apparent today,” Salerno says, “so it makes sense for us to take this very organic part of the press and place it back at the forefront of our mission. We will continue our commitment to publishing a diverse range of poetic styles and voices, but we will provide a much-needed place for women in poetry.”
The new Alice James Award, meanwhile, will replace three previous book awards, becoming the company’s sole contest. Like the Beatrice Hawley Award before it, the Alice James Award will be given annually for a collection by an emerging or established poet; the winner will receive two thousand dollars, publication, and distribution through Consortium. (The deadline for the inaugural prize is November 1; the winner will be announced in February 2015.) “Given the editorial board’s new ability to focus on only one competition—and having been relieved of the duty of conducting press business—we will now be able to read submissions more effectively,” Salerno says. Unlike the press’s previous contests, the new award will be judged blindly, which Salerno notes will add to the integrity of the selection process. The editors will collectively choose the winner, and may recommend additional manuscripts for publication. “Maintaining the consensus process is essential in honoring the cooperative spirit with which the press was founded,” Salerno says. Alice James will continue its annual translation series, which publishes collections translated from any language into English. Submissions for that series are open until March.
Salerno also plans to foster longer-lasting relationships with her authors. Scaling back the book awards will open up more spots on the press’s list for current poets’ subsequent books, something that was not previously possible due to limited space and resources, as is the case for many small publishers. “The press’s renewed emphasis on women and current Alice James authors will be a major influence on how I compile each season of books and invite new authors to the press,” Salerno says. “We want to make a permanent home for Alice James authors.”
Melissa Faliveno is the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.