Diversity has also been part of your mission; you have an imprint that publishes lesbian books, I see.
Yes. Arktoi Books publishes a lesbian writer every year. Sometimes it’s poetry, sometimes prose. One of our bestselling books is Kelly Barth’s My Almost Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus (2012), a memoir that came out through the Arktoi imprint. My favorite quote from that is when she’s talking to her minister and says, “I want to be a lesbian but I also want to be a Christian.” And he says, “That’s Satan talking.” [Laughs.]
Are there upcoming Red Hen books you’re especially excited about?
Absolutely. We’ve got another Ron Carlson book coming out. We also have more books by Ellen Meeropol, Brian Doyle, and David Mason. So I feel like what we’ve built toward these past twenty years is having a strong list of core authors. I don’t think anybody gets to be a press that’s going to last many decades without really building on authors, not books. It’s all about the relationships with authors, and they’ve helped stabilize us.
What was the original budget of the press, and what is it now?
The first year we filed with the IRS, I believe we were at $38,000. The next year we were at $68,000. Then we went to $125,000, then finally to $250,000. It took an extraordinarily long time to get from $250,000 to $500,000, and we’re now at about $600,000. And we’re doing a lot with $600,000.
What percentage of that comes from contributions as opposed to earned income?
Just under 50 percent of that is earned income. We also get foundation grants, we get money from the NEA, we get local government funding. But a significant portion is from sales, in part because of our distribution agreement with the University of Chicago Press, which started about six years ago, and that’s continuing to grow.
Will the press continue to grow, or do you envision it staying at its current size?
We don’t plan to grow beyond publishing twenty books a year for the foreseeable future. What we plan to do, as we continue to build our fundraising efforts, is to do a better marketing and publicity job on the books that we’re currently publishing. And I think over the next ten years, I’d like to see us build as strong a list of prose writers as we have of poets.
What kind of events do you have planned for the anniversary?
We’re going to have an anniversary event at AWP in Seattle in February, an event in Chicago, and special readings in different venues around the country. One of the keys to our success has been our strategic relationships with venues like Poets House in New York City, because if you’re from someplace that feels a little marginalized in terms of publishing, you have to build relationships to places that have strong publishing connections.
Kevin Nance is a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.