Q&A: Twichell Passes Ausable Torch

Kevin Larimer
From the September/October 2008 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

Earlier this year, poet Chase Twichell announced that Ausable Press, the independent publishing operation that she founded in 1999 in Keene, New York, will be acquired by Copper Canyon Press, the country's largest poetry publisher, located in Port Townsend, Washington. Under the auspices of Copper Canyon, all Ausable titles will remain in print, and Copper Canyon will honor all existing book contracts. Twichell, who will stay on as editor-at-large once the deal goes through next January, recently spoke about her decision.

Why, after ten successful years, are you passing the torch to Copper Canyon?
I started Ausable in 1999 with the intention of dedicating ten years of my life to it. I had received an inheritance from my grandparents, so the idea was to see if I could stretch it for ten years, put a bunch of books into the world, and then see where things are. I was actually more successful than I ever anticipated being, which was wonderful, except it became too much work for one person. So I began by hiring one person and then another person, and so on and so forth. The money ran out about five years ago, so we became a nonprofit; there are now five people working at the press.

It went from being a kind of mom-and-pop minus the pop to a real business that requires a tremendous amount of work not directly related to publishing. We have to raise money year-round; we have to have a fund-raiser; we have to schmooze rich people. We have to do all kinds of things—the taxes and the paperwork and the payroll and all this stuff, not to mention writing grants, which gobbles up a huge amount of time.

Not exactly the romantic notion of an independent press.
Well, it became clear that we either had to let it off its leash and let it grow or I would have to hold it back as a tiny press that published two books a year. Because we were on a roll and because I was completely naive and ignorant about what it would be like to be a nonprofit, we went ahead.

It's been a fabulous ride, but for the last three years I've been putting in fifty-plus hour weeks, and everybody works really hard for way less than they're worth.... For me it's just a dream come true. I could not think of a better possible future for Ausable Press.

Still, it must've been a hard decision.
It was because it's been my life, and I really can't imagine getting up in the morning and not going to see what disasters have happened in the last twenty-four hours that I have to race in and take care of. But I've always thought of Daniel Halpern's magazine, Antaeus. I really admire the way he brought it into being, it had a brilliant run [from 1970 to 1994], and then he stopped it. So Antaeus is immortal. It did a great thing, it did it for a short time, and then it ended. And it seems to me that that's a great model for small presses, too. Do it for five years, put twenty books into the world, and then get out. People get so anxious about establishing a brand name and then keeping it going and keeping it going.

Any advice for readers who want to start their own small presses?
It really helps to talk to somebody who's done it. Don't be shy about calling people up and asking them. I think most small press publishers—we think we're in a club; it's a big family, and people are really generous about helping other people, telling them how to do things. So if you know somebody who's involved in it, don't be shy about asking.

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