Small Press Points

Kevin Larimer

Coney Island has seen better days. The historic neighborhood in Brooklyn, home to one of the world’s most famous amusement parks, is the focus of a plan brought forth by New York City that calls for rezoning the area to entice new development of stores and apartments while preserving some of its key attractions. Now the project is at a standstill after a state senator (who, along with many old-school New Yorkers, opposes the plan) said that an extensive environmental review will be necessary. And in 2006, the Astroland Amusement Park itself—which features the landmark Cyclone wooden roller coaster—was sold by its longtime owners to the development company Thor Equities; when it closed for the season last fall, no one was sure whether it would ever reopen. All of which can make even the most conservative fat cat nostalgic for the old Coney Island—the one that was the go-to tourist attraction in, say, 1958, the year New Directions published A Coney Island of the Mind, the second poetry collection by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. With more than a million copies in print, it’s one of the best-selling poetry books of all time.In April, New Directions is publishing a fiftieth-anniversary edition that comes with a CD of the eighty-eight-year-old author (he’ll turn eight-nine later this month) reading twenty-nine poems from the book as well as portions of Pictures of the Gone World, his debut collection. “We are the same people,” Ferlinghetti writes in A Coney Island of the Mind. “Only the landscape is changed.” Not a bad thing to keep in mind.

Milkweed Editions in Minneapolis recently announced that Daniel Slager, the press’s editor in chief since 2005, has been promoted to publisher. In announcing the promotion, board chair John Gordon said, “Daniel’s strong management skills...and his clear vision for the organization make him an excellent choice to lead Milkweed into the future.” As Slager looks forward, others are looking back to what made Milkweed, founded in 1979, one of the largest nonprofit literary presses in the country. They need look no further than the founder, Emilie Buchwald, who retired in 2003 after serving for nearly twenty-five years as its publisher. At a ceremony on March 6 in New York City, the National Book Critics Circle will present to Buchwald the Ivan Sandorf Lifetime Achievement Award. Past recipients include Bill Henderson, founder of Pushcart Press, and Ferlinghetti, founder of City Lights Booksellers and Publishers. The recognition comes a year after Buchwald was honored at the Minnesota Book Awards in St. Paul with the Kay Sexton Award, given for long-standing dedication and outstanding work in fostering literary activity throughout the state. No doubt the work Buchwald started thirty years ago—and the vision Slager will carry forward—had something to do with Minneapolis being named America’s most literate city in Central Connecticut State University’s recent survey.

Published in nicely designed editions approximately the size of passports, the nifty new chapbooks from the independent publisher A Midsummer Night’s Press are just the things for readers who have a little time to kill on their morning commutes. Launched in June 2007, the poetry press has published three books by authors primarily known for their nonpoetic writing: Fairy Tails for Writers by Lawrence Schimel, the founder of the press; The Good-Neighbor Policy by crime writer Charles Ardai; and This Is What Happened in Our Other Life by Achy Obejas, the author of two novels and a short story collection who may be familiar to indie aficionados for her work as editor and translator of Havana Noir, published by Akashic Books last October. Distributed by Small Press Distribution, A Midsummer Night’s Press also plans to publish two annual anthologies of the best previously published gay and lesbian poetry of the year; the series is set to debut in June.

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