Small Press Points

Kevin Larimer

Surely it's no coincidence that the year's biggest bash for trade publishers, BookExpo America (BEA), usually takes place in June, right before the summer solstice, when the earth's Northern Hemisphere is closest to the sun and it's hot, too damn hot, but the biggest party—one of the biggest, anyway—for small press publishers, the Independent and Small Press Book Fair (ISPBF), will be held this year on the first two days of December, right before the winter solstice, when everyone's cool, so cool. Or maybe it is a coincidence. Regardless, this year marks the twentieth anniversary of the annual small press event, which is sponsored by the New York Center for Independent Publishing, formerly known as the Small Press Center. (That clarifies things nicely, because the international small press community has no center, does it—composed as it is of distinct points?) Unlike BEA, where anyone without a press pass or exhibitor badge is in hot water, the chilled-out ISPBF is free and open to the public—although a measly one-dollar donation is appreciated. If that's not enough encouragement for all those independent readers of independently published books out there, consider some of the more than one hundred presses that will be exhibiting their new titles: Akashic Books, the New Press, Melville House, Seven Stories Press, Disinformation, and the Feminist Press.

When Jenny Boully's The Body: An Essay was published by Slope Editions in 2002, it made quite a splash. It was excerpted in both The Next American Essay, edited by John D'Agata, and The Best American Poetry 2002, edited by Robert Creeley, which should give readers an idea of its genre-bending qualities. And that is precisely why the book-consisting solely of footnotes to a nonexistent text-was recently reprinted by Essay Press, a new independent publisher in Athens, Ohio, that, despite its name, is not trying to further one literary form over all others. In fact, the whole point of the press is to publish new and innovative nonfiction and "trans-generic" writing, which these days could include just about anything. Edited by Eula Biss, Stephen Cope, and Catherine Taylor, who are quite proud of the claim that they don't share a single cohesive aesthetic-only "a dedication to publishing work that might not otherwise be published"-Essay Press boasts an advisory board that includes D'Agata, along with Graywolf Press poetry editor Jeffrey Shotts and writers Ammiel Alcalay and Susan Stewart. In addition to The Body, Essay Press's first titles are I, Afterlife: An Essay in Mourning Time by Kristin Prevallet and Griffin by Albert Goldbarth. Forthcoming books include Joshua Casteel's Letters From Abu Ghraib and Carla Harryman's Adorno's Noise. uu Abigail Beckel and Kathleen Rooney, both graduates of Emerson College's Department of Writing, Literature and Publishing, founded Rose Metal Press in January 2006 as an outlet for innovative work that, due to its "formal strangeness or failure to fit a clear marketing category," as Rooney calls it, might be unable to find a home elsewhere. "We noticed that as the world of trade publishing becomes increasingly bottom-line oriented and disappointing, many of the exciting books being published today are coming out from independent presses, and we wanted to throw our hat into that ring," Rooney says. Rose Metal's initial offering was Brevity and Echo, an anthology of previously published "short short stories" by graduate and undergraduate alumni of Emerson College, published last December. More recent titles include Claudia Smith's The Sky Is a Well and Other Shorts, winner of the press's inaugural short short chapbook competition, judged by Ron Carlson, and Peter Jay Shippy's How to Build the Ghost in Your Attic. While the mission of the press is to publish work in hybrid genres, Rooney says Rose Metal is also interested in books with "unique visual components," which leaves open the possibility that comics and graphic novels might find their way into the catalogue someday soon.

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