Small Press Points

Kevin Larimer
From the May/June 2007 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

To the best small press publishers, all books are created (or at least marketed) equal. The care and attention they give to the books they publish is often personal, and always consistent. After all, it's pretty difficult for a book to fall through the cracks if it's one of just a few titles on the press's list. Of course, once these books are shelved in stores, the care and attention the reading public gives them is far from consistent. It's safe to say that Allan Kornblum, the publisher of Coffee House Press (, did not expect the reception that greeted Sam Savage's Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife when the press published it last April. In the past year the debut novel, about a rat that learns to read, was named a Notable Book of the Year by the American Library Association (along with heavy hitters like Cormac McCarthy's The Road and Haruki Murakami's Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman) and one of the top debut novels of 2006 by Library Journal. It was also selected as a finalist for the Barnes & Noble Discover Award and was a LitBlog Co-op Read This! pick. In addition, translation rights for the book have been sold in Japan and Korea. "Part of our mission is to introduce the work of talented writers," Kornblum says, "and we couldn't be more delighted by the attention this charming book has received." April Ossmann, the executive director of Alice James Books (, on the other hand, likely knew she would be hearing more than the typical niceties after publishing Here, Bullet by Brian Turner back in November 2005. Seventeen months later, the book of poems about the war—Turner was an infantry team leader for a year in Iraq—is still making news. The winner of the press's 2005 Beatrice Hawley Award, Here, Bullet went on to receive the Maine Literary Award in Poetry, the Northern California Book Award in Poetry, the Sheila Margaret Motten Award from the New England Poetry Club, the PEN Center USA "Best in the West" literary award in poetry, and was a New York Times Editor's Choice selection, among other honors. Most recently, Turner and his book were featured in the documentary film Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience, which premiered at Film Forum in New York City in February and aired on public television last month. More than seventeen thousand copies of Turner's debut poetry collection are in print. Ossmann says she expects to order a fourth printing within the year.

Two independent presses recently bid farewell to staff members who had a combined total of more than fifty years of experience. In March, Nancy J. Peters stepped down as executive director of City Lights Booksellers and Publishers ( Peters began at City Lights in 1971 (the same year the press published Jack Kerouac's Scattered Poems), became editorial director in 1982 (when City Lights published Allen Ginsberg's Plutonian Ode), and was named executive director in 1984 (the year the press published cofounder Lawrence Ferlinghetti's Seven Days in Nicaragua Libre). She is succeeded by Elaine Katzenberger, who was formerly vice president and associate director of City Lights. "With Elaine at the helm," wrote publicity director Stacey Lewis in a press release announcing the change, "we are confident that Ferlinghetti's founding vision of City Lights as a vital international literary meeting place will develop and endure, and we are looking forward to great things in the future." A couple thousand miles to the east, Graywolf Press ( is conducting a nationwide search for a new marketing director after Janna Rademacher, who worked at the press for fifteen years, resigned in March. Rademacher began as an intern fifteen years ago and was promoted to marketing director in 2003 (the year Graywolf published Daniel Hayes's Kissing You). Just weeks after the announcement, Rademacher joined Salt Publishing ( as the British press's U.S. marketing and sales director.

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

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