The independent publisher Black Lawrence Press wants to become “the home for immigrant writers in the country,” says Abayomi Animashaun, one of the editors of the press’s Immigrant Writing Series. Animashaun, who was born in Nigeria and lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin, pitched the idea for the series last year to Black Lawrence’s executive editor, Diane Goettel, who worked with him to structure the series as a separate entity within the press, with its own editorial and advisory boards comprising all immigrant writers and editors. “I really felt there was a gap,” Animashaun says of what he saw as a lack of book-publication options for immigrant writers, whose unique perspectives might not resonate with nonimmigrant editors.
Accepting submissions year-round for June and November reading periods, the biannual series is free to enter and accepts manuscripts in all genres. Winners receive book publication and a $500 stipend to support book promotion. “What we’re looking for is sheer good writing,” says Animashaun, who is also Black Lawrence’s anthologies editor. The Immigrant Writing Series’ inaugural winner was Iranian-born Armenian American poet Arthur Kayzakian, who won in 2021 for his poetry collection The Book of Redacted Paintings, which is forthcoming in 2023 and follows a boy searching for his father’s artwork amid the trauma of migration and political violence. The series further expands the Black Lawrence catalogue, which Goettel does not see as embodying a particular aesthetic as much as an ethos of eclecticism. “We want to create publishing opportunities for authors with voices that we find both compelling and important,” says Goettel. “That’s really our mandate.” The press publishes between eighteen and twenty-four titles a year in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, German translation, and hybrid genres through open reading periods that run concurrently with, but separate from, that of the Immigrant Writing Series. Founded in 2004 and formerly an imprint of Dzanc Books, which in 2014 became an independent company, Black Lawrence also offers several other annual book prizes in poetry, prose, and German translation. Recent titles include Ananda Lima’s Mother/land (October 2021), a poetry collection exploring the intersection of immigration and motherhood, and Adam McOmber’s Fantasy Kit (June 2022), a story collection that mashes up horror and mystery with evocative lyricism.