Sometimes the best future is the one you don’t see coming. In 2014, when Michael B. Tager and Ian Anderson, classmates from the University of Baltimore MFA program, teamed up to self-publish Tager’s poetry chapbook, neither imagined building an independent press. But the pair enjoyed working together and steadily brought in new projects and team members, resulting in Mason Jar Press, which now boasts a catalogue of over twenty volumes of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction and is operated by a staff of ten. Tager is the managing editor, and Anderson is the editor in chief and designer. “It’s been a wild ride, and we love it,” says Tager. Describing the business model of Mason Jar, which has remained in Baltimore, Tager says, “Much like our origin story, one thing leads to another. We’ll have an idea, or we will bring on a partner who wants to do a new thing, and we shrug and say, ‘Well, that sounds good. Let’s see where this goes.’” Readers will find more than thirty episodes of their podcast Lit!Pop!Bang! on the Mason Jar website, and the press publishes a literary journal, Jarnal, alongside two to five new titles a year in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Hybrid work is welcome, as exemplified by Tyrese Coleman’s How to Sit: A Memoir in Stories and Essays, which was published in 2018 and was a finalist for the PEN Open Book Award.
Later this year Mason Jar will publish A Prayer for a Non-Religious Autistic, a book of poems with elements of memoir by Lucas Scheelk, and Lesser American Boys, a short story collection by Zach VandeZande. The team is most interested in work that is “accessible avant-garde.” Tager explains: “We want it to be a little weird, a little off, but not relegated to ivory-tower readers. We want everyone to enjoy it and be challenged at the same time, either by form or content.” Between April 15 and July 15, writers can submit to Mason Jar’s inaugural 1729 Book Prize in Prose, which will award $1,000 and publication and is open to manuscripts in most prose genres. The contest is supported by local indie the Ivy Bookshop and will be judged by Diane Zinna. There is no entry fee.