Small Press Publishing in the Nineties

Kathleen Norris

As director of CLMP, Sitter sees as his role assisting small magazines and presses in taking advantage of the new opportunities available to them. Since joining the organization in July 1989, he has devoted much of his time to raising over $6 million in grant money, primarily from the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund and the Andrew M. Mellon Foundation.

“Literature as a whole is so undercapitalized, the strategy of going for small grants seemed inappropriate for the early ‘90s” Sitter says. “So we went for very large grants and got lucky.” The ‘luck’ involved over eighteen months of Sitter’s working with both foundations, and the good news for presses and magazines, according to Sitter, is that 85% to 95% of these millions is going directly to them, to help them become stronger, larger and better staffed so that writers and readers are better served.

“CLMP is a service organization,” he explains, “and at first we thought we should raise money to develop programs of our own; the kinds of studies, workshops, and conferences that organizations such as our traditionally get grants for. But,” he continues, “we soon realized that small press people didn’t need to come to New York for marketing and staff development programs; often they simply couldn’t afford it. So we made a strategic decision to pump money into the field itself.”

In January of 1991 the Andrew M. Mellon Foundation made grants of $50,000 each to nine small presses: Arte Publico, Coffee House, Copper Canyon, Curbstone, Dalkey Archive, Graywolf, Milkweed Editions, Story Line, and Sun and Moon, and gave $270,000 directly to CLMP. Sitter estimates that roughly $100,000 of the CLMP grant has already been regranted to small presses and literary magazines. According to Rachel Newton Bellow, a program associate at Mellon, an expansion of these grants will be considered in October 1992 that may include a line of credit for small presses offering both access to technical assistance and working capital, for a total of $2.5 million.

In March of 1991 the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund gave CLMP $3 million to administer a program that will provide funds and technical assistance to small literary presses and magazines. Grants of $8,000 each will be available to help an estimated thirty small presses and magazines develop new marketing plans, followed by grants ranging up to $100,000 to help them implement these programs. Presses that have published at least eight books of a literary nature within the last two years, and literary magazines that have published at least four issues in the last two years, may apply directly to CLMP for assistance under this grant. All applicants must have 501(c)3 tax-exempt status.