Thoughtfully selected by ABA development officer Mark Nichols, the six publishers that spoke at Winter Institute’s Small & Independent Press Breakfast on January 24 represented several decades of creativity that is particularly meaningful in light of the resurgence of their counterparts, indie booksellers, hundreds of which were in attendance at the Westin Hotel. This was the last day of the conference, which has been typically devoted to small presses; this year was no different.
JP Leventhal (Black Dog and Leventhal) explained how he got his start in the remainder book business 20 years ago. “It taught me about the three basic concepts of publishing: price, perception, and promotion,” said Leventhal, “and prepared me to enter trade publishing.” The press had breakout success with Skyscrapers: A History of the World’s Most Extraordinary Buildings by Judith Dupre and Adrian Smith (2008). This was preceded by 2004’s The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker by David Mankoff. One of Leventhal’s lead titles for spring is The Secret Language of Animals by Janine Benyus (April).
Europa Editions, a literary house founded in 2005, was represented by editor-in-chief Michael Reynolds. Europa has had great success with British novelist Jane Gardam, largely unknown to American readers until the press began to publish her books a few years ago. “We toured Jane in the U.S. last year,” said Reynolds, “and everywhere she went her fans treated her like a rock star. She’s 84 now, a living classic.” Europa has published several Gardam titles. Reynolds pitched Joanna Gruda’s novel Revolution Baby--Europa’s big book for spring--as comparable to the poignant story of the film Life is Beautiful.
Rhonda Hughes, publisher of Hawthorne Books in Portland, Ore. and the only woman presenter, was greeted by cheers from the audience. Hawthorne, founded in 2001 by Hughes, publishes literary works and first made its name with Poe Ballantine’s Things I Like About America, an early Hawthorne title. Ballantine’s latest book, Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere (2013), has been a critical and commercial success. Other notable Hawthorne authors include Lidia Yuknavitch and Greg Martin.
When Heyday Books’ Malcolm Margolin reached the podium he announced that 2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the nonprofit press he started in Berkeley in 1974. “To walk into our offices is to understand what Heyday stands for, because it’s a happy, playful place to work,” Margolin said. Heyday is known for emphasizing the culture and landscapes of California in its books, and Margolin mentioned both Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir by Deborah A. Miranda (March 2013 and the forthcoming The Laws Pocket Guide Set: San Francisco Bay Area by John Muir Laws (May). The acronym for the word ‘flaw’ that Margolin gave the audience “stands for fun, local, the Hindu spiritual principle of advaita, and willingness – to take risks,” Margolin said. “And there must be a flaw in the universe that lets people like me get away with this,” which elicited a burst of laughter from the booksellers.
Patrick Thomas, managing director of Milkweed Editions in Minneapolis, talked about the press’s emphasis on debut authors during the course of its 34-year history. “Indie bookstores are the vanguard of debut literature,” he said. Of the six new titles Thomas mentioned, Murray Farish’s Inappropriate Behavior: Stories (March 2014) seems to be a particular favorite of the press. The sixth and final speaker was Peter Mayer, head of Overlook Press and a longtime publishing veteran. Among other things, Overlook is known for reviving classic books and authors. “We now have 97 P.G. Wodehouse titles in print, and have sold hundreds of thousands of copies of them,” Mayer said. “My father used to tell me to pay attention to what sells, but also to what doesn’t sell.” With 1,500 titles now in print it seems Mayer took this advice. “I’m grateful to the indies for their support,” said Mayer. One of Overlook’s lead titles for spring is Wesley Stace’s novel Wonderkid (Feb. 2014).
The second half of the program featured Ron Sher, creator and owner of Seattle’s Third Place Books interviewing writer and sociologist Ray Oldenburg, considered largely responsible for bridging the gap between indie bookstores and community spaces with his book The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community (Da Capo). Sher named his bookstore after Oldenburg’s concept of “the third place,” where friends can gather in a workplace and create a community and people can let go of the restraints of the world and, as Oldenberg said, “act silly and laugh a lot. I hate the idea of a virtual third place, which is only like something else but eliminates getting together face to face with friends.”
Oldenburg described the third place as a means to unify a neighborhood, sort people by interests, provide intellectual forums and spiritual tonics, and offer ports of entry for newcomers. “There is strength in numbers,” said Oldenburg. “The more friends you have, the better you’ll do.” With a pub, a café, and a bookstore in both Seattle locations of Third Place Books, Sher told the booksellers, “We provide enough things for everyone.”
Next year, Winter Institute will celebrate its ten-year anniversary February 9-11 in Asheville, N.C. at the Grove Park Inn.