"Thirty-five years is an incredible milestone for any arts organization," said Laura Moriarty, acquisition and marketing director for Small Press Distribution in Berkeley, Calif., which serves 500 small and independent presses. "We feel that our publishers constitute a major channel for emerging and cutting-edge writers trying to be heard above the dull roar of corporate publishing." Since its founding in 1969, she noted, SPD has helped launch the careers of writers such as Sherman Alexie, Harryette Mullen, Kamau Braithwaite and Paul Auster.
To celebrate, and raise much needed funds—SPD is the only nonprofit book distributor in the U.S.—the company is embarking on a year-long Literature for Life fund-raising campaign. The goal, according to Moriarty, is to bring in $300,000 over the coming year, starting with this fall's anniversary readings on both coasts. On Thursday, September 23, Robert Creeley, Lydia Davis and Renee Gladman gave a benefit reading at City University in New York City. Two weeks later, on Sunday, October 10, SPD will hold a reading with Diane diPrima, Michael McClure and Janice Mirikitani, among others, at St. John's Church in Berkeley, Calif. Board member Forrest Hamer will serve as master of ceremonies.
Although Moriarty characterizes the book business as "very challenging," she said that SPD is holding its own, thanks in part to an increase in course adoptions from writing programs springing up around the country. SPD has also picked up some of the slack since the closing of another Berkeley institution earlier this year, Bookpeople. "Bookpeople was more of a generalist than we are. We have a mission that's literary," said Moriarty. "There really is a need for the books we carry. They're taught in classes and are in libraries."