Situated on a dirt road next to an apple orchard in West Brattleboro, Vt., Green Writers Press is powered solely by the sun. The building that houses the company’s office is also home to Dede Cummings, an environmental activist who founded the press in 2013 with a pointed mission: “to incorporate and facilitate the gift of words to help foster a sustainable environment and to spread a message of hope and renewal through the words and images we publish.”
Currently a book designer, literary agent, and writer as well as a publisher, Cummings worked as a book designer at Little, Brown in the 1980s and has done freelance design for other publishers, including David R. Godine, Shambhala Publications, McGraw Hill, Alice James Books, and Tupelo Press. She credits a moment of “epiphany” for inspiring the founding of GWP, which publishes both adult and children’s books.
“I knew I wanted to take action and do something about climate change rather than sit back and passively read the signs and get nervous,” she recalled. “I rely on solar energy and ride my bike everywhere, but I’d been thinking about what more I could do. I woke up one morning and looked at my skill set and realized that, as someone who’d worked in publishing for 25 years and loves words and art, starting a press like this is how I could make a difference and begin – this became our slogan – giving voice to writers and artists who will make the world a better place.”
The press practices what it preaches. GWP books, which are distributed by Midpoint, are printed on demand, using only Forest Stewardship Council-certified papers and soy-based inks, at Springfield Printing Corporation in Vermont and Lighting Source in Tennessee. All of which, Cummings explained, “lets us adhere to our commitment to preserving and protecting the natural resources of the earth. To that end, a percentage of our proceeds is donated to the environmental activist group, 350.org. We also give a percentage of our profits directly to Vermont-based environmental organizations.”
Cummings is also dedicated to the practice of staying local, tapping into the talents of Vermont-area authors and artists, and encouraging readers to buy GWP books from local independent booksellers. “I am very much in favor of the ‘localvore’ movement, and want to, in a sense, take what Michael Pollan created in the food world and apply it to the publishing and bookselling arena,” she said.
Nancy Braus, owner of Everyone’s Books in Brattleboro, is a member of GWP’s advisory board. Her bookstore’s tag line – “For Social Justice and the Earth” – demonstrates a clear alignment with the press and its goals. “It’s obviously a big deal to have a publisher in our town, and it’s very exciting that the press publishes some local authors whom we know quite well,” Braus said. “They often come into the store to talk to us about what they’re working on and publishing – it’s a very personal connection. And books by local authors sell very well for us.”
Shaping the List
GWP’s children’s backlist and new and future titles reflect the publisher’s environmental mission, as well as its authors’ diverse approaches to the subject. Released in fall 2013, the press’s first children’s book was The Bird Book by Brian D. Cohen and Holiday Eames, Vermonters who wrote this bird-themed alphabet book for their son.
Following in fall 2014 were Polly and the One and Only World by Don Bredes, a YA fantasy featuring a teen on an epic journey in a much-diminished future America; and Josie and the Fourth Grade Bike Brigade, by Antonia Bruno and her parents, Kenny Bruno and Beth Handman, which kicked off the Josie Goes Green series about a girl who launches a campaign to reduce global warming. Illustrated by Janet Pedersen, the book was shortlisted for The Nature Generation’s 2015 Green Earth Book Award. The series’ second installment, Josie Meets a Jaguar, is due out in spring 2016.
GWP released a trio of children’s titles in spring 2015, including Yuan Pan’s The Last Goodbye, a wordless picture book that the author initially created as a single monograph with charcoal drawings and submitted to the 2014 Bologna Book Fair’s Concorso Silent Book Contest. The work, which was one of eight finalists for the award, caught Cummings’s eye when she saw it on social media in a post from the book fair. She knew the author from New Hampshire’s Keene State College, where Pan is a professor and Cummings previously worked as an adjunct professor.
“I immediately felt like The Last Goodbye needed a wider audience,” Cummings said. “I thought it would be great for our list, so I suggested a trade book format with a preprinted casebound cover.” Also on that same GWP list were two middle-grade novels: The Order of the Trees, an eco-adventure by Katy Farber; and The Hidden Forest, a fantasy by Daintry Jensen.
Due this fall are Leslie Rivver’s Blackberries and Cream, a first novel centering on a white girl balancing her love for her African-American caregiver and her depressed mother in 1960s Alabama; and Marly, a YA novella by Peter Gould about a Vermont environmentalist who leads a city guy on a nighttime bushwhacking expedition to confront a wind turbine development. And GWP will further expand its children’s offerings in spring 2016, with five new titles – most of which pub on Earth Day, April 22.
It has obviously been a busy few years for Cummings, who serves as GWP’s main book designer, but she relies on help from freelancers, as well as the books’ creators. “Our authors pitch in with helping design the covers and finding artwork – we try to use local artists,” she explained. “And I also value the authors’ input to the interior design as well.”
Cummings called the reception her books have received from booksellers and readers “so rewarding,” adding, “We’re devoted to something that people are embracing – keeping the world safe for future generations. I’m not interested in growing the press too quickly. We want to focus on quality, honor our backlist, nurture our writers, and be a part of our community. We are value- and mission-driven – and that’s what gives me my impetus.”