For 35 years, the nonprofit poetry publisher BOA Editions has been a national force, releasing work from heavyweights like Li-Young Lee, Lucille Clifton, and Michael Waters, as well as up-and-comers like Keetje Kuiter and Janice Harrington. When poet/editor/translator A. Poulin Jr. founded BOA Editions in 1976, the publishing landscape had little room for poetry. Peter Conners, BOA's current publisher, told PW that the secret to BOA's longevity is its commitment to reversing those circumstances: "I think that's one of the things we depend on our independent presses for, to recognize literary forms that are being underserved, and that need to be acknowledged and published and promoted."
Besides contemporary American poetry, those forms also include poetry-in-translation, such as Slovenian poet Ales Steger's The Book of Things (translated by Brian Henry), published last year and, on April 29, named the winner in the poetry category in the Best Translated Book Awards. There is so little contemporary translated poetry in the U.S. that Conners said a case can be made that the two titles a year it publishes—with the support of the Lannan Foundation—"are the most important books that we publish."
More recently, as micropresses and desktop publishing have opened up the poetry field to more published works, BOA has branched out in support of another slighted literary form: short fiction. In the mid 2000s, Conners noticed that short fiction was in a position similar to poetry in the 1970s, i.e., "Commercial houses really don't want to touch [it]." Since 2007, BOA's fiction series, the American Readers Series, has released eight titles from authors like Jessica Treat and PW's own Craig Teicher. Though it's been embraced by customers and critics, Conners reported that the series initially faced some "healthy" questioning from within BOA: "Are we serving the purpose as intended, that people donate money and support to fulfill?" Ultimately, the nonprofit decided it served a vital part of its mission, "to recognize literary forms in need."
BOA was also a pioneer in poetry e-books, setting up an Amazon account four years ago to get its titles on the Kindle. To circumvent the problem of faulty line breaks, BOA began by digitizing its prose poetry collection. The press is currently signed up with Consortium's Constellation, its distributor's e-book conversion platform, to get its books on as many devices as possible—though the tech side of things has yet to come up with a solution for typesetting traditional poetry, outside of using static .pdf files. Still, Conners is optimistic that "with enough people pushing for it, we'll find a way to preserve the integrity of line breaks."
Another major digital innovation for the company is its growing online presence. With the rising popularity and increasing ease of social networking, BOA can now quickly and cheaply promote its books to a wider audience than ever. "Before," Conners said, "if a review came out in a lit journal, only a few people saw it. Now, we can put that review up on our blog, our Twitter feed, our Facebook page, the author's book page, and all of a sudden thousands of people get to see it."
BOA is also working hard to ready the collected works of the late Lucille Clifton, one of the nation's foremost poets, for a fall 2012 release. To "truly do [Clifton] justice," BOA has recruited Clifton's longtime assistant and friend, Michael Glaser; Clifton's daughters; and Emory University poet/anthologist/archivist Kevin Young to help find unpublished material, and secured Toni Morrison to write an introduction. BOA has also got Lannan to offer a $50,000 matching grant for the book's production and promotion. "We really are on a mission to raise that extra $50,000," said Conners, who hopes to print the book's first run in hardcover, with paperback and e-book a year later. BOA also plans to include unpublished work from the earliest and latest years of Clifton's career. "It's a huge book, both physically—600 pages—and in importance," said Conners.
Foundations and donations account for about 45% of BOA's annual budget, with book sales generating 35%; the balance comes from grants and reprint sales. In its early years, BOA published two to four titles per year, but released 10 in 2010. Among titles that have done well recently are two in BOA's New Poets of America series, Beautiful in the Mouth by Keetje Kuiper and Janice Harrington's Even the Hollow My Body Made Is Gone.
The nationally known press is also working to make its presence better known in its hometown of Rochester, N.Y., through a campaign called "BOA Is Here." So far, BOA has collaborated with the local PBS radio station to air poems read by BOA staff, and just held its first Pop-Up Poetry event, a flash mob–reading, at the Rochester Contemporary Arts Center. BOA is also talking to the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra about an event in the fall, and will be continuing its readings at the annual Rochester Jazz Festival. "We want to share poetry in a really organic and surprising way," said Conner. "We want to get poetry into people's lives."