University alumni are often supportive of their alma mater, including its press. But a group of Harvard University alums who met on one of the university’s online discussion boards, felt they needed a press of their own even though the university has three publishing houses— Harvard University Press, Harvard Business Review Press, and Harvard Education Press. So they formed Harvard Square Editions to publish literary fiction with a social message. “Harvard doesn’t publish fiction. And writers formed their own threads about reading each others work,” says Beverly Jurenko, who received an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1991, and serves as v-p of marketing for three-year-old HSE in her spare time.
“I was a little skeptical when I joined this group,” says Charles Degelman (’66), who serves as HSE editorial director while completing his MFA in communications studies at California State University in Los Angeles, where he teaches screenwriting, "but I was soon drawn in by the skills, experience, and generosity of this diverse collection of writer/publisher alums." A long-time theater artist, Degelman’s first novel, A Bowl Full of Nails, was a finalist in the Bellwether Competition sponsored by Barbara Kingsolver. “We have reached a lot of common ground on where the arts are and their response to culture,” Degelman adds. “We push literature without borders and we try to push material with some kind of social dimension to it. It’s not art for art’s sake.”
To date, HSE has released three titles starting with the collection Above Ground: An Anthology of Living Fiction, edited by J. L. Morin (’87), published in fall 2009 that culls excerpts of novels primarily written by Ivy League alumni. The proceeds from its sales were donated to Doctors Without Borders. “We have solicited MFA students, agents, alumni networks, and taken on board many unsolicited pieces from new authors,” says Jurenko, singling out 17-year-old Congolese writer Anthony Delor, who has a selection in the second volume of Living Fiction, Voice From the Planet, edited by Degelman, which came out last summer.
Not only does HSE operate on a shoe-string budget out of staffers’ homes, but those apartments and houses are scattered throughout the U.S., South America, and Europe. So it wasn’t until last summer’s publication party for Voice from the Planet that many founding members of HSE met for the first time in person. They gathered in France for a joint reading at Village Voice Bookshop in Paris.
HSE doesn’t offer advances, but it does work closely with authors on editing. For Morin, who published her first novel about a lovers’ triangle set in Japan, Sazzae, with HSE, and whose second novel about the modern slave trade, Travelling Light, is due out from HSE in July, the press’s main advantage is personal attention. “I had several people reading my books, and they all had Harvard degrees,” says Morin, who was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2011.
Other releases due out in July include an AIDS-era saga, Patchwork by Dan Loughry, and a techno-thriller about nanotechnology, A Weapon to End War by Jonathan Ross. “We try to avoid the peak release times like September,” says Degelman. “Otherwise, we’re throwing a stone in a hurricane.” As for distribution, HSE’s books are available from Ingram and Baker & Taylor, and on the Espresso Book Machine in the U.S., as well as from wholesalers like Coutts Information Services and Gardners in the U.K.