At Tuesday's annual Community of Literary Magazines and Presses, billed as a "Night of a Thousand Small Publishers," outgoing CLMP executive director Jeffrey Lependorf welcomed his successor, former associate director and director of content for the Academy of American Poets, Mary Gannon, into the position. As he did so he passed her a cardboard cutout of Liberace—a "flame," and not a "torch," as Manhattan's Church of the Holy Apostles, which housed the event, did not allow open fire. "May Liberace," he said, "watch over you as he watched over me."
The evening saw honors presented to John Freeman, author and editor of Freeman's, who received the Energizer Award for Exceptional Acts of Literary Citizenship, and Brigid Hughes, the former Paris Review editor and founder and editor of literary magazine A Public Space—which will publish its first book this coming spring—who received the Golden Colophon Award for Paradigm Independent Literary Publishing.
The evening's focus, however, remained on Lependorf, whose 17 years as executive director of the 51-year-old CLMP—which he renamed "Community" from "Council" during his tenure—will clearly be remembered fondly by its membership, which has grown to roughly 500 members from what Graywolf Press publisher Fiona McCrae called "a handful" at the time of Lependorf's arrival.
"Since 1991, he has been there for us. He has listened, encouraged, helped, read, and advocated for us—made us feel like we were the special ones with our books and our magazines and our authors and our boards and our needs and our problems," McCrae said in her address honoring Lependorf. "But now I understand just how special he was, and I think I've identified his superpower. Our books and our magazines and our authors and our needs and our problems are very largely invisible to the greater public. This, in fact, is one of our problems. So when it comes to an organization that serves us, you enter some very dark invisibility indeed. Yet Jeffrey took on this challenge, and has been ingenious and indefatigable in bringing us all, including CLMP, into the light."
Lependorf, calling himself "humbled" to be following "publishing heroes of mine," said: "What's happening with small press publishing now, and magazine publishing, is just phenomenal. The fact that Fiona may very well come home with two National Book Awards [Wednesday] night is case in point."
Upon taking the reigns, and the Liberace cutout, Gannon noted that while many CLMP members are small presses or magazines, "together, they are many and mighty, and we need them to keep thriving, as they are often the first place where our most important literary voices are heard. CLMP works to advocate for and support all of them, and the stakes for that endeavor have never been higher." She added: "We find truth in the words that literary magazines and presses are devoted to sharing with readers, and as the poet Clint Smith has put it, 'Reading stories, poems, and essays can give us the gift of radical empathy—shifting, enriching, and broadening our perspectives, often when we need it most."