Montgomery's Black Belt Publishing, named by its founder Randall Williams -- a civil rights activist and former journalist -- for central Alabama's fertile strip of cotton-growing soil, will be 10 years' old in December, and 1999 looks to be a milestone year.
In April, p t Andrew Glaze's Someone Will Go On Owing won the p try category of the inaugural SEBA Book Awards (Bookselling, May 17), and National Public Radio storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windam's Encounters was a nonfiction finalist. Last month, CBS's Sunday Morning featured The 521 All-Stars by Frye Gaillard and photographer Byron Baldwin, a championship-season portrait of a rural semi-pro black baseball team.
Another recent title is John Hayman's Empowering a Race: The Revitalization of Black Institutions, and set to coincide with the opening of the National Freedom Rides Museum next May is the tentatively titled The Freedom Rides by Williams and J Caver.
The press declined to reveal figures, but Susanne La Rosa, whom Williams named to replace himself as publisher last year, noted a succession of "record sales months" beginning in January and a markedly improved bottom line. "This year's first-quarter net profit exceeded that for total 1998," said La Rosa, a turnaround that Williams, now president and editor-in-chief, attributes to her.
Formerly group publisher at Taunton Press, La Rosa joined BBP in June 1998 and initiated a "bottom-up" review. She found that the 1996 purchase of the Washington, D.C., Elliott & Clark Publishing/Starrhill Press had left BBP severely undercapitalized due largely to unanticipated returns, and she urged better marketing and a more cohesive list building.
She emphasized that the turnaround has not sacrificed BBP's mission "to help Southerners and non-Southerners as well to understand our region's changing culture." The Starrhill imprint remains active, but E&C titles have been absorbed into the BBP list.
Warehousing has been consolidated with office space for the six-member staff. The press is also a member of the Five Points Publishers Group, a marketing cooperative comprised of five Southern presses.