Bill Henderson, who went into self-publishing when he failed to sell his first novel, The Galapagos Kid, in 1972, and has been fighting on behalf of other beleaguered authors ever since, had a kind of Robert Altman moment at the National Book Critics Circle awards March 3 in New York. He received the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, akin to an honorary Oscar, and it was clear from the prolonged applause that he, and his gallant little Pushcart Press, had won an admired spot in the indie publisher pantheon.

In introducing Henderson, Drake McFeely of Norton (which has distributed Pushcart's titles for 20 years) called him "a great choice—the most independent of publishers, who celebrates books and writing from every perspective except that of the banker," Henderson returned the compliment: "Norton has been a wonderful distributor and hasn't made a dime from me in 20 years."

The burly Henderson, now 65, has steadfastly refused to apply for grant support over the 30 years he's been publishing the Pushcart Prize anthology, which collects the best work published each year by about 500 small presses and literary magazines. The reason? "Because I'm too lazy to fill out the forms, and because I'd hate to use not having a grant as the reason for not publishing something."

The passion to publish writers of quality but not necessarily commercial appeal, is behind the annual Pushcart anthology. In his remarks, he honored the small press community—"there's no other word than heroic for what they do, for their refusal to quit." Henderson also publishes books on occasion, under what he called the Editors Book Award, wherein he invites submissions from editors at commercial houses of books they liked but could not generate in-house support for. Rick Moody's first novel, Garden State, was one such—and so was a memoir by a man who turned out to be homicidal, threatened Henderson and was eventually murdered himself.

Other books issued by Pushcart over the years include its first great—and longest-running—success, The Publish It Yourself Handbook, a guide for self-publishers that has sold over 70,000 copies, as well as several anthologies—Rotten Reviews, Rotten Rejections and Minutes of the Lead Pencil Club, in which Henderson, a noted technophobe who acknowledged he resists computer skills, urged slower and simpler ways of life than the eternal rush to faster and slicker.

Henderson does his own publicity and promotion, conducts endless correspondence with writers and judges, fills online and mail orders personally—and by house juggling: in the summers he rents out his house in Springs, a fashionable area of Long Island, and removes to a cabin in Maine. He has also published several books with commercial houses, including his editorial alma mater, Doubleday, where he worked for a time in the early '70s: two memoirs, His Son, about his father, and Her Father, about his cherished daughter, Lily, now in college; The Tower (FSG), about a quixotic folly he built himself near his Maine cabin; and his latest, Simple Gifts, a study of the role great hymns have played in his life, due at the end of the month from Free Press.

And as if all this were not enough, he and his wife, Genie, are currently branching out into bookselling and broadcasting. They have what Henderson claims is the world's smallest bookstore, open on a seasonal basis in Maine, with a stock in trade of his own books, other small press offerings and books that are donated (and on occasion recovered from the town dump); the slim proceeds go to the Pushcart Foundation. And Bill and Genie also offer Radio Pushcart, broadcast monthly on Sundays from Maine studio WERU.

Thirty years ago, says Henderson, small press publishing was "a very lonely place"; now, with an estimated 80,000 titles a year, many of them electronically produced ("cheaper than vanity publishing, but not really better," he says), it's gotten a bit crowded. But the literary publishers with whom he so strongly identifies remain what he calls with unabashed admiration "the holy fools."