Shelf Awareness for Friday, November 12, 2021

Viking: I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai

Tor Books: The First Bright Thing by J.R. Dawson

Island Press: The Good Garden: How to Nurture Pollinators, Soil, Native Wildlife, and Healthy Food--All in Your Own Backyard by Chris McLaughlin

Holiday House: For Lamb by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Zonderkidz: The Beginner's Bible: Timeless Children's Stories

Tordotcom: Witch King by Martha Wells


Indigo Second Quarter: Sales Jump 16.3%, Net Loss Becomes Net Gain

In the second quarter ended September 26, revenue at Indigo Books & Music rose 16.3%, to C$238.8 million (about US$190 million), with net earnings of C$3.5 million (US$2.8 million) compared to a net loss of C$17.5 million (US$13.9 million) in the same period a year ago.

Indigo attributed the sales improvements in large part to "a strengthened omnichannel business, with the online channel delivering 85% growth over the same quarter in fiscal 2020. Retail does remain traffic-challenged but customers who came to shop demonstrated a strong commitment to books and a continuing positive response to our lifestyle offering. The Company's proprietary brands OUI (home) and Nóta (paper) delivered well above expectations."

In its bricks-and-mortar stores, Indigo noted that results were strong "notwithstanding occupancy constraints in several key jurisdictions and footfall meaningfully below pre-pandemic levels in the central cores of most major cities."

CEO Heather Reisman commented: "Our customers are clearly demonstrating a positive response to all aspects of our omnichannel approach delivering the second quarter revenues well above pre-pandemic levels."

Indigo added that during the quarter, there was "lower external Covid-19 labour support for home office and field leadership, and a corresponding increase in retail operating expenses, off-set by a one-time payment of $17 million, resulting from the renegotiation of the Company's partnership with Starbucks. Moving forward, 36 cafés will continue to operate as Starbucks within Indigo stores, while the remaining cafés, which have been closed throughout the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, will be reimagined under the evolving Indigo brand retail experience."

In other news, Indigo said Katharine Poulter has been appointed chief commercial officer and Martin Thibodeau chief technology and information officer. In addition, Andrea Limbardi has been promoted to chief digital officer.

Blackstone Publishing: Émilienne by Pamela Binnings Ewen

The Paper Herald Opens in Baltimore, Md.

Entrepreneur Ashleigh Coaxum has opened the Paper Herald, a 1,000-square-foot store selling a mix of paper products, stationery and books, in Baltimore, Md., the Baltimore Fishbowl reported. Though the store's focus is on stationery and related items, Coaxum carries a curated selection of books pertaining to things like Baltimore history, creativity, wellness and self-care.

Located in Baltimore's Mt. Vernon neighborhood, the Paper Herald resides in a space that once housed a laundromat. Coaxum chose the spot because it was "quaint and in a great neighborhood and walkable for customers." The neighborhood is home to a mix of professionals, college students and long-time residents, and Coaxum plans to adjust her inventory to their tastes as time goes on. She'll even have a suggestion box for customers to use.

"I wanted to provide an oasis of sorts," Coaxum told the Fishbowl, "a place that they could come and relax and find resources that would help them through their daily life."

GLOW: Putnam: The Three of Us by Ore Agbaje-Williams

Sleepy Dog Books Coming to Mt. Pleasant, Mich., Next Spring

Next spring, Riley and Jennifer Justis will open a bookstore in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., called Sleepy Dog Books. The couple told Epicenter Mt. Pleasant that the store will carry general-interest titles for all ages, along with gift items and other merchandise made by Michigan businesses.

"We've always dreamt of opening a bookstore and Mt. Pleasant, surprisingly, doesn't have one yet for being a local small-town," Riley Justis said. "Mt. Pleasant is considered a book desert and this is an opportunity for us to change the nature of literacy in the community.”

Although the store won't open its doors at 120 E. Broadway St. for several more months, Jennifer and Riley Justis have already started selling books through their online store, which they launched in September. Once the bricks-and-mortar store does open, they'll host events like holiday parties and storytime sessions. And because they both come from teaching backgrounds, they're looking to host course teachings and literacy-based events.

"Literacy has always been a focus of our professional careers, but also our personal lives," Justis said. "We grew up in libraries and bookstores and it's been a focus bringing books in our home once we had kids."

Justis noted that the inspiration for the store's name came from their "two lazy golden retrievers," Rosie and Cooper, to whom their kids read books out loud.

G.P. Putnam's Sons: Stars in an Italian Sky by Jill Santopolo

International Update: Sharjah Fair, Australian Booksellers Conference Scheduled

The 40th Sharjah International Book Fair, which concludes tomorrow, has drawn large crowds, including 1,600 publishers from 83 countries, and has featured 440 cultural sessions, as well as 355 shows, performances, seminars, and workshops for children. Spain is the guest of honor.

Among the attendees are Daily Show host Trevor Noah, who arrives today and will speak about his life, career and books; Chris Gardner, entrepreneur, film producer and author of The Pursuit of Happyness; and Jnanpith Award winner Amitav Ghosh, who will talk about his new book, his previous work and his concerns about climate change.

Abdulrazak Gurnah

The Fair also drew Abdulrazak Gurnah, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature last month. Born in Zanzibar, he has lived for many years in the U.K. Gurnah attended and spoke at several  sessions and was interviewed by Publishing Perspectives.

Speaking about immigration, Gurnah said that people, young people in particular, are "coming because they want to improve their lives. As if it's wrong to want to move to another country where you'll be able to improve your life. But this is where I think authorities have failed--governments, generally speaking--failed to educate their own people....

"The exception is Germany. And I think part of the reason is because Germany and Germans, many of them, do know that experience because of the catastrophe of the Second World War for Germany, because of what they did and what was done to them afterwards. They've taken more Syrians than anybody else."

Gurnah added, "I don't think Trump is an isolated case because that is so purely, straightforwardly racist...

"People sometimes say, 'Do you think things have changed?' And I'll say, 'Well it seems that way.' But then suddenly it seems that they haven't changed."


The 2022 Australian Booksellers Association National Conference has been scheduled for June 12-13 at the Sheraton Grand, Hyde Park in Sydney. In the ABA's latest newsletter, CEO Robbie Egan described the event as "a much-needed and totally fabulous industry get-together," noting that it "feels like a decade has passed since that first (and only) conference took place in Sydney in my time at the ABA, but we have secured a fantastic hotel and location and we are very excited to be anticipating our annual event again. Honestly, I nearly shed a tear when I gave Kate [Sloggett, ABA conference and member services manager] the go-ahead to sign a contract."

Egan also addressed the supply chain issues affecting members and what the association is doing to help. "I am aware of the extent of short deliveries, of some members not receiving any deliveries for up to two weeks, and of the severe damages to boxes and books. It is the last thing we need emerging from a pandemic, and it is a bitter pill after you have all done exactly what was asked and ordered early and where possible in carton quantities.... The fact that supply chain issues are being experienced right across Australia and the world is little consolation, as presently what we need is books. I will keep pushing for any short term solutions that might help, and at some point we will have to assess the outcomes, seek change and terms to mitigate the losses."


Canadian children's press Orca Book Publishers is experiencing incendiary supply chain issues, reporting that "an anxiously awaited shipment of books was among the cargo onboard the MV Zim Kingston which caught on fire recently off the coast of Victoria. The books, which were new stock of several bestselling nonfiction titles for children, were being shipped from the printer in China." Orca is waiting for updates on the status of 15,000 books onboard the vessel, since it is still unknown whether they were destroyed in the fire, have been lost in the waters, or are on the vessel and may be offloaded in the future.

"Earlier this year, we made the decision to transition the bulk of our printing away from printing overseas in favor of printing in Canada," said publisher Andrew Wooldridge. "There are many reasons for this shift; politically, socially, environmentally we are endeavoring to match our printing decisions more closely to our overall mandate and goals. These books were among the last planned printings in China and Korea. Combined with all the other supply chain issues, this was a surprising development that certainly caught us off-guard."


"Ever wondered what bookseller's life looks like? Or how people come into the bookselling profession?" asked the European & International Booksellers Federation's Insights newsletter in showcasing "a series of digital interviews spotlighting booksellers from around the world. Hosted by Oana Doboși and Raluca Selejan, booksellers and co-owners of La Două Bufnițe, an independent bookshop in Timișoara, Romania, the 'Booksellers revealed' series gives an insight into the lives of booksellers and bookshops they love dearly."

Soft Opening for William & Mary Spirit Shop & Bookstore

The former William & Mary bookstore had a soft opening recently at its new location in the Triangle Building, at 601 Prince George St., Williamsburg, Va.; and under a new name: William & Mary Spirit Shop and Bookstore. The Virginia Gazette reported that the new space "is much smaller with just 4,000 square feet compared with the older store in Merchants Square and its approximately 25,000 square feet of display space." A grand opening celebration is planned for December 8.

"We're thrilled to be opening the new William & Mary Spirit Shop and Bookstore location in time for the holidays," said store manager Susan Lemerise. "William & Mary has been an incredible school partner throughout this whole process. We're so excited to welcome the community to the new store."

Barnes & Noble College has signed a new contract with W&M and secured a warehouse in the area to handle its textbook operation as well as storage space for some merchandise and clothing. W&M merchandise, memorabilia and brand/logo apparel will be the focus of the new retail outlet, with some trade books--hardcover and paperback--available. Primarily books about the college, titles by local authors and some bestsellers will be offered.

A B&N College spokesperson said the the location move "reflects the Bookstore's continued adaptations to the sale and delivery of university textbooks and course materials, while recognizing the value of in-person shopping for W&M merchandise and supplies."

The bookstore also features outdoor seating "to welcome the William & Mary community and is working to support other local businesses in the Triangle Black, such as a bakery and sandwich shops," the Gazette noted.

Obituary Note: Betty Wood

British author Betty Wood, a Cambridge academic and a historian of the study of slavery, gender and religion in the Atlantic world, died September 3. She was 76. The Guardian reported that she "was among the first to study enslaved people, and specifically enslaved women, at an elite U.K. university and was instrumental in building the profile of early American history in the U.K."

After securing a fellowship at Girton College, Cambridge, in 1971, she completed her Ph.D. in 1973 and "became one of the first women appointed to the Cambridge history faculty," the Guardian noted, adding that she "built a career around a steady flow of groundbreaking publications and an abiding duty of care for her students."

Her books include Slavery in Colonial Georgia, 1730-1775 (1984), followed by eight other works that explored enslaved people's informal economies and their labor patterns in early America. Her best-known book is Come Shouting to Zion (1998), co-written with Sylvia Frey, a survey of the rise of black Protestantism in the American South and West Indies.

In a tribute, Girton College wrote that Wood "quietly and steadily made a number of major contributions to the understanding of her field," adding that "many expressions of sadness and respect have been appearing on social media from Early Americanists on the other side of the Atlantic over the last week: 'a great historian of slavery,' 'a guiding light in connecting historians working in the U.S. and the U.K.' and 'a smart and generous colleague.' "


Image of the Day: Cosplay at Bay Books

Colleen Cambridge, author of Murder at Mallowan Hall (Kensington), visited Bay Books in Suttons Bay, Mich. To celebrate the new novel starring Agatha Christie's fictional head of household as an amateur sleuth, store owner Tina Greene-Bevington dressed up as a maid.

Bookseller Cat: Raven Book Store's Ngaio Retires

"A queen retires: today is Ngaio's last day as a bookstore cat," Raven Book Store, Lawrence, Kan., tweeted yesterday. "We've all loved spending the last 10+ years with her, and we're thankful for every time we got trapped because she fell asleep on our lap.... But she's an old kitty, and in consultation with the wonderful Dr. O'Driscoll at Cat Clinic of Lawrence, we've decided that Ngaio is better suited for a quiet life at a bookseller's home. Thank you, Ngaio, for a decade of distinguished and regal bookstore cat service!"

IPG Adds Five Publishers

Independent Publishers Group has added five new publishers to its trade and digital distribution divisions:

Histria Books, established in 1997 as an academic publishing house, now publishes general interest books, fiction and literature, and children's books, as well as scholarly books in broad range of categories. Its imprints include Vita Histria, focusing on academic titles; Vita Histria Center for Romanian Studies; Histria Kids; Gaudium, focusing on contemporary lifestyle and culture books; and Addison & Highsmith, focusing on adult fiction. (Effective with Midpoint on July 1, 2022.)

Shanghai Press, publishes children's books and non-fiction titles that span a range of subjects, including art, history, spirituality and self-help, gardening, and health. (Effective with Midpoint on July 1, 2021.)

CS Media, a Florida non-fiction publisher founded by Cathy and Andy Sanders that produces how-to books on publishing, writing, ministry, and worship leading. (Effective with Midpoint on January 1, 2022.)

CamCat Publishing, which focuses on publishing quality genre fiction and nonfiction titles across audio, digital, and print. (Effective with Midpoint on June 1, 2022.)

Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Group, Portland, Ore., the comic book and graphic novel publisher whose line of licensed and original titles include Adult Swim's Rick and Morty, Nickelodeon's Invader ZIM, Scott Pilgrim, Queen & Country, Courtney Crumrin, Wasteland, The Sixth Gun, Stumptown, and Letter 44. (Effective with IPG Digital on December 1, 2021.)

Media and Movies

Movies: Oh, the Places You'll Go!

Dr. Seuss Enterprises and Warner Bros. Animation Group have set Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians, In the Heights) to direct a new animated feature based on Oh, the Places You'll Go!, which is expected to debut in 2027. Deadline reported that Bad Robot Productions is adapting the book, originally published in 1990, "marking the award-winning production company's first foray into feature animation." 

J.J. Abrams will serve as producer along with Hannah Minghella, Bad Robot's Head of Motion Pictures. Deadline noted that Oh, the Places You'll Go! is "part of a growing slate of animated projects that Warner Animation Group and Dr. Seuss Enterprises are developing, including a film adaption of The Cat in the Hat that will kick off the new Dr. Seuss movie slate in 2024 with Erica Rivinoja (South Park, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2) and Art Hernandez (Planes, Planes: Fire and Rescue) on board as directors; and Thing One and Thing Two (working title), an original feature-length animated adventure. Additionally, the hit Netflix series Green Eggs and Ham, another joint project, debuted its second season on Netflix on November 5."

Books & Authors

Awards: Goldsmiths, National Outdoor Book Winners

Isabel Waidner won the £10,000 (about $13,410) Goldsmiths Prize, which celebrates "the spirit of creative daring... to reward fiction that breaks the mold and extends the possibilities of the novel form," for Sterling Karat Gold.

Judge Kamila Shamsie said Waidner "collides the real and the mythic, the beautiful and the grotesque, to mind-bending effect. Time-travel constrained by the limitations of Google Maps and trials out of Hieronymus Bosch never out-dazzle the human heart in this novel of friendship, art, injustice and all that can be imagined and unimagined. From the first page, matadors in Camden seem entirely plausible and we wait to see what might be coming around the next corner. Waidner has a live, distinctive intelligence that pushes form to make us see the world around us in new ways and perhaps even for the first time."


The winners (and several silver medalists) of the 2021 National Outdoor Book Awards, sponsored by the National Outdoor Book Awards Foundation, the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education, and Idaho State University, are:

Journeys: This Land of Snow: A Journey Across the North in Winter by Anders Morley (Mountaineers Books)
Journeys (Silver Medalist): America's National Historic Trails: Walking the Trails of History by Karen Berger, photography by Bart Smith (Rizzoli)
History/Biography: Shook: An Earthquake, a Legendary Mountain Guide, and Everest's Deadliest Day by Jennifer Hull (University of New Mexico Press)
Natural History Literature: Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest by Suzanne Simard (Allen Lane/Penguin Canada)
Natural History Literature: Super Fly: The Unexpected Lives of the World's Most Successful Insects by Jonathan Balcombe (Penguin Books)
Natural History Literature (Silver Medalist): Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin Canada)
Outdoor Literature (three winners):
Lookout: Love, Solitude and Searching for Wildfire in the Boreal Forest by Trina Moyles (Random House Canada)
The Unreasonable Virtue of Fly Fishing by Mark Kurlansky (Bloomsbury)
Bicycling with Butterflies: My 10,201 Mile Journey Following the Monarch Migration by Sara Dykman (Timber Press)
Nature and the Environment: Orca: Shared Waters, Shared Home by Lynda V. Mapes (Braided River/Mountaineer Books)
Design and Artistic Merit: Bison: Portrait of an Icon, photography by Audrey Hall, essay by Chase Reynolds Ewald (Gibbs Smith)
Children's: Something Wonderful by Matt Ritter, illustrations by Nayl Gonzalez (Pacific Street Publishing)
Classic: Sierra South/Sierra North by Elizabeth Wenk and Mike White (Wilderness Press/AdventureKEEN)
Outdoor Adventure Guides/Instructional: The Packraft Handbook: An Instructional Guide for the Curious by Luc Mehl, illustrations by Sarah K Glaser (Luc Mehl)
Nature Guides: A Field Guide to the Mid-Atlantic Coast by Patrick J. Lynch (Yale University Press)

Reading with... Jorge Contreras

Jorge Luis Contreras is the author of The Genome Defense: Inside the Epic Legal Battle to Determine Who Owns Your DNA (Algonquin, October 26, 2021), an exploration of the groundbreaking court case that pitted the ACLU against a biotech giant. Contreras is a law professor at the University of Utah with an adjunct appointment in the Department of Human Genetics. He holds a law degree from Harvard Law School and undergraduate degrees in electrical engineering and English literature from Rice University. He lives in Salt Lake City with his spouse and two Siberian cats.

On your nightstand now:

I'm generally reading three different books at any given time: a physical book (literally on my nightstand), an e-book on my phone and an audiobook, also on my phone. Right now, I am enjoying Erik Larson's The Splendid and the Vile, a lively popular history of the Battle of Britain focusing on its chief architects, Winston Churchill and Hermann Goering; Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow, an acclaimed first-contact science fiction novel involving the Jesuit order, that I never got around to reading when it came out; and Andrea Wulf's The Invention of Nature, an engaging biography of Alexander von Humboldt, the most famous 18th century scientist-explorer that most people have never heard of.

Favorite book when you were a child:

In the fourth grade, I read Edgar Rice Burroughs's pulp science fiction novel A Princess of Mars and couldn't put it down. I got my entire class hooked on the book and its many sequels (11 in all). When I used the book as the subject of a book report, my teacher didn't know what to make of it at all. But for me it was great fun. I was thrilled to see so many references to the old potboiler in Junot Díaz's hilarious The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Your top five fiction authors:

Gabriel García Márquez, Kazuo Ishiguro, Gene Wolfe, William Gibson, Cormac McCarthy.

I've gone off script here, and have divided this question into two, as I think of fiction and nonfiction in entirely different ways. With fiction, for me, much of it has to do with style. Each of these authors has a compelling and instantly recognizable voice, and I would read anything that any of them has written. Coupled with style is subject. As this list reveals, I have a taste for the fantastical, and admire an author's ability to build a world that is both novel and believable.

Your top five nonfiction authors:

Walter Isaacson, Erik Larson, Tim Wu, Siddhartha Mukherjee, David McCullough

I view good nonfiction as engaging, narrative and informative. With a good writer, I am willing to learn about whatever subject they choose. This said, I also value an author's ability to tell a story that is new or to put a new perspective on an old story. In short, I want to learn things, to expand my horizons and do so in a way that is engaging and intellectually satisfying.  

Book you've faked reading:

In my junior year of college, I had a massive computer science project due when William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! was assigned in a modern American lit class. I couldn't get through it (and possibly didn't even begin). I suspect that Faulkner would have forgiven me, but now I may be inspired to go back to it.

Book you're an evangelist for:

T.H. White's The Once and Future King, the Arthurian legend as a parable of human nature and political theory. Everyone should read this book to understand American post-war history and society.

Book you've bought for the cover:

A copy of the 1936 English translation of Juan Hernandez's epic gaucho poem Martin Fierro which is bound in cow hide (not leather, but actual treated hide, with fur!)

Book you hid from your parents:

I don't recall ever doing this. A magazine, maybe, but never a book.

Favorite line from a book:

"Reader, I married him." I majored in English literature and am a sucker for 19th-century novels. I've read Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre several times, but I have few reading experiences as memorable as my first encounter with that line. Brontë's out-of-the-blue, hit-you-with-a-wall-of-bricks shift to the second person is truly astonishing, and just what the reader needs at this point in the narrative.

Five books you'll never part with:

Now that most books are instantly available on demand, the reasons for keeping physical copies of books have become decoupled from their content. Or have they? I sometimes ask myself why I still have thousands of physical books. Some are valuable as objects in themselves, some are out of print and will never be available again, and some have a value that is purely sentimental.

Five physical copies that I will never part with for some or all of these reasons are: (1) a first Mexican edition of Gabriel García Márquez's Del amor y otros demonios that he inscribed to me in Mexico City in 1997; (2) a slender paperback produced by the Department of the Interior called Fifty Birds of Town and City, whose images I still think of when I see a bird in the backyard; (3) a paperback copy of physicist George Gamow's One Two Three... Infinity, which showed me the joys of mathematics; (4) William Bridges's photoguide The Bronx Zoo Book of Wild Animals, a book that I received as a gift as a child--probably the first book I remember, and (5) the Shutterfly photobook that I created for our last cat, Tom Jones.

Book Review

Review: Mouth to Mouth

Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson (Avid Reader/Simon & Schuster, $26 hardcover, 192p., 9781982181802, January 11, 2022)

An unexpected airport encounter--with an inevitable flight delay--reunites two university classmates in Antoine Wilson's disturbing yet intriguing Mouth to Mouth. Reminiscent of the cult classic film My Dinner with Andre, Wilson's tête-à-tête exchange takes place in the plush chairs of a first-class lounge, with many drinks (one of them imbibing non-alcoholic beers) and a lavish buffet fueling hours of tautly controlled, one-sided conversation.

Sitting at a JFK gate, the narrator--a novelist on his way to Germany for hopeful meetings with a publisher--hears the name "Jeff Cook" over the PA system. Almost 20 years have passed since he'd "known a Jeff Cook... at UCLA." Back then, they "hadn't been friends, exactly, barely acquaintances, but Jeff was one of those minor players from the past who claimed for himself an outsize role in my memories." Jeff--a "thrift-store Adonis"--was, the narrator believed for vague unsubstantiated reasons, his "guardian angel keeping tabs on [him]." Jeff, too, recognizes the narrator: "You look exactly the same. Plus twenty years or so," he insists with a handshake. Accepting Jeff's offer of "an extra pass" to temporary luxury in the airline lounge, the narrator follows Jeff through the terminal, giving him the opportunity to observe how "everything about [Jeff] conveyed neatness and taste": Jeff's college wardrobe of ripped jeans and old T-shirts has been replaced with an elegant suit, stylish glasses, expensive loafers, fancy roll-aboard luggage. Once the men are ensconced, revelations unfurl.

Calling their meeting "serendipitous," and insisting the narrator was "there at the beginning," Jeff launches into a story he claims he's never told anyone else. Shortly after graduation, Jeff pulled a drowning man from the sea. Not being thanked leads Jeff to stalk the man, and learns that his intervention allowed Francis Arsenault new life. "Francis Arsenault had an eye. It came up in every interview, profile, and article." That eye made Francis a revered, wealthy art dealer with global galleries. Rather effortlessly, Jeff inserts himself into Francis's world--both private and professional--never revealing their connection.

The narrator, whose livelihood, ironically, depends on fabricating narratives, becomes a captive audience to what's presented as Jeff's never-shared history. Wilson (Panorama City) provides readers with both Jeff's meticulously constructed recounting and the narrator's ciphered reactions. In between bottomless drinks and gourmet tidbits, Wilson manipulates Jeff's confessional with interrupting variations of "I'll get to that," a clever distraction to keep the narrator--and readers--engaged. Stopping isn't an option: that final sentence rewards readers with a didn't-see-that-coming gut punch. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Shelf Talker: Antoine Wilson's slyly disturbing and shrewd novel presents two college acquaintances who unexpectedly cross paths at an airport almost 20 years later.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Arrowsmith Press--'Every Story, Every Book, Is a First Story, a First Book'

That for me is what distinguishes stories that are maybe good stories from stories that are deeply meaningful and really touch me. It's when I feel there's that extra work done with language. That extra work is where the heart comes in. --Askold Melnyczuk, during an October virtual event hosted by Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, Mass.

One of the perks of being citizens in the book world is that whatever direction our lives might take, some paths still intersect occasionally. Which reminds me of a short story that begins: "John the Baptist's head must be the best-traveled skull in Christendom." It's from Melnyczuk's excellent new collection, The Man Who Would Not Bow & Other Stories (Grand Iota).

Last month I attended a virtual Harvard Book Store event featuring Melnyczuk and Gene Kwak (Go Home, Ricky!, the Overlook Press) in conversation with Nina MacLaughlin. The discussion was sharp and enlightening. It also prompted me to think about chronology... and paths.

Askold Melnyczuk

I've known Melnyczuk for 20 years. I've read his books, been his student (in the MFA Writing Seminars program at Bennington College) and had many conversations with him whenever our bookish paths have crossed.

As a writer, teacher, publisher and editor, his legacy dates back at least to his high school days, when he created the lit journal Agni, and continues now in his roles as author, English professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and at the helm of Arrowsmith Press, which he founded in 2006.

Tuesday marked the release of Arrowsmith's lead autumn title, The Silence of Your Name: The Afterlife of a Suicide by Alexandra Marshall, a perceptive and powerful read (Lit Hub published an excerpt this week), and a worthy addition to  the publisher's impressive list. The book deserves a wide readership, not only on its own considerable merits, but because it speaks to Melnyczuk's vision as a publisher and the crucial work of small presses.

So this seemed like a good time to check back in with the boss and get his perspective on Arrowsmith's past 15 years. Melnyczuk recalled that in 2002, he had decided to leave Agni, "the journal I founded first as an underground mimeo rag in high school and reconfigured at Antioch college into a lit mag," on its 30th birthday "because I was tired of waking up every morning 10,000 pages behind in my reading." 

Four years later, the desire to publish hit him again, "thanks to a singular convergence," he said. "My friend Oksana Zabuzhko, one of Ukraine's most celebrated writers, whom I'd met in Kyiv in 1990, had been invited to PEN New York's International Conference. She was by then more novelist than poet but had no published prose available in English translation. It so happened I'd translated her novella-length story 'Girls' and published online on the Words Without Borders site.... I decided it would make a fine chapbook on its own. I then invented a publishing house, and so Arrowsmith was born."

From the beginning, Melnyczuk chose relatively simple parameters that would make the project sustainable. He would publish limited print run chapbooks each season, sell them by soliciting prepublication subscriptions through direct mail, and any copies remaining would be sold at book launches he and a small team of volunteers organized surrounding each publication.

He reminded me that I took part in one of these early events, when Arrowsmith "put out a selection of Father Daniel Berrigan's poems, along with a chapbook of brief essays [Conscience, Consequence: Reflections on Father Daniel Berrigan]. That book was published in the early days about the man who remains one of my heroes. The book went public at a standing-room only event at the Friends Meeting House in Cambridge. Contributors to the volume included Howard Zinn and James Carroll, along with yourself and several UMass Boston undergrads. My goal was to make enough money back on each book to cover publication costs plus 10% which would be put toward publishing the next series of books."

Operating on a "by invitation only" basis, Arrowsmith Press continued to publish books using the model, including titles by Tom Sleigh and Jason Shinder, as well as "a long poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (who, as it happens, was the first 'writer' I'd ever written to, back in high school after reading A Coney Island of the Mind)," Melnyczuk said, noting that the press has evolved since then. "As we've grown older the size and scope of our books has also grown. Within the last 12 months we will have published 10 full-length books."

Last year Arrowsmith also embarked on an initiative to publish poetry from Latin America, spearheaded by Nidia Hernandez, who edited The Land of Mild Light: Selected Poems of Rafael Cadenas for Arrowsmith, as well as the upcoming Five Latin American Women Poets.

Other new projects include the online Arrowsmith Journal, which senior editor Ezra Fox persuaded him to launch, and a collaboration with the Boston Playwright's Theater on the Derek Walcott Poetry prize for a published book of poems by a writer who is not a U.S. Citizen.

The quest continues. During the Harvard Book Store event, Melnyczuk said something about writers overcoming self-doubt that seems equally applicable to running a small press: "As far as feeling like a phony, I feel like that every day until I can kind of sit down and forget this sort of self-critical, evaluative part of one's self and begin to enter into the work, into the story. That's what keeps you working, right?... Every story, every book, is a first story, a first book.... Everything presents a new challenge. And are you up to it?"

--Robert Gray, contributing editor

Powered by: Xtenit