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Writers Read: Small Press Books by Peg Rousar-Thompson

Welcome readers and writers. Nearly every Friday this summer, the Write Now! Coach blog is hosting guest posts on what writers read. Today’s post comes from writer and Southport Press editor, Peg Rousar-Thompson. In June, Peg attended the first annual Midwest Small Press Festival and brought home goodies to share with us. If you’re a reader, this post offers you a whole new bunch of books to add to your Friday Reads pile. If you’re a writer, this post will inspire you to think about publishing with a small press. Enjoy!

Writers Read: Small Press Books

by Peg Rousar-Thompson, editor, Southport Press

No matter what genre you read, most of us readers have something in common:  we like the feel of a good book.  We get fluttery inside when we discover something unique and beautiful.  We know there are special books out in the world that don’t come rolling off an assembly line.

In a small Polish bowling alley, the very first weekend in June, I attended the First Annual Midwest Small Press Festival in Milwaukee.  Even without bowling a few frames or drinking any of Milwaukee’s Finest, I can still tell you that this event was even better than Christmas.

I know, I know…  bowling alleys and Christmas don’t really belong in the same sentence.  But I love books.  I love them enough to brave a bowling alley.  I love them enough that I actually work for a small press.

You’re intrigued, aren’t you?  At this very moment, you’re asking yourself just what is a small press?  Strangely enough, a small press is defined strictly by how much money they make.  Less that $50 million in annual sales, and you are an official small press.

And boy, do we make less than $50 million in annual sales.  That’s why we’re all meeting in a Polish bowling alley.  But if you ask us to define ourselves, we’ll use words like small run or handbound.  Our faces light up like kids on Christmas morning.  We’ll get all maudlin and start talking about our books like they are our children.  We’ll probably never get around to discussing money.  Partially because we don’t have any, but mostly because we do this out of love.

With that in mind, you’ll understand the importance of the five $5 dollar bills I stuffed in my pocket as I headed off to the bowling alley.  I spent the next few hours talking shop with fellow book lovers.  That is our connecting thread–whether we publish and enjoy fiction or poetry, hand-sew our bindings or send them off to a printer–everyone in there adores books.

It was almost like meeting Santa’s elves.

The first group I met was Rabbit Catastrophe, and I’ll admit it, I stopped there because they had free stickers.  Their book, Rabbit Catastrophe Review, is a joy to hold in your hands.  The soft cotton fiber cover encases the perfectly laid-out pages within.  I parted with my first $5.

From the leftover scrap edges of the review, a tiny book, a scrap chap, was created.  Children of Reagan by Phil Estes is a tiny jewel of a book, equally as exquisite in layout.  Based in Lexington, Kentucky, Rabbit Catastrophe Review is a mixture of short stories and poetry with full color pages of visual art, and publishes short-run poetry.


The next press I encountered was Rain Taxi.  They publish an inexpensive hefty review of books.  (The issue I read was 56 pages.)  Published quarterly and based in Minneapolis, it’s available free at your local independent bookstores (I picked up several older copies at Woodland Pattern in Milwaukee) or delivered down your chimney (or mailbox, if you prefer) with a very economical subscription (yearly $15).

These are not the books everyone is reading!  They feature work overlooked by most reviewers and their articles demonstrate the difference between a simple book review and literary criticism.  Most of the books reviewed are offered from small presses themselves, as is all of the advertising.  The reviews I read were all positive, so I assume that the books were chosen because they are unique and the best-of-the-best.  Why dedicate pages to books that aren’t worth reading?

Besides their quarterly review, Rain Taxi publishes two books per year.  Their newest book, Stephen Burt’s Why I am Not A Toddler was intriguing.  Rain Taxi also hosts a book festival and a reading series in their hometown of Minneapolis.

Booth: A Journal is published by the MFA writing program at Butler University in Indianapolis.  Its beautiful outsides have equally lovely insides.  Perfect bound and softcover, it’s printed on high quality paper.  The issue I chose, (issue two) had one of the best pieces of short fiction I’ve read in a long time.  Edward Porter’s Cameron Diaz and I Are in Love.  The artwork and text are impeccable, as is the editing and layout.

Booth both publishes a printed issue and maintains a clean, easily maneuvered website that offers a new piece of writing each Friday.  I am both impressed and envious of this extraordinary journal.

Established in 2004, Binge Press publishes literary journals, chapbooks and broadsides, all women-only poetry.  They get the prize for having the neatest idea – instant chapbooks.  Constructed as a one-page-wonder (a book that uses a single piece of paper) in the bird beak design, these tiny books get poetry in our hands quickly and inexpensively.  I purchased their second series of books, all four, for three dollars:

Lineage by Michele Battiste

The Body Never Forgets – Eleanor Shorey

The Rilke Poems by Nava Fader

The Lakes We Are in – Elizabeth Olenzek

The original photography covers are all done by Holly Zemsta Wilson, and the effect of her black and white photos unifies the series.

Besides having a cool name, Strange Cage also has a clever logo—an upside down skeletal rib cage.  I purchased Nick Demske’s Skeetly Deetly Deet for the bargain price of $5.  The back of the book says Made with Love, and it truly is.  Although their books use inexpensive paper and have a few justification issues, they are handbound, hand numbered, limited edition chapbooks showcasing some of the best talent in contemporary poetry.  Based in Iowa City, Strange Cage also has a fresh, easy-to-maneuver website.

And last, we have Aerogram, a division of Crazy Pineapple Press.  Think of it as one of Santa’s little stocking stuffers!  Edited and designed by Jeremy Benson, Aerogram is strictly an online experience.  Publishing postcard-sized original art and poetry, they are always open to submissions.

So, think “Christmas in July” and support some of these small presses!  And even though you missed the Polish bowling alley, next year’s Midwest Small Press Festival promises to be bigger and even better.  Check out their website, but also friend them on Facebook for up-to-date information.

About the AuthorPeg Rousar-Thompson is a freelance writer from Racine and an editor for Southport Press.  She serves as the municipal liaison for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the southeastern Wisconsin region, has published poetry, fiction and personal essays.  













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