Small Press Points

by Kevin Larimer

News and Trends

Posted 9.1.07

September/October 2007

Less than a year after John O'Brien's Dalkey Archive Press, citing "unexpected circumstances," abandoned plans to move from Illinois to New York, two of its major players—former associate director Chad Post and former marketing and production director Nathan Furl—have abandoned their plans to stay in Illinois. In July, the University of Rochester, in upstate New York—where Dalkey Archive had intended to move in January, but instead moved from Illinois State University in Normal to the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign—launched Open Letter, a new press dedicated to international literature. And who do you suppose will be the director of this new operation? Post was recently appointed to the post; joining him will be Furl, as art and operations manager, and E. J. Van Lanen, former assistant editor at Ecco (which is not in bold letters because it's no longer small nor independent and hasn't been since 1999, when founder Daniel Halpern inked a deal that made it an imprint of HarperCollins). Beginning next fall, Open Letter will publish twelve books annually, focusing on "modern classics" and contemporary works of fiction. The press's first release will be Nobody's Home by Dubravka Ugresic, an author exiled from the former Yugoslavia whose last book, Thank You for Not Reading, was published in 2003 by none other than Dalkey Archive. And who do you suppose was her editor there? In an interview published on the literary blog Bookslut, Ugresic calls Post "the best editor I ever had." A press release announcing the launch of Open Letter quotes fiction writer and University of Rochester professor Joanna Scott as saying, "Along with a handful of prestigious literary presses like the New York Review Books Classics, New Directions, and Archipelago, Open Letter is dedicated to enriching our culture by making the best of the world's literature available in English." Of course, a year ago the generous author had this to say about a different press: "Dalkey Archive is a haven for the best of modern and contemporary world literature, a small press with a huge impact." And it still is: Next month, for instance, it will publish the 640-page Omega Minor by Dutch novelist Paul Verhaeghen. Dalkey Archive just remains a little further from home than Scott had anticipated.

When considering the Caketrain Project, as Amanda Raczkowski, Joseph Reed, and Donna Karen Weaver like to call Caketrain Journal and Caketrain Press, potential submitters mustn't focus solely on the small press and ignore its sister literary magazine, or vice versa. One must—to take a chainsaw to the expression—see the forest for the trees. The Pittsburgh-based Caketrain Press, you see, publishes poetry chapbooks through an annual competition—this year's judge is poet Claudia Rankine; the deadline is October 1—but it also publishes the annual Caketrain Journal, which is open to fiction and creative nonfiction, as well as poetry. While Caketrain is dedicated to publishing chapbooks—the press has released two, Dolls by Tom Whalen and Check-In by Elizabeth Skurnick—the journal is of equal, if not greater, importance. "Chapbooks are great, don't get me wrong," says coeditor Reed, "but journals, more than any other forum, are the ground floor of ‘independent' literature, where the majority of the truly daring, world-changing stuff is afoot, and understanding the work of the journal is absolutely essential to seeing Caketrain as the ongoing experiment that it is."

One could say the same about Octopus Books and Octopus Magazine, although editors Zachary Schomburg and Mathias Svalina are wisely avoiding the name Octopus Project, which sounds like a rejected 007 movie. Instead, to celebrate the 2006 release of the eighth issue of their online magazine, launched three years earlier, the editors decided to publish eight chapbooks by eight poets—the number eight being significant, of course, to octopi. And they didn't stop there: Octopus Books has published two additional chapbooks in the past year, and two full-length books are planned for this winter. As for the magazine, it and the press "are managing to coexist pretty seamlessly," Schomburg says.

Kevin Larimer is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.