Sunday, May 18, 2008

Philadelphia Book Festival/Philadelphia Stories/Cider Press Review/The Ecstatic Exchange/McSweeney's

On Saturday, I had a chance to stop at the Philadelphia Book Festival, and I'm really glad that I did. Not only did I get a chance to meet (and embarrassingly fawn over) Charles Burns, the writer/illustrator of Black Hole, but I also got a chance to meet up with a lot of people involved with small presses from across the country.

Considering that the festival was a Philadelphia-based event, it was no surprise at all that the publishers of Philadelphia Stories were in attendance, and the good news from them is that they're branching out into book publishing. Long known throughout Philadelphia for purveying fine short-stories, essays, poetry and art on a quarterly basis, the folks at PS will be launching their new books division this fall with Christine Weiser's Broad Street, a novel that's already getting a lot of buzz for its realistic, fun and engaging portrayal of the Philadelphia rock scene circa 1994.

Another bit of exciting news that the folks at PS had to share was that they're sponsoring a writer's retreat at Rosemont College this June. Among the instructors who will be on hand to share their expertise are Tom Coyne, Charles Holdefer, and Elyse Juska. (When, I wonder, do these people find time to sleep?)

In the stall next door to the Philly Stories tent, I had the opportunity to meet Caron Andregg, one of the editor/publishers at Cider Press, a small press specializing in poetry. Friendly, generous, and gregarious (as any small press publisher must be!), Caron gave me a copy of the latest edition of Cider Press Review. I'm planning to do a full review of the issue in the near future, but for the time being, suffice to say that if this collection of poetry is any indication of what the press has to offer, then it's definitely a winner.

Also on hand at the festival was my old friend Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore, whose poetry I've enjoyed since we worked together ages ago at a small publishing company that put out accounting textbooks. Now enjoying a slightly early retirement, Moore has been busy with his own press, The Ecstatic Exchange. In addition to publishing Moore's own work (which itself has been published and/or distributed by none other than City Lights Books and Syracuse University Press), The Ecstatic Exchange also publishes the work of other poets, most notably, Tiel Aisha Ansari, whose Knocking from Inside lovingly examines the relationship between the human soul and the Divine by way of sorrow, the natural world and the listening heart.

Last but certainly not least, the folks from McSweeney's were also on hand promoting their latest titles. What really impresses me about McSweeney's (aside from how friendly their sales reps are -- talking about everything from the joys of being a dog owner to the difference between Brooklyn and San Francisco) is how much care the publisher puts into designing their books. Take the Baby Be of Use series, for example; designed in such a way as to fit into the hands of any small child and, perhaps more importantly, illustrated so as to convey meaning even to the most pre-literate of toddlers, these books will have otherwise shiftless babies up and mixing drinks, fixing cars, and making breakfast in no time. And, on a slightly less whimsical note, the multiple dust-jackets of Michael Chabon's first collection of essays, Maps and Legends, hints at the many layers of meaning the author explores in the world at large. But more on this title in a future post...

In a word, my trip to the Philadelphia Book Festival was energizing. Seeing so many people who were so passionate about the art of publishing and the business of bringing interesting and otherwise marginalized voices into the public eye made me remember why I keep at it with this blog. Unlike the massive corporate publishing houses that evaluate potential writers the same way they evaluate stock portfolios, the small press publishers I met definitely weren't in the game for the money. They're in it for the sheer love of the written word. It's this love of the written word that keeps their presses going, and it's this same love of the written word that keeps literature alive.

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