NA: The Anhinga Press is a well-established press that has been around since 1972. When did you become the editor-in-chief of the press? How has the press evolved under your direction?
RC: I became the director in 1992. I don’t think of myself as editor-in-chief because my co-director, Lynne Knight, is actually a much better editor than I am. I see my job, or at least what I have done, as more of the PR guy. I set up readings, I solicit writers, I find judges for our Prize contest. I also write grants. I think I try to make Anhinga Press socially attractive, to make it a good place for writers to send their work and to know that they will get attention for their work if Anhinga publishes their books. Lynne actually makes the books as good as they are. But, to answer the question, the press has grown significantly since I started working on it. We’ve gone from publishing one book a year to doing five books a year. We have more money to use on promotion, to bring writers to Florida for book tours, and to make sure that we produce quality books.
NA: Tell me a little bit about the press. How many books do you publish each year? How does one become an Anhinga poet? Do Florida poets have an easier time getting published by Anhinga?
RC: For the last few years we have been publishing five or six books a year; however in the coming years we plan to cut back to four books. This is due to a reduction in grant income and because Lynne Knight and I both agree that making five books a year and taking good care of five writers consumes more time and energy than we have to give. One can become an Anhinga poet by winning the Anhinga Press Robert Dana Prize for Poetry. After 25 years of awarding the prize, we changed the name this year to honor our friend and Anhinga poet, the late Robert Dana. We also publish the Philip Levine Prize winner’s book. This contest is run by the California State University at Fresno. We also solicit work by poets that we like and we actively try to publish subsequent books by poets that we have previously published. We do have the Van K. Brock Florida Poetry Series, named for Anhinga’s founder, and though this enables us to publish Florida poets, since it’s only one book a year among the books we do, I don’t it’s easier for Florida poets to become Anhinga poets.
NA: Do you think that running contests and selecting authors from contests is the best way to find manuscripts for publication?
RC: I don’t know if it’s the best way, but it seems to be an economic necessity. The contest brings in about one-third of our yearly funding. It enables us to publish the prize winner, to bring that poet to Florida for a reading tour, and to publish at least one other book per year. It’s hard to sell poetry. If we sold $40,000 worth of poetry books in a year, then we would not have to have a contest, and given the work needed to run the contest, we probably would not do it. The contest brings in excellent work by emerging poets, but we only get to publish one of them. Dozens of other worthy collections get passed over.
NA: It seems to me that Florida is a state that is particularly friendly to writers. There are so many fabulous authors, book fairs,readings and related literary events. You are in charge of two wonderful reading series. How does this happen? What does Florida do to make this happen? How do you put together your reading series?
RC:I don’t even know if this assumption is true. Florida has a lot of conferences and all now, true, but it may be as much a function of our warm weather as it is some fondness for poetry. Florida is what, the third or fourth most populated state in the country, so yes, we have a lot of universities and writing programs and good writers, but I don’t know that we have so many that I would consider what Florida does for writing all that special. We are also a historically and culturally new state. We are growing. We have growing pains. Education is not well funded, well administered, and sometimes even well liked here. If you take away the sun and the beaches, I’m not sure what’s left. Maybe the advantage we have here, if any, is that a relatively few years ago almost nothing, culturally speaking, existed. We, the people who run the book fairs, conferences, and reading series, had to hustle to create them, and then hustle to maintain them. I know when I ask a writer from Ohio to come do some readings in Florida in February, it’s not too hard to convince him to leave the cold, frozen north for a week. We created our reading series and conference, sponsored by the Florida Literary Arts Coalition, because there was a need for it, and because we wanted to see it happen. We just worked hard to get it started. Maybe because there’s so much culturally empty space in Florida, we are not always fighting each other for attention.
Our new books, for 2010, include Robert Dana’s New and Selected Poems; Diane Wakoski’s The Diamond Dog; Kelle Groom’s Five Kingdoms; Sean Sexton’s Blood Writing; Michael Hettich’s Like Happiness; Sarah Wetzel’s Bathsheba Transatlantic (the Levine Winner); and Gretchen Pratt’s One Island (the Anhinga Prize winner.) In 2011, we will bring books by Gerard LaFemina, Erika Meitner, Lawrence Hetrick, and the new Anhinga Press Robert Dana prize winner, Horses in the Cathedral, by Kimberly Burwick. The best place to get information on all of these books is the Anhinga website, www.anhinga.org.
NA: Could you describe some of the happiest or proudest moments for the press?
RC: For me, certainly meeting Robert Dana and then having the chance to publish five of his books. It’s always good to tell the new prize winner that he or she has won. And, maybe the best thing is the lasting relationships and good friendships that we have developed with the writers we have published over the years.
NA: What aspects of publishing and editing do you enjoy most? Least?
RC: Most—getting a book out for someone who appreciates it. And also getting to represent the press in public at events like AWP. Least—the daily work. Paying bills, trying to balance books, rejecting worthy manuscripts.
NA: Does editing and publishing help or hinder your own creative process? Could you talk a little about your own books?
RC: At first, editing books helped me with my own work, but by now, after almost 20 years, it really just gets in the way. It’s quite time consuming to run the press, even just my part of it. I don’t have as much time to write as I would like. My writing never seems to have the same pressing deadlines that the press’ activities do and I’m not good at making my writing a priority. Once my books have been published, especially the last one, Dixmont, the connections I’ve made by working with Anhinga helped me to get readings and sell the book, but in general I think running the press now, hinders my personal work more than it helps it. I’ve published a chapbook and three full-length books in the last ten years. I don’t know if I could have done more if I were not running Anhinga Press, but I know that right now I could be writing more if I were not devoting so much time to the press and the FLAC reading series and all. I don’t want to moan about this though. I have enjoyed being a publisher and a writer. It’s been a rich experience.
Rick Campbell’s most recent book of poems is Dixmont, from Autumn House Press. His other books are The Traveler’s Companion (Black Bay Books, 2004); and Setting The World In Order (Texas Tech 2001) which won the Walt McDonald Prize; and A Day’s Work (State Street Press 2000);. He’s won a Pushcart Prize, an NEA Fellowship in Poetry, and two poetry fellowships from the Florida Arts Council. He’s published poems and essays in many journals including The Georgia Review, The Missouri Review, The Florida Review, Prairie Schooner and many others. He is the director of Anhinga Press and teaches in the English department at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida. He lives in Gadsden County, Florida, with his wife and daughter.