NA: Kore Press was founded in 1993. What specific event, or series of events, inspired you to start a press
LB: I had worked with another small press (Chax Press) for five years since my internship with them my senior year at the University of Arizona, learning letterpress printing, binding, typography, and literary organizing. Anything I could do, really---I loved it all and was inspired. I was ready to do my own thing at that point and wanted it to be just about women's writing. There were so much talent in Tucson at that time (still is) and such a paucity of women in the canon. My friend Karen Falkenstrom (poet, organizer) and I talked at length about the need for such a press, and over coffee at a cafe in downtown Tucson in 1992, the seeds of Kore Press were sewn.
NA: Why a women’s press?
LB: When I was going through the University, I was exposed to fewer women writers than male writers. I was hungry for what women had to say about just about anything. We did some research and found very few women's presses, and none in Arizona. We both knew a lot of female poets and writers and started publishing those writers whose work we knew and admired.
NA: Have we come a long way as women authors? And do we still have a long way to go?
LB: Check out vida.com for the most current and up to date statistics on how women are fairing compared to men when it comes to being published or being reviewed. Which isn't to say women are writing, or going into MFA programs. We figured at one point a few years ago that, if you accept that an MFA program is one indicator for how many folks are becoming writers out there at any given time, that there are an equal number of men as there are women taking up the craft, if not a smidge more women. The numbers start getting disparate along the gender lines when things like money and who is making editorial decisions come into play. We see a helluva lot fewer women having by-lines in the most prestigious journals and newspapers, as we see fewer women in the best-of lists each year, and in the major publishing house lists.
NA: How has the press evolved?
LB: I used to set moveable type by hand, mix inks, and print each page by hand on 19th c printing equipment in an old warehouse house that leaked when it rained. The interns and I worked regular jobs at night so we could be in the studio during the day. I crawled on top of the old metal roof to fix a squeaky swamp cooler, and fixed the presses when they didn't work. It took over a year to bring our first book out, and I used to run to poetry readings with the ink still drying on broadsides that we pretty much just hot off the press.
We asked friends to empty their pockets to help us buy paper and get things going the first year while we formed an organization that could apply for grants. 19 years later there are still marks of being a small press, which are primarily about resources, but we are staffed by a few part-time employees, interns from the University, and a volunteer Board.
We have garnered national recognition in the past year with awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Book Foundation. We were picked by the local arts agency for excellence in the category of established arts organization. Judges of our Poetry and Fiction Awards are world class, and we produced and toured a play based on writings by women in the US military--a first ever book of its kind (published by Kore). Our after school writing as social activism workshop for girls and transgender youth is being studied by a research collaborative at the University of Arizona as part of a project funded by the Ford Foundation. We are currently in the midst of our first major donor campaign, and we are about to undergo intensive planning and strategizing conversations to explore national expansion.
NA: What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a feminist press?
LB: You are always forced to make a case for yourself as a feminist press (aren't identity politics so 90s??) and forced to explain what it means to be feminist, which is a variable, changing thing. For Kore, it is about making a contribution toward closing the gender gap in a very particular field (literary writing and girls education), which happens to be connected, I think, to just about everything else.
NA: How many books do you publish each year? How does one become a Kore author?
LB: We currently publish about 6 titles/year, including broadsides and chapbooks. A writer can submit to Kore through one of our annual contests (First Book Award for Poetry and the Short Fiction Award) as well as through our annual open submissions period where our team of reader-writers comments on/responds to each manuscript if it is not recommended for publication. We sometimes receive manuscripts from previous authors and editors who are championing another author or manuscript. Even more rare, do we solicit work from a particular writer.
NA: How do you promote your authors?
LB: We work collaboratively with all our authors to promote and market the books through a big web presence by getting reviews on blogs and in print, by helping authors set up websites, facebook pages, or even blogs. We go through our mailing lists, media contacts, bookstore lists, alumni mags, etc---anyone who will help spread the word of the book or help sell it. Our distributor is IPG. We sell to individuals on-line; we attend the AWP, and sometimes host authors and generally try to be creative.
NA: I was wondering if you might say a few words about your current and forthcoming books. Maybe provide links to any interviews, reviews, or events?
LB: We have three great new titles coming out this month: Jennifer Barber (editor of the journal Salamander) second book of poems, Given Away, is due out in a few weeks; Michelle Chan Brown's Double Agent, 2011First Book winner selected by Bhanu Kapil, is forthcoming soon as well; and Patricia Grace King's short story "The Death of Carrrie Bradshaw"---winner of the Kore Press Short Fiction Award, selected by Antonya Nelson in 2011. We also are issuing a limited edition broadside of a poem by Niki Herd with a photo by Mamta Popat.
NA: Would you describe some of the worst and some of the happiest or proudest moments for the press?
LB: I am very proud of what the work of the Press has done toward making other's lives better: the writer's whose careers the Press helped launch; the healing for the writers in and the readers of "Powder: Writing by Women in the Ranks, from Vietnam to Iraq" (and the subsequent play based on the same work). Happy moment: receiving the Innovations in Reading Prize from the National Book Foundation last November at the Ford Foundation in NY, and the gala NBF Awards ceremony where it was announced that Nikky Finney, who is judging Kore's First Book Award contest this year, won for "Head Off and Split" for best poetry. Happy moment: feeding 40 people at an early Kore fundraiser with a meal created from 200 pounds of tuna I caught with my father in Baja and drove across the desert, on ice, in a little read pick up truck.
Worst: there are as many of these as there are good times, over 19 years, but the sting seems to fade in the telling: over-glued spines/manufacturer's defect in a box of books that arrived from printer days before a national book launch; computer crash the day of an NEA grant deadline; grant writer crying on the post office floor when she realized she'd missed the last postmark (in the days when grant were snail mailed); lost files; lost friends; lost funding; lost sleep; lost love; having to stop printing by hand; selling the presses. . . the passing of heros: Allen Ginsberg, Ed Dorn, Adrienne Rich, Akilah Oliver.
Lisa Bowden, Publisher and co-founder of Kore Press, is the editor of Autumnal: An Audio Collection of Contemporary Elegies, and co-editor of Powder: Writing by Women in Ranks, from Vietnam to Iraq. Recently Lisa co-adapted, directed, and produced Coming in Hot (a play based on Powder). An award-winning graphic designer and a poet who works improvisationally with dancers and musicians, Bowden's poems have appeared online in Spiral Orb and Backroom Live!, and have been read outloud in the subway systems of Washington, DC. She is the recipient of the 2011 Maryanne Campau Fellowship for Poetry from the University of Arizona Poetry Center and a 2011 Women on the Move Award from the YWCA. Bowden serves on the advisory board of Girls Write Now, NY, and is a graduate of the University of Arizona. Lisa has lived in New Jersey, London, Barcelona and is a long-time resident of Tucson, where she resides with her partner Eve and daughter Djuna.
Nin Andrews received her BA from Hamilton College and her MFA from Vermont College. The recipient of two Ohio Arts Council grants, she is the author of several books including The Book of Orgasms, Spontaneous Breasts, Why They Grow Wings, Midlife Crisis with Dick and Jane, Sleeping with Houdini, and Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum. She also edited Someone Wants to Steal My Name, a book of translations of the French poet, Henri Michaux. Her book, Southern Comfort was published by CavanKerry Press in 2010. Follow Nin's blog here. Follow her on Twitter: @NinAndrew.