NA: I would love to begin with a brief description of Serving House Books. How would you best describe the press? How did it begin? What is your mission?
WC: Here is the way we identify ourselves on our website: “Serving House Books is an imprint dedicated to selecting memorable poetry, fiction, and essays from throughout the world. Most of our authors already have significant publishing histories, winning many grants and awards. At the same time, we take pride in introducing new writers at the start of careers that will be equally successful.”
We exist to provide a service to authors and books that deserve publication, volunteering our editorial and formatting time and seeking no income or profit. That’s a luxury we don’t expect others to emulate. Thomas E. Kennedy, my co-publisher, and I are both retired, surviving on pensions and a bit of MFA teaching. Over the years, we’ve both benefitted from the work of many editors and publishers who have made our work available, and we empathize with the frustrations of those whose books deserve an audience during a time of reduced outlets for creative writers. Tom and I and others who help as editors feel a debt for the gratifications of our writing lives. Serving House Books is our way of repaying what we owe.
SHB began in 2009 when I discovered the existence of CreateSpace, an Amazon subsidiary that offers print-on-demand and availability on Amazon.com. During many of my twenty years as editor of The Literary Review when I read submissions by so many excellent writers, I had dreamed of publishing books devoted to individuals but was confounded by the logistics of stocking and distribution. CreateSpace solves those problems, with our books available though outlets beyond Amazon and through major distributors. We now have more than thirty titles available.
NA: What are some of the best and worst aspects of running an independent press?
WC: Best is seeing a book take shape as it evolves from a Word file, though InDesign and Photoshop, to proofs and finally publications and sales. That’s a real source of satisfaction, as are the reviews and recognition received by many of our books. Worst in the sense of frustration is getting the word out and letting the world know the books are available.
NA: Serving House Books is described as an International Press. Do you publish translations?
WC: While most of our authors are from the U.S., we have works by writers in the UK and Denmark, with a few in translation. These include Irish-born Thomas McCarthy’s novel of IRA intrigue, The Coast of Death (http://www.servinghousebooks.com/mccarthy.html), Danish author Lars Rasmussen’s collection of tales, Come Raw, and his emulations of the legendary Doaist-Zen poet Han-Shan in What Can Buddha Teach the Rain (http://www.servinghousebooks.com/rasmussen.html), along with the story of the Center for Research and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (RCT), The Meeting with Evil: Inge Genefke's Fight Against Torture (http://www.servinghousebooks.com/evil.html).
We certainly are open to more.
NA: How did you come up with the name, Serving House Books?
WC: The name was inspired by Thomas E. Kennedy’s novel Kerrigan in Copenhagen to be re-released by Bloomsbury in 2013. The story is told through a series of visits to dozens of bars in that city, where they are known as serving houses. As sources of socialization and communal pleasure they struck us as being an appropriate designation for works that readers would share and enjoy.
NA: How many poetry books do you publish per year?
WC: While we don’t think in terms of genre quotas, approximately one-third of our titles are poetry collections.
NA: How do you find your poets?
WC:As with most of our books, their work is by invitation. We seek collections by poets we admire or, in some cases, recommended by people whose judgment we respect.
NA: I first heard Serving House Books when I learned that you had accepted Claire Bateman’s newest book, Locals. I absolutely love that book. It is very unique. I also love the cover you have chosen for the book. Would you be willing to post a poem from that book and say a few words about Claire Bateman?
WC: Our very first publication was a Claire Bateman chapbook called Coronology, which was later included in a full-length collection of that title from Etruscan Press. We were struck by the vision behind those poems and the strength of their delivery. When we learned that Locals was available, we grabbed it with great pride in having it appear under our imprint. Claire’s intelligence and imagination is very special. Her work consistently surprises and illuminates. It takes us to places far beyond our imaginings. Information about her books with us may be found at http://www.servinghousebooks.com/bateman.html.
Here’s one example:
In this realm, every newborn is given a name of many syllables set to musical tones, which then shrinks by a tone or two a year to honor the fact that the more deeply one knows a person, the more mysterious he or she becomes. Thus, the longest intimacies are acknowledged by songs composed of the most luxuriant silence.
NA: I would love to hear about some of your new or forthcoming books. Feel free to provide links to interviews, reviews, etc.
WC: A recent collection of poems and photographs is Mark Hillringhouse’s Between Frames. He is both a widely published and award-winning poet as well as a professional photographer with many works exhibited, including one in the National Park Services’s 2013 calendar. Gerald Stern said of the work; “The absolute sadness of America is in these poems and these photographs; and the old hopes and dreams--and the rage--scattered throughout. And the amazing courage and kindness of the one who is both poet and photographer.”
Another poetry collection just out is David Memmott’s Lost Transmissions. He is the author of six books of poetry, a novel, and a story collection. David Alexrod, author of What Next, Old Knife?” said, “David Memmott uncovers the ‘dignity of survival’ in lives lost to history or otherwise ignored.
NA: What are some of the happiest moments for the press?
WC: Each new book is a happy moment. It’s difficult to pick a favorite. But I’ll provide some examples of recognition that have given us special satisfaction: a long, detailed essay review of Gladys Swan’s The Tiger’s Eye: New and Selection Stories in Southern Humanities Review”; praise for Lars Rasmussen’s What Can Buddha Teach the Rain? from several of the leading translators of Chinese and Zen poetry; Elisabeth Murawski going on after her chapbook with us, Out-patients, to win the May Swenson award for Zorba’s Daughter. These and other affirmations increase our pride in the authors we publish.
NA: I would like to close the interview with a poem from one of your new poetry collections.
Mark Hillinghouse, from Between Frames:
I can still
hear the phone ring
then silence, then the phone again.
I’m up and out of bed at 5 am, my brother
on the other end, “Dad passed away.”
I can still see my brother
in the lobby waiting for me.
I can still see my father’s body:
pale, gray, wooden.
It’s a strange kind of birth
being born out of the body,
that cold, eerie stillness—
I am snowed in; it snowed all night,
snowed all morning, all day into evening.
My father made it snow,
his spirit in the upper atmosphere
got swept up in a storm.
There is a Hopi legend
that the spirit returns as moisture,
and now he’s snowing all around me,
his spirit melting into the cold air,
melting into the earth,
in snowflakes melting into streams,
melting into underground rivers.
Walter Cummins has published five short story collections—Witness, Where We Live, Local Music, The End of the Circle, and The Lost Ones. Another, Habitat, is pending. More than 100 of his stories, as well as memoirs, essays, and reviews, have appeared in magazines such as Kansas Quarterly, Virginia Quarterly Review, Under the Sun, Confrontation, Bellevue Literary Review, Connecticut Review, The Laurel Review, Other Voices, Georgetown Review, Contrary, Sonora Review, Abiko Quarterly, Weber Studies, Midwest Quarterly, West Branch, South Carolina Review, Cross For more than twenty years, he was editor of The Literary Review. He teaches in Fairleigh Dickinson University’s MFA in Creative Writing Program.
Thomas E. Kennedy was born in New York. He has lived in Copenhagen for over two decades, and has worked, among other things, as a translator for Copenhagen's Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims. He is the author of eight novels, as well as several collections of short stories and essays, and has won numerous awards including the Eric Hoffer Award, the Pushcart Prize, the O. Henry Prize and the National Magazine Award. He teaches creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and is the father of two grown children who live in Denmark.
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.