NA: Tell me about Black Lawrence Press. Where are you located? Who came up with the name? What distinguishes the press from others? How long has it been in existence?
DG: Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to talk about Black Lawrence Press! We were founded in 2005 in upstate New York by Colleen Ryor who named the press after the Black River and the St. Lawrence River. That year we published just one book of poetry, but since then we’ve grown quite a bit—our annual lists include between fifteen and twenty new titles. The books themselves are printed in Michigan and distributed by Small Press Distribution in California. All of our editors work from home, which means that our day-to-day operations take place in the cloud and via satellite, not in a traditional office space.
NA: How many editors do you have at Black Lawrence Press?
DG: There are currently eight of us. Four are in New York State: Gina in Ithaca, Yvonne in Manhattan, and Kit and Angela are in Brooklyn. The other four are farther flung: Linwood is in Ohio, Anneli is in Boston, Daniele is in Switzerland, and I live in Hong Kong.
NA: You run quite a few competitions, and you also have open reading periods with no reading fees. Do most of your books come from the competitions?
DG: When we first got started I’d say about 75% of the books came in through contests. In the early days, we just didn’t get as many manuscripts through the open reading periods—no one knew us. However, our contests were listed on various databases for writers, so we got more submissions through them. That’s changed. Now that we’re more established, we get lots of submissions through the open reading periods. This year we’ve accepted books by Reneé Ashley, Sequoia Nagamatsu, and Cynthia Manick from our open reading period. They are all new members of the BLP list.
We also have many authors who have continued to send us their work. Authors like Marcel Jolley, Daniele Pantano, Mary Biddinger, David Rigsbee, Abayomi Animashaun, TJ Beitelman and Jacob M Appel have three or more books either published or forthcoming from us. Since January we’ve accepted new titles from BLP authors Laura McCullough, Jenny Drai, and Kristy Bowen.
NA: What distinguishes a Black Lawrence manuscript? What makes a manuscript a contest winner?
DG: When I stop reading a manuscript as an editor and start reading it as an admirer—that’s when I know I want to publish a book.
NA: If you had one line of advice to give to poets submitting their work to Black Lawrence Press, what would it be?
DG: Take your time—we hope to be here, reading manuscripts and publishing books for many years to come, so there’s no need to rush, no need to send your manuscript if you’re not sure it’s ready.
NA: I just read Mary Biddinger’s wonderful new book, A Sunny Place with Adequate Water. I was wondering if you could say a few words about the book or give us an excerpt.
DG: I’d love to share one of my favorite poems from the collection.
FORTUNES AND MISFORTUNES
Clearly I was getting nowhere.
I wanted to be the next Moll Flanders.
I felt not of myself, as if roads
had shifted a little. But who was feeling
me, then? Pneumonia was like an aunt
who sends you enormous shorts
with the price tag still on,
then watches you toss them into a lake.
I hated my friends and their weddings.
The cold trickle of children
from a neighborhood school turned
into a simulated knife
fight between warring factions.
My distrust of the establishment left
me somewhat prepared.
I was evacuation-prone, redheaded
and formerly adulterous, cultivated
enough to need no costume
but holiday socks and a ghost train
like in the wedding magazines
my friends suddenly began purchasing
while I was attempting sleep
and other things while standing.
Remember when your biggest worry
was where? And now it’s how many
leaves will keep you alive.
NA: I’d also love to see a short excerpt from one of your novelists or short story authors.
This is from Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets by Jacob M. Appel, forthcoming this summer. It is taken from the title story:
Zigfrīds Imants Lenc did not have a name on his home planet, because names were superfluous, but in Lummings, Alabama, where he operated the Latvian restaurant opposite the abortion clinic, his regulars called him Red Ziggy. The “Red” did not refer to the young man’s politics. Customers at Café Riga found the eatery’s proprietor zealously neutral in political matters, as impervious to provocation as the mimes at the Twelve Oaks Mall. Newcomers often speculated that his colorful nickname arose from the young man’s perpetually blush-slapped cheeks: a plausible, yet inaccurate guess. Rather, Ziggy had purchased the eatery from an old-timer known as Red Wally, who’d once made headlines for refusing Rosa Parks a soft drink. Ziggy replaced his predecessor’s ham hocks and black-eyed peas with pickled mushrooms and black balzam; the food critic at the Press Sentinel plucked the “Red” off Wally and pinned it onto Zigfrīds. But the review itself had been generous. Café Riga could claim to be the only Latvian restaurant in metropolitan Birmingham—the only Latvian restaurant in the entire state, in fact—which explained Red Ziggy’s placement. If the proprietor knew little about Baltic cuisine, his clientele knew even less, so mistakes were unlikely to attract attention. This low profile suited his mission: to observe the outlying planet’s inhabitants. Unfortunately, Dr. Schnabel opened his clinic six weeks after Red Ziggy baked his first pīrāgi, drawing competing demonstrators and the national media to Lummings; four months later, Erin Gwench of Saint Agatha’s College in Creve Coeur, Rhode Island, came to torment his soul.
NA: What are some highlights of the Press?
DG: I’m especially proud of our newsletter Sapling, which is a curated weekly e-newsletter. Each issue profiles a contest, a small press, and a literary journal, and features an interview or article. Over the course of our first three years, some of our highlights have included interviews with the editors and publishers of Wave Books, Ugly Duckling Presse, YesYes Books, Conduit, Drunken Boat, and Coconut Books, and emerging author interviews with the likes of Leigh Stein, Shane McCrae, Danny Bland, and Monica Drake. You can find out more here.
Also, our list of anthologies is growing and I’m really pleased with the books that we’ve produced so far. I believe that Others Will Enter the Gates: Immigrant Poets on Poetry, Influences, and Writing in America, The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers, and Art & Understanding: Literature from the First Twenty Years of A&U are all important books.
NA: Is there anything else you’d like to say about the press?
DG: We recently started a consultation program which allows poets and writers to send their work to Black Lawrence Press authors for critique. It’s been a huge success so far and we’re looking forward to continuing the program into 2016.
NA: I’d love close with a poem of your choice from one of your poets.
DG: This is from Patient. by Bettina Judd, winner of the 2013 Hudson Prize.
In 2006 I Had an Ordeal with Medicine.
I must have been found guilty of something. I don’t feel
innocent here lurking with ghosts. See it happens like
that. I start at a thought that is quite benign and end up
I had an ordeal with medicine and was found innocent
or guilty. It feels the same because I live in a haunted
house. A house can be a dynasty, a bloodline, a body.
There was punishment. Like the way the body is
murdered by its own weight when lynched. Not that I
was wrong but that verdicts come in a bloodline.
In 2006 I had an ordeal with medicine. To recover, I
learn why ghosts come to me. The research question is:
Why am I patient?
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, most recently Why God Is a Woman (Boa). Others include 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 Nin on Twitter here.