KS: I stopped by your table at AWP and it looked great – new titles, lots of spark. Do you go every year? Is it overall an effective event for a small press?
GS: Thanks Karen, we go most years. It isn’t cost effective, but it does put New Sins in the public eye. This last year was encouraging as we had our highest sales ever! Most small presses are doing this for love, not profit. In fact, I went to a panel at the last AWP that discussed how the small press has become the gate keeper for the printed book.
KS: In what way is the small press the gate keeper?
GS: Whereas commercial publishers publish a book, they don’t keep it in inventory for the duration because of the cost of storage. So at some point, books end up in the remainder bins. Small press publishers, if they aren’t doing print-on-demand, print what they anticipate will sell over the course of say 5 years or so (maybe more). Our closets are our storage, or corners of our houses or apartments, and we expect to trip over them for years to come. Also, we’re not out to make a profit; most of us lose money to get our books visibility, and we know that. We publish for the love of the written and published work of our authors. And with more and more commercial publishers going digital, you’ll find the small press the last bastion of printed books, particularly when it comes to poetry (because university presses, where you’ll find poetry books, are beginning to have to rely on books that will sell because of the overall institutional financial resources—or lack of—in higher education, particularly the public sector).
KS: What’s the story behind your press? How did it begin, where are you now, and who are the people behind the pages?
GS: My late partner Rane Arroyo and I would occasionally visit the surrealist poet Charles Henri Ford in New York City, who was a mentor to the both of us. We were intrigued by some of the early poetry broadsides that he shared with us as well as his own word collages. When President Ronald Reagan cut the funding for the NEA because of some of the gay artists and their work, we decided we had to put leftist political and gay voices out there so we started the press with broadsides. We moved to chap books with the election of the first Bush and with the second Bush administration we moved to full length books as well as chap books. So obviously right wing politics had fueled our desire to get left wing and alternative voices out in the literary world. (In fact, Rane gave a keynote speech at a university that mentioned the building of the Bush Sr. library. In the construction of the restrooms, Bush Sr. insisted that the builders use a material that was graffiti proof, proving to us that he was anti word.)
Since the death of my partner, I have continued because we have gained a national reputation as a press for voices that might not be included in the main stream. So I am continuing along the path that we forged many years ago. Through the years some editors have come and gone and sometimes we have relied on a guest judge, but from the beginning of the chap books onward, two key players have been Teneice Durrant Delgado and Dan Nowak. Although we have never worked with just one artist for our covers, the artwork we choose is usually from abstract expressionism or outsider art, thus giving our books a certain unity in look.
KS: I know that Rane’s death rocked the writing world. How is running the press different without him?
GS: When Rane was alive we were co-publishers of the press, but I served as Managing Editor. In that position I did most of the production work and still do. As a former professional editor I have no problem taking over the editorial aspects of the books we publish. However, in terms of dealing with the authors on an individual basis, Rane had more patience and insight into their vision and how it would fit into the frame work of New Sins Press. Luckily Winged City Chap Books is growing to become an independent entity and allows me more time to focus on New Sins. In terms of book fairs, we have always relied and continue to rely on our editorial staff to do most of the labor there.
KS: What is your publication schedule? What is the rationale behind your policy to forgo a reading fee, and also a cash prize?
GS: Normally our reading period has been from January until May. Beginning this year, we anticipate reading manuscripts year round. In all likelihood one or two books will be published from the 2012 submissions. In terms of not having a reading fee, we publish our books and expect to lose revenue on them because New Sins exists out of pure love for poetry. We don’t use a business model nor are we a non-profit. We publish what we can afford to finance ourselves. I don’t know what other small press publishers bring in with reading fees, but I suspect that even with reading fees they lose money. I think all small press poetry publishers face similar losses. We are doing this to keep poetry that would not be published by the mainstream out in the public eye. Again, it is for the art.
KS: Will you be at AWP in Boston?
GS: Of course. I grew up in Salem, MA and I went to college in Boston. I have deep roots there and a lot of friends. I don’t get back to the East Coast very often so the Boston conference is a good excuse. In all likelihood, AWP Boston will be the last conference for several years that New Sins will have a presence at, as several of the subsequence conferences will be out West.
KS: What is the story behind the name New Sins?
GS: Actually, I came up with the title of the press. I became active in the Boston gay community at the age of sixteen. I was around the organizers in the months leading up to the first Gay Pride Parade that I attended. At that time I met the individual who was to be the keynote speaking at that event, whose name is now completely lost to me. Anyway, in one of my conversations with her, she encouraged me to remain a community activist. Her actual advice to me was to go out there and be a “nuisance.” So the title of the press is actually a play on that word.
Glenn Sheldon is the Honors Professor of Humanities at The University of Toledo where he teaches literature and Cultural Studies. He is the author of the critical monograph, South of Our Selves, and two full length poetry collections: Bird Scarer and Angel of Anarchy. In addition to several poetry chap books, his work has appeared in numerous literary journals. He is the publisher of New Sins Press and lives with his five cats in Toledo, Ohio.
Karen Schubert is the recipient of a 2012 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award in poetry. Her poems, interviews and essays appear or are forthcoming in The Review Review, riverbabble, AGNI Online, Knockout Literary Magazine, Artful Dodge and others. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks: Bring Down the Sky (Kattywompus) and The Geography of Lost Houses (Pudding House). She runs a cash mob in Youngstown, Ohio.