Robert Miltner interviews Alan Davis and Suzzanne Kelley of New Rivers Press, University of Minnesota Moorhead, and Kaitlyn Moessner, Ryan Christiansen, and Whitney Walters, Students in the Certificate in Publishing program.
RM: I’ve read that founding editor Bill Truesdale printed the first title by New Rivers Press in 1968 using an old Chandler & Price letterpress in a Massachusetts barn. The Press moved to Minnesota in 1978 to live among the thriving literary small press community in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Since 2001, the Press has been publishing from Minnesota State University Moorhead. As a former independent press that has been taken in by a university, you have a special kind of relationship. How does that shape the mission of NRP today?
AD: We now have two missions: to publish the best work of every kind that we can locate, especially by new and emerging writers, which has always been the mission of the press, and to create learning opportunities for students, now that we’re a teaching press. We offer a certificate in publishing and hope that we might interest some students who earn the certificate in a career in small press publishing.
SK: It is a relationship that has been working well. We retain our nonprofit status, which means that are able to maintain our mission and goals and the bragging rights for being one of the oldest small presses in the nation, having been established in 1968. But we are also associated with a university institution, which lends a certain gravitas to what we are doing. Because of the academic schedule, our release date is always in October.
RM: Can you talk a bit about the “many voices” and “many Americas” concepts that are featured with NRP?
AD: We value diversity. In the past, we've published anthologies that feature the work of under-represented populations: Tilting the Continent, for example, is an anthology of work by Southeast Asian American writers. Our annual Many Voices Project each year selects one book of prose and one of poetry written by a new or emerging writer. For that contest, we use finalist judges like Charles Simic, David Mason, Debra Marquart or Joan Connor to make the choices.
RM: What makes an NRP book an NRP book?
AD: We consider work of every character. We're especially interested in work with a strong sense of place and satyagraha, or truth force.
SK: Every student who has participated in the production is listed on the ISBN page. I think that lends character and a sense of history to the whole enterprise. Those who know us, recognize the collaborative efforts of the many people it took to bring this book to its final print.
RM: NRP publishes both fiction and poetry—why don’t you specialize in just one?
SK: Why should we limit ourselves? NRP has had a longstanding tradition of supporting the art of poetry, even though it presents its own challenges for distribution. Our distributor informs me that we are one of only a few presses that are willing to make that commitment. We publish at least one book of poetry every year, but usually we publish more. This year we have three excellent poetry publications.
RM: NRP is a teaching press, and as I understand it, one of the few in the country. How does that work? Do either of you teach in the program?
AD: Students take classes, serve as interns, and can work to earn a certificate in publishing. They assist in editing and marketing and otherwise participate in all areas of literary publishing.
SK: I teach the two required publishing classes for the certificate: Introduction to Publishing and Practicum in Publishing. While the Intro course does just what it states, the highlight of the semester is a day-long bus (coach) trip to The Cities, where we visit a couple of other small presses (Milkweed, Coffee House), The Literary Loft (a place where writers in residence can be found, and the Center for the Book Arts), and BookMobile, which publishes our books. In the Practicum, a limited number of students work on the actual copyediting, marketing, and publicity of six books per year. Students are divided into book teams. Each team is responsible for one title, including the correspondence with the author to make it all happen. I guide and facilitate the book teams in all their endeavors.
RM: Did you students choose to come to Minnesota State University Moorhead because NRP is a teaching press?
WW: No, I didn’t, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out after I had arrived that NRP was located on campus and is a teaching press.
RC: I chose to come to MSUM because it is my alma mater and because of the MFA program here. When I began pursuing my MFA, I learned about the Certificate in Publishing, which you can earn within the framework of the MFA degree at MSU and decided to pursue it.