NA: Red Hen Press looks like a fairly large and sophisticated operation. Located in Pasadena, you offer several awards in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. And you have two other imprints, Arktoi and Boreal Books. And you offer literacy programs in the schools . . . How do you manage all that?
NA: Why is it called Red Hen? I keep thinking of the little red hen who planted the seed, and cut the corn, and took it to mill, and baked the bread and ate it all herself. Is there some reference here?
KG: You got it. In the beginning, we wanted to be a collective, but typically for sprawl cities, two of us ended up doing all the work, so when we became a 501(c)3 we decided to be Red Hen Press. In poetry, everyone wants to eat the bread—get published—but most people don’t want to plant the wheat and knead the dough. The actual work of putting together books and getting them out into the literary culture in such a way that someone will read them is daunting to most.NA: Could you talk a little bit about the different contests the press sponsors?
KG: We conduct three contests ourselves, and two in conjunction with other organizations. The Benjamin Saltman Award, for an original unpublished poetry collection, is named after my poetry teacher, a fine Southern California poet. It’s for $3,000 and has been won by some outstanding poets. Our first winner was Gaylord Brewer, several of whose books we’ve now published, most recently Give Over, Graymalkin. The last two winners are Lillian-Yvonne Bertram, whose But a Storm is Blowing from Paradise came out in March of 2012, and Brynn Saito, whose The Palace of Contemplating Departure will come out in March of 2013. We also have the Red Hen Short Fiction Award and the Red Hen Poetry Prize, both for $1,000. The winning pieces are published in The Los Angeles Review. We choose new final judges for all three awards every year and all the initial reading is done by the Managing Editor and Publisher.
Every year, we also publish the winner of the A Room of Her Own Foundation’s To the Lighthouse Poetry Prize, for the best unpublished poetry collection by a woman. Every other year, we publish the winner of the Letras Latinas/Red Hen Press Poetry Prize, for a second or third full-length collection by a Latino or Latina poet. Each of those winners also receives $1,000.NA: Are most of the writers you publish prize-winners? Or do you also solicit manuscripts or have an open reading period?
KG: Of the 20 books we publish each year, two are the imprints, one is the Ben Saltman Award, one is the AROHO winner, and every other year one is the Letras Latinas winner, so that leaves 15 or 16 slots depending on the year. Our core poetry authors take up the rest of the poetry slots, so we are not acquiring new poets. But our prose list is still in progress. Our open reading period is the month of June and we accept work from agents throughout the year.NA: Will you say a few words about Arktoi Books?
KG: I asked Arktoi’s Editor, the poet Eloise Klein Healy (whose new and selected, A Wild Surmise, comes out in March of 2012) to answer this one. Here’s what she said: “Red Hen Press was my first choice of publisher to approach about an imprint. I had come to the conclusion that lesbian writers weren't being published in the numbers I had grown used to and I wanted to do something to give them more opportunities. Also, I felt that the lesbian community had reached a new stage and the writing should reflect that literary and political growth. I felt I wanted to publish books that spoke to the whole world, that would find a way to many audiences, that would reflect the intelligent and challenging work I knew was out there waiting to find its way into books. And, a book is still a ticket, so Arktoi exists to put tickets in the hands of fabulous writers who happen to be lesbian women.”NA: And Boreal Books? I am such a fan of that book, Double Moon, by the artist Margo Klass and the writer, Frank Soos.
KG: Boreal Books brings out one title a year by a writer from Alaska. So far we've had a book by Eva Saulitis, a marine biologist who studies killer whales in Prince William Sound. Leaving Resurrection contains essays that deal with questions science doesn't let her ask. The second title is Double Moon, the book you admire--intricate box constructions by Margo Klass and brief responses crafted by Frank Soos. Full color and a sophisticated design make that book especially gorgeous. Our third title is a book of poems, A Measure's Hush, by Anne Coray, who lives subsistence on the north shore of Lake Clark. No road leads to her cabin, but these poems can get you there. She's an artist, musician, and poet. This year's Boreal Book is a novel in poems by Nicole Stellon O'Donnell. She went into the Alaska and Polar Regions collection at Rasmuson Library and found a cache of 600 letters to and from one of the first women to come to Fairbanks during the Gold Rush. Nicole got ideas for characters and a story line and wrote Steam Laundry. The Boreal Books series spotlights the finest new writing from Alaska.NA: How long has Red Hen Press been in existence? How has it evolved over time?
KG: We started in 1994 as a poetry press. By 1997, we were also publishing prose, and at this point, nearly half the list is prose. We’ve become a national press with four reading series in Los Angeles and four in New York. Our editorial direction has always been to embrace the work of outsiders, but now that has evolved to include publishing books by established authors whose new books are too risky for New York, like Ron Carlson’s Room Service, a hybrid work of poetry, prose poetry, and micro-fiction, or David Maine’s An Age of Madness, a truly haunting novel. We publish work by such disparate authors as Camille Dungy, John Barr, Doug Kearney, David Mason, Chris Abani, and Lisa Krueger.NA: Is there any way to describe what kind of writers you seek to publish? Or maybe what kinds of work you would never print?