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Publisher Spotlight: Diane Goettel of Black Lawrence Press

Diane Goettel is the Executive Editor of Black Lawrence Press and founding editor of Sapling. As an undergraduate student, Diane studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College. After receiving her MA from Brooklyn College, Diane taught English and creative writing to school-aged children in Hong Kong. She and her husband returned to New York in 2017 and recently welcomed their first child.
 
Kristina Marie Darling:  How did you come to editing as a career path?
 
Diane Goettel:  I always knew that I wanted to work with books. I was very fortunate to attend Sarah Lawrence College as an undergraduate student. There, I primarily studied literature and fiction writing, and during my senior year, I interned for The Adirondack Review. The founder of both The Adirondack Review and Black Lawrence Press, Colleen Ryor, invited me to stay on as a staff member when my internship ended. We continued to work closely for a number of years, and when she had to step away from the press, I took over as Executive Editor.
 
KMD:  What does literary citizenship mean to you and how does it shape your editorial decisions, approach to book publicity, and engagement with the larger community?
 
DG:  As an editor, my work as a literary citizen is twofold; I have responsibilities to the authors on our list and I have responsibilities to readers. I’m always thinking about our readers when I’m reviewing manuscripts that have come in through one of our contests or open reading periods. How will the manuscripts that we choose for publication serve them? Recently, for example, we’ve published a number of titles that specifically speak to current important conversations. The poetry collections The Truth Is by Avery M. Guess and Three Hands None by Denise Bergman (both forthcoming in the spring of 2019) focus unflinchingly on sexual violence against women. So does Parse by Ruth Baumann, due out this month; prey by Jeanann Verlee, published this summer; and The Missing Girl, by Jacqueline Doyle, published in 2017. Our recent list also includes a number of titles that grapple with issues of gender and sexuality–Past Lives, Future Bodies by Kristin Chang, Mosaic of the Dark by Lisa Dordal, The Summer She Was Under Water by Jen Michalski, Wasp Queen by Claudia Cortese, and With Animal by Carol Guess & Kelly Magee. Tornado Season by Courtney Craggett (due out next month) and Jillian in the Borderlands by Beth Alvarado (just acquired) are both short story collections squarely located at the US-Mexico border. And it Begins Like This by LaTanya McQueen, Blue Hallelujahs by Cynthia Manick, and Patient. by Bettina Judd, all illustrate and investigate the experiences of Black women in America.
 
I believe that the titles on our list offer something useful, something readers will find valuable. As we do the work required to transform manuscripts into printed, bookshelf-ready objects, I focus on my responsibilities to our authors. The publishing process can be grueling. Countless drafts, followed by seemingly endless rejections finally give way to an editor somewhere saying yes. (Patrick Michael Finn wrote an incredible essay about this titled “Better Luck Placing This Elsewhere” which was published in BLP’s Sapling.) And then the real struggle begins–finding the right cover art, completing the last copy edits before the book goes out into the world, and finally marketing the finished book can all be incredibly daunting, especially for first-time authors. So, as an editor, I work hard to help our authors through all of these steps. With the help of our Chapbooks Editor, Kit Frick, I have written an extensive handbook that we provide to all of our authors. This handbook lays out our publishing process step-by-step and offers advice on a number of topics such soliciting blurbs, self-promotion, and post-publication competitions. My goal is to provide our authors with the resources they need to successfully bring their book into the world while also serving as an ally throughout the process.
 
KMD:  Please share one story about your press, your authors, or the books you’ve published that demonstrates this.
 
DG:  In 2015 we published an anthology of short fiction titled The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers. When we were closing in on the final editing stages, one of the contributors published a controversial essay in which she shamed victims of sexual assault and defended the perpetrators. After consulting with my team at Black Lawrence Press and the editor of the anthology, I decided to remove said contributor’s work from The Lineup. We received a lot of backlash for this decision; I was called a censor, a McCarthyist, and a coward. But, in dozens of emails and conversations, survivors of sexual abuse and their allies expressed gratitude. One of the authors on our list wrote this to me: “It means a lot to me that I am on a press that is committed to supporting survivors of abuse and combating victim blaming.”
 
KMD:  In what ways has your definition of and commitment to literary citizenship changed in the past few years?  What sparked these changes?
 
DG:  I’m not sure that my definition of literary citizenship has changed, but I do think that it has become refined and more informed. I try to do as much listening as possible — to conversations happening online, in print, and in person — in order to learn about issues facing or coming to the fore in the literary community. My goal is to gain insight into current issues that are important to writers and readers alike. For example, based on this listening, I believe that artistic plagiarism will be one of the next big issues that our community grapples with.
 
KMD:  Tell us about one forthcoming title from your press that you think will change the world for the better.
 
DG:  The Truth Is by Avery M. Guess. Instead of offering my own summary and praise, I’ll leave you with Lee Ann Roripaugh’s blurb:
 
“The Truth Is—an astonishingly powerful debut collection by Avery M. Guess—holds the multiple facets of trauma up to the light with a piercing, rainbowed clarity. These are poems that sensitively unfold legacies of childhood sexual abuse and mental illness with fierce candor, while simultaneously performing the magical alchemies of transforming pain into riveting art. Linguistically taut, and imagistically deft, these lovely and harrowing poems linger and haunt. If you are a survivor, this is a book that will make you feel seen. If you are not a survivor, this is a book that will help you to see. Avery M. Guess is a stunning poet with a gorgeous talent, and a generously capacious heart.”