July 11, 2019KR BlogChatsCurrent EventsEnthusiamsEthicsLiterature

Publisher Spotlight: Rose Solari of Alan Squire Publishing

Rose Solari is the author of three full-length collections of poetry, The Last Girl, Orpheus in the Park, and Difficult Weather, the one-act play, Looking for Guenevere, and the novel, A Secret Woman. She has lectured and taught writing workshops at many institutions, including the University of Maryland, College Park; St. John’s College, Annapolis, Maryland; the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University; and Oxford University’s Centre for Creative Writing in Oxford, England. Rose’s awards include the Randall Jarrell Poetry Prize, an EMMA award for excellence in journalism, and multiple grants.

In 2010, she co-founded Alan Squire Publishing, an independent literary press that publishes poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. Find out more at alansquirepublshing.com.

Kristina Marie Darling:  How did you come to editing as a career path?

Rose Solari:  If you’re good at something, and recognized in your community as being good at something, people will ask you for help with that. I was known, very early, as being good with words. And I had the luck of having a father who deeply loved literature and showed me why and how to love it as well. One of my fondest memories of growing up is of neighborhood kids coming to him for help with their English papers, and even their poetry. In college and outside of it, my friends often came to me.

I found I loved it. I loved catching a misplaced modifier, a subject/verb disagreement, and I also loved suggesting the need for a transition, a cleaner image, a different anecdote or example. The magic that happens when a paragraph or a poem, a chapter or a stanza, clicks sweetly into place is a source of lasting joy for me.

Then I found I could get paid for it. At a certain point, writing and editing professionally became the alternative to the career in academia that I think a lot of us with MFAs from some years back envisioned. I spent a good and rewarding chunk of time as a writer and editor for a couple of national magazines, while also freelancing for presses big and small, and for individual authors. Then, I realized I needed to take that next step, and dive into publishing, too.

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?

RS:  Oh, this is a multi-layered topic, and so important right now. I’ll start with the personal side: I grew up fascinated by the stories of the various communities of writers, editors, and publishers that, by working together, change literary history. For example, I’ve often wanted to teleport myself to New England in the 1800’s, to sit in a room with Margaret Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson, with Thoreau and Hawthorne and the Peabody sisters, and just listen as they bat ideas around, advise each other, read and discuss each other’s work. Creating that kind of community of mutual respect and support is my ideal, and is the foundation of my ideas of literary citizenship and of Alan Squire Publishing.

It is also extremely important to our vision at ASP that we think vertically as well as horizontally – as we cast our net, we think about depth as well as breadth. I gave a keynote speech on this topic a couple of years ago at one of Maritza Rivera’s inspiring annual Mariposa Poetry Retreats. The title was “Nurturing the Beginners, Honoring the Elders,” and it was, in part, about not getting stuck in your own age group or peer group, but continuing to support and invest in writers of different ages and backgrounds. Our literary culture has a big problem with ageism, and we try to fight that.

So while ASP is committed to bringing new, young voices into print, such as Elizabeth Hazen and her gorgeous first poetry collection, Chaos Theories, we are also deeply committed to publishing older writers. I am particularly proud of our Legacy Series, which honors writers with a long history of indie publishing who also have significant track records of mentoring other writers. We’ve done three of these career-spanning collections so far — The Richard Peabody Reader was the first, followed by Other Voices, Other Lives: A Grace Cavalieri Collection and, forthcoming this fall, Linda Watanabe McFerrin’s Navigating the Divide: Selected Poetry & Prose. It would be hard to find better, more committed literary citizens than these three writers. We at ASP sought them out and engaged them in part as a thank-you for all they’ve done for other writers. Gratitude is key to literary citizenship, in my opinion.

As for book publicity, we are still learning a lot, every day. In the past two years, we’ve added three staff members, each with expertise in various aspects of PR, social media, research, and event planning. Grace Cavalieri being named Poet Laureate of Maryland the year after her Legacy Book came out gave us a big boost so far as visibility and reputation. And of course, there is no one more deserving of any such accolade than Grace.

Next year will be our tenth year, and we are still actively growing and nurturing our networks. Some of our best, most generous support has come from other writers and publishers. And we’ve gotten a lot of insight and education from Andrew Gifford, founder of Santa Fe Writers Project, with whom we have partnered up. SFWP has been around twice as long as ASP, and we have definitely benefited from Andrew’s wisdom and his willingness to share it.

And of course, as a writer, I try to live out my literary citizenship in part by writing blurbs, judging contests, serving on grant committees, and teaching. We all know the amount of jealousy, backbiting, and outright cruelty that can poison a writing community. My motto against that, taken from Liam Clancy of the Clancy Brothers, is “No fear, no envy, no meanness.” Good words to live up to.

KMD:  Please share one story about your press, your authors, or the books you’ve published that demonstrates this.

RS:  In 2008, I was the Poet-in-Residence for the Oxford Literary Festival’s Fringe Fest in Oxford, England. One of my tasks was to attend open readings and give feedback afterwards to the less experienced writers. One young writer, Mark Pritchard, read from a novel-in-progress called Billy Christmas, and it just knocked me out. Everything about the section he read was so well done — the language, the imagery, the dialogue, and especially the character of Billy himself, a brave but bullied young man whose father went out for milk one Christmas morning and never returned. Billy’s quest to find his missing father reminded me a bit of Meg’s in Madeleine L’Engle’s in A Wrinkle in Time, a favorite of mine growing up. Like that book, Billy Christmas transcends the YA genre, or, as we like to say, is really for young adults of all ages.

When I spoke with Mark afterwards, he told me of his trouble trying to find an agent for the book. Another issue in the literary world that drove me to publishing is a desire to go over or around the gatekeepers who think they know what people want to read. I was frankly angry on his behalf, and left the festival really wanting to publish Mark’s book.

Back at home, my ASP co-founder and husband, James J. Patterson, and I began to explore the ins and outs of starting a press. It was daunting, and we were still unsure about it when we went to the OLF together the following year. One of the speakers we saw was the great literary publisher John Calder, who was Beckett’s main publisher in England and the founder of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. He was in his eighties then, fierce, curmudgeonly, and utterly brilliant. At one point during the Q & A, someone asked if he had anything to say about the current literary world. I think we all expected something negative.

But Calder said that he thought that moment, at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, was one of tremendous excitement and opportunity for indie publishing. Referencing advances in printing technology and the spread of online magazines and literary sties, he said he believed it was the was most exciting time to be in publishing since he started his own press in the years after World War II. “My only regret,” he said, “is that I won’t be around to see what comes next.” James and I looked at each other. It was as if we both knew we’d received a call. On the plane home, we began planning our press in earnest. We launched ASP in 2010. Billy Christmas was our third title.

KMD:  In what ways has your definition of and commitment to literary citizenship changed in the past few years?  What sparked these changes?

RS:  Well, the national and international political situation has descended into an ugliness I could never have anticipated. We founded ASP when the Obamas were in the White House. I did not think we’d be re-litigating Roe v. Wade now. I did not think that we’d be demonizing immigrants and locking them in cages. And so it has become increasingly important to us to bring more voices outside the literary mainstream into the world.

We have two new initiatives almost ready to launch that will help address this. When we started, we had a backlog of manuscripts we wanted to publish; now, in addition to soliciting manuscripts, we’re preparing to launch an annual open reading period for the genres we publish: poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. We’ve got enough staff and enough outside readers to handle it, and I’m looking forward to seeing what we get.

We are also moving toward publishing work in translation. There is a great community of literary translators in the Washington DC area, where we are based. Several of them, particularly Katherine E. Young, a poet whose work I very much admire and with whom I did a brief UK book tour in 2014, have alerted us to the dismal statistics on how little translated material is published in the United States. We’ve had some great conversations with her and others on this topic, and look forward to dipping our toes into that stream soon.

KMD:  Tell us about one forthcoming title from your press that you think will change the world for the better.

RS:  Oh, Kristina, I can’t do that! I acquired all three of these books – it’s like asking a mom which of her three kids she loves best. How about I give you one sentence on each?

Linda Watanabe McFerrin’s Navigating the Divide will change the world for the better because she is an open-hearted, globe-trotting chronicler of the world who illuminates our common humanity — and we really need that now.

Reuben Jackson’s Scattered Clouds: New & Selected Poetry will change the world for the better because his unique combination of righteous anger and tender wisdom teaches us to be better, more just, more loving human beings.

Joann Biggar’s novel Melanie’s Song will change the world for the better because its depictions of the sexism, racism, social divisions, and political chicanery of the Nixon era, along with the efforts of her truth-seeking journalist, the narrator J.J., will remind you how vulnerable and easily lost our rights and freedoms really are, and inspire you to do something about it.

Thank you, Kristina, for your wonderfully thought-provoking questions. This has been a real pleasure.