Works of literary merit
It's been a brisk five years since Sugartown Publishing began to help independent writers and poets into publication through quality editorial guidance and book production. Our most recent volumes are all especially gorgeous: John Hart's Storm Camp, Dale Jensen's Amateur Mythology, Robert Hart's A Harsh Green World.
We are proud of the work we do and congratulate all our writers: Cheri Coleman, Robert Coats, Catherine Elizabeth Dana, Jannie M. Dresser, John Hart, Dale Jensen, Yin Marsh, Patricia Nelson, Fred Ostrander, Gail Peterson, Deborah Dashow Ruth, Kimberly Satterfield, Benjamin Slomoff, Bonnie Thomas, Gary Turchin, Judy Wells, and Judith Yamamoto.
We plan on celebrating big time this year, with an event and some new publications. If you are not already on our mailing list: please join us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As publisher, I'd like to share a few reflections.
For me, creating Sugartown has been a side-line to other employment, at times a tough slog, a demanding little sibling, and a precious child. I would not have traded my time working with Sugartown writers for any thing, and I've loved ever single parenthetical remark and comma.
This venture that grew out of a bout of under-employment and wanting to continue to build and use my particular skill set, having worked most of my life in some phase or another of the book industry and communications. Following the 2008-inspired economic recession, I struggled as many did to find firm footing in a world of collapsing businessses and depressed wages. Finding myself over 50 and over-experienced for many employers who wanted cheaper, younger workers, I decided to end my gloom by doing what I love to do: make things. In my case -- having worked in many facets of writing and publishing, as an editor, managing editor, jail and juvenile detention center librarian, teacher of writing, teacher of poetry, typesetter, graphic designer, book seller, and publications manager -- I decided to take the risk of being a small press publisher. Virginia Woolf did it, I thought, so could I. (I'm about as mentally and emotionally stable as she is, except I have 21st century pharmaceuticals to help maintain balance.)
There have been upsides and downsides as I try to keep up with the dramatic changes in publishing and book sales. Most disappointing has been the challenge of cracking the distribution nut: unfortunately, those we would have thought to have been our best allies -- independent book stores -- have grown as cratchity and constricting as the big chains. Many bookstores or distributors either lack an interest in poetry or look askance at books that have been cooperatively published, where both writer and publisher share the costs. This has been a very old tradition in English poetry publishing.
Without cooperative publishing ventures, the works of Arthur Rimbaud, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, John Keats and so many others, would never have seen light of day. Now, many bookstores charge a fee just to carry consignment titles and to host book launches and readings even when they already take as much as 40-50% of the sale of any book sold. Amazon sells some of our books, but we don't like dealing with them, as they are the corporate monster that replaced so many of those local bookstores that were once the best ally of small presses.
The costs of "getting out" into the marketplace are high and prohibitive for many independent presses; advantages usually go to larger presses backed by universities or corporations. In spite of this, Sugartown has had a presence at the annual Watershed Literary Festival in Berkeley for a number of years -- thanks to Mark Baldwin, Joyce Jenkins and Richard Silberg of Poetry Flash -- as well as at the Associated Writing Programs convention. We hope to do more of this in the future.
The very bright side of working on Sugartown, has been to bring into the world beautiful books and great writing. The poets and writers we represent have had varied and fascinating lives and careers. Getting to know them better and helping to midwife their words has been the greatest of pleasures. Working with local publishing professionals has also been a great joy, especially Fred Fassett of Minuteman Press, Berkeley, and Margaret Copeland, of terragrafix.
Sugartown will likely always be a sideline for me. I do other things to earn a modest income: freelance editing, proofreading, bookkeeping, Tarot readings, etc., but I will keep working to develop Sugartown as a respected and viable independent small press, and hope to branch out into a few new genres: memoir, local history, essays and non-fiction literature.
Thanks to everyone who has ventured along this path with me, especially the following:
Fred Fassett and Minuteman Press of Berkeley, who has printed most of the books.
Margaret Copeland, Terragrafix, the incredible designer who has helped with most of the books.
All the authors listed in the above paragraph.
Anita May, whose sound wisdom and advice continues to support me.
Julian Lopez-Morillas, my patient and abiding husband.
Jannie M. Dresser,
Fred Ostrander, 1926-2016
Photo by Jannie M. Dresser
Sugartown author Fred Ostrander passed away from a heart attack on February 21, 2016. He was 89 years old and had been debilitated for a few years after suffering a stroke.
Sugartown was proud to help Ostrander put together It Lasts a Moment: New & Collected Poems which presented poems that Ostrander had published widely in literary journals over a 40-year writing career. It also included some previously published poems from his book Petroglyphs, published by Blue Light Press.
Born in Berkeley, California, on April 23,1926, Ostrander was a fourth-generation Californian, and loved California's Sierra Nevada peaks and meadows which inspired a lot of his work. As a younger man, he loved climbing. Ostrander and his wife Nancy were long-time residents of the Rossmoor Community in Walnut Creek, where he participated in poetry and drama groups. He spent many years of his life engaging at a very deep and sensitive level with poetry and literature.
He was a long-time member of the Activist group of poets founded by Lawrence Hart in San Francisco. The methods developed by Lawrence Wright continued to be used by students of John Hart, Lawrence's son, also a writer of both poetry and environmental news. Ostrander was a strong advocate of the Activist techniques and credited both Lawrence Hart and John Hart, and the community of poets they created, for supporting and encouraging his writing. That community which includes Sugartown poets Patricia Nelson, Judith Yamamoto, and Bonnie Thomas, as well as John Hart, whose book Storm Camp is forthcoming, will long remembering this gentle, passionate poet who had a tremendous gift for imagery and musical language.
Sugartown Publishing is proud to release our latest title as the year winds down. In November, we brought out Robert Coats' The Harsh Green World, a beautiful volume of poems that celebrate nature, in particular the Sierra Nevada of California. Coats, an environmental scientist in Berkeley, California, combines the clarity and objectivity of Gary Snyder with the warmth and humanity of Wendell Berry. With a thoughtful foreword by Daniel Marlin, the 130-page book is a handsome addition to the library of avid poetry readers as well as those who may think they do not like or understand poetry. These are direct, evocative and inspiring poems.
We attended the first -- hopefully, annual -- Bay Area Book Festival, more as observers than participants (shame on us, we missed the deadline for having a booth and were daunted by the expense).
The well-attended event was held June 6 and 7 in Berkeley, with several blocks of booths, displays and buildings where events and panels were hosted. The organizers are to be congratulated.
Sugartown Publishing's printer of choice, Minuteman Press of Berkeley was one of the event's co-sponsors and did a gorgeous job of printing the publicity poster.
There were numerous panels ranging from "The Roots of Violence" with Adam Hochschild and "Transforming Terror" with Susan Griffin and Rebecca Solnit to a discussion of the writings of John Muir with Kim Stanley Robinson and presentations by writers from the California College of Arts.
Self-publishers were more or less shunted to the sidelines, given venues at greater distance from the main pulse of the event. However, a turnout for one of the few events that did speak to the changes in small press, independent, and self-publishing had to send at least 20 people away: anyone listening in the organizational sphere?
A large crowd (approximately 120) turned out for another talk on the current state of publishing that featured a Harper's representative (one of the remaining big 4 large corporate publishers), a Yale University rep, a New York Times reviewer and a rep from small press Grey Wolf. The all-male panel discussed the current fluidity of publishing when many small publishers and self-publishers are making an end-run around the obstacles that distributors, bookstores, and others throw in their path.
The Internet is what is democratizing the once protected bastions of the gate-keepers. This is a good thing, allowing direct marketing between book creators and readers, without the filter of the bookstores (who will not carry self-published or many small press books) and the distributors biased against these same producers. One wonders when the "traditional" vendors who operate as the middle-man between creator/author and book buyer/reader will wake up and realize they are losing a cut on book sales by their narrow policies and unwelcoming attitudes.
Often limited "shelf space" is cited for why bookstores and distributors turn away individual writers trying to find a home for their books, but having served years in the bookselling trade, we realize this is just code for "don't want to be bothered."
When a bookstore values the one-to-one and recognizes it is part of a community, exceptions are made, agreements are signed, and the smaller presses and self-published writers are allowed in the door. This used to be common at places like City Lights and Cody's but with Cody's in Berkeley defunct, and City Lights turning away smaller start-ups and self-publishing authors, the community of writers, publishers and booksellers is no longer as friendly as it once was.
However, writers will be heard and the Internet makes it possible to have that voice reach a larger audience, even if it means a different kind of leg work that the writer and smaller publishers must do.
Sugartown Publishing author Bonnie Thomas ROCKED IT big time with a wonderful book launch and reading for her new book Sun on the Rind, Sunday, June 14, 3-5 p.m., at the Berkeley Arts Center in Live Oak Park. Thomas' work can only be described as richly impressionistic, mellifluous, and deeply thought-provoking. About 50 people turned out for the event, most of them buying copies of the book.
A great month of readings by authors from Sugartown, including Judy Wells and Dale Jensen, Fred Ostrander (twice), Patricia Nelson, Gail Peterson, and Judith Yamamoto. The events covered several Bay Area towns: Corte Madera in Marin, Berkeley, and Walnut Creek. We are proud of all our authors for getting out there and sharing their beautiful words and books. Onward!
Two books are hot off the press in the last ten days: Dale Jensen's challenging, fun, and deliciously playful Yew Nork and Judy Wells' The Glass Ship which is not only lovely and lilting in true Gaelic tradition but silly and sparky too. Dale and Judy are man and wife but hardly the kind of couple that has to do everything together, so it was just a matter of coincidence that both books should return from printing at the same time. And, both books are gorgeous! Covers designed by Margaret Copeland of terragrafix.com using art work that was solicited far afield. For Yew Nork, we were granted permission to use skyscaper-scapes by Paul Balmer of Manhattan and for The Glass Ship, we found a painting by Scottish artist Sian MacQueen who graciously gave us permission. Tonight is Judy's book launch at Folk & Fine Art Gallery in Berkeley.
Another Poets' Dinner has passed, this time with a turnout of approximately 80-100 poets. The annual event takes place every March (typically) in the afternoon (11:30-4) at Francesco's Restaurant near the Oakland Airport. Poets come from all over California, including a man at my table from Los Angeles, a woman who grew up in Taft, and a number of people with Central Valley roots. This year the audience listened to poet and translator Willis Barnstone reading from his own work while the meal was served.
Many volunteers carry this tradition's flame forward each year, especially, Gayle Eleanor, Deborah Grossman, Robert Aquinas McNally, Maria Roslaes, the event features a guest speaker. The main prize for oganizing and facilitating the event, however, goes to Richard and Natica Angilly, Judy Cheung, John Rowe and Jan Dederick and David Alpaugh.
The dinner is built around the meal, of course, and a contest. Lynn Hansen of Modesto won the Grand Prize for the day, as well as an honorable mention in the Humor category. Poets enter the contest in early January, sending poems for several categories; any one who submits work must be present at the dinner to win a prize. Prizes of 1st, 2nd and 3rd place, plus three honorable mentions are in the following categories: Beginnings and Endings; Humorous; Nature; People; Spaces & Places; Love; Poet's Choice, and there is always a special one-time category each year and for 2014, that theme was "Forbidden."Other first-prize winners are: Tanya Joyce (Beginnings & Endings); David Alpaugh (Humor); Robert Eastwood (Love); Maria Rosales (Nature); Louise Contro (Poets' Choice); Carol Frith (People); and David Alpaugh (Spaces & Places).
Prizewinning poets are invited to attend the Saturday, March 29, meeting of the Ina Coolbrith Circle, at 2 p.m., and read their work. That meeting will be held at the Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church at 49 Knox Drive in Lafayette. The Ina Coolbrith Circle and the Poets' Dinner committee co-sponsor this lively event.
One individual who was not at the dinner this year was Mary Rudge, poet laureate of Alameda and a longtime supporter of young poets. Mary passed away from cancer in late January. Her beautiful face and spirit were missed by many of us used to seeing her there, bustling about in her beautiful gowns and capes, greeting people and making all feel at home in this community. May we all hold sweet memories of Mary.