Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Small Presses and Little Magazines in Nebraska--A New Heritage Room Display

Small presses and little magazines are lively participants in Nebraska literary life. These publishing efforts treasure independent judgment, fidelity to self-chosen ideals, the discipline of craftsmanship, and the desire--perhaps most intensely felt by poets--to create something wholly one's own. Small presses value freedom from commercial, corporate, and academic influence. Writers and publishers feel that literary ideals and craft can grow and prosper best in a small face-to-face community, where frankness and immediacy survive. Over many years, the activities of these presses have helped shape a genuine community of writers in the state. Everything in our display was published in Nebraska.

Books by these Presses/Publishers will cycle through the display:
Windflower Press (Garland), Backwaters Press (Omaha) , Morpho Press (Omaha), Cummington Press (Omaha), Black Oak Press (Lincoln), Sandhills Press (Ord), Lyra Press (Lincoln), The Prairie/Plains Resource Institute, The Center for Rural Affairs, and Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center.

Windflower Press
It is not surprising to find that Ted Kooser wrote the article on "Small Presses" in the Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. Kooser himself founded and operated the Windflower Press, which specialized in contemporary poetry. Windflower was a one-man operation. Kooser was its editor, publisher, and sometimes its book designer and illustrator. The Press gained international recognition for bringing new poetry to a wider audience and for promoting the work of younger poets. Windflower published Kooser's literary magazines, The Salt Creek Reader (1967-1971), The New Salt Creek Reader (1972-1975), and The Blue Hotel (1980-1981). The Salt Creek Reader received grant support from the National Endowment for the Arts. The Windflower Home Almanac of Poetry was recognized as one of the best books from small presses for 1980 by Library Journal. Other Windflower anthologies have received regional and international acclaim. In 1999, Kooser published Roy Scheele's Keeping the Horses as a fundraising project for the Nebraska Literary Heritage Association. Kooser's Windflower Press is now inactive (though the name is being used by an unrelated California Press).

Abbatoir Editions:
Harry Duncan, (1917-1997) was one of the leading figures in the revival of printing by hand. In 1982 Newsweek Magazine called him "the father of the post-World War II private-press movement." He began printing by hand in 1939, and over the years he would print Robert Lowell's first volume of poetry and many other works of contemporary literature. Duncan came to Nebraska in 1972 to operate a press at the University of Omaha, for which he created the Abbatoir Editions imprint. Duncan's Doors of Perception: Essays in Book Typography, W. Thomas Taylor, 1987, is a meditation on his years of experience in book design and printing. Duncan received the Jane Geske Award from The Nebraska Center for the Book in 1994.

Independent Presses
Several of Nebraska's independent presses have been founded by poets. Ted Kooser founded the Windflower Press, Greg Kosmicki founded and runs Backwaters Press, Matt Mason created Morpho Press, and Greg Kuzma founded the Best Cellar Press. David McCleery runs A Slow Tempo Press. Poets commonly self-publish their own chapbooks, so it is a small step from that to publishing other work. Matt Mason told Omaha Reader interviewer Jasmine Maharisi that "the advantage [of having your own press] is being able to do things you like and think are good rather than what will make you a lot of money... My press has never made a dime of profit."

Among the most active independent presses at the moment is Backwaters Press, where Greg Kosmicki has been assisted by volunteer editors, including poet Marge Saiser and writer Lisa Sandlin. Backwaters Press publishes on average some 15 poetry books a year. Backwaters has received numerous Nebraska Book Awards for its success in finding and publishing work by unique and talented writers from Nebraska and from around the Midwest.

Other independent publishers of note are County Historical Societies, The Center for Rural Affairs, The Prairie Plains Resource Institute. Like the poets' efforts, these reflect the will of a small community of people to see something of special value find an audience, even though the effort might not be financially profitable.

Special hard to find items included in the display:

William S. Whitney and Jan Whitney, Microcosm of the Platte. A guide to Bader Memorial Park Natural Area. Aurora: Prairie/Plains Resource Institute, 1987.
This guide to Bader Park is a small masterpiece of graphic design and single color illustration rich in ecological observations about the Platte river and Bader Park.

Weldon Kees, The Ceremony and other stories. edited with an introduction by Dana Gioia. Omaha: Abbatoir Editons, 1983.

Ted Kooser, A Book of Things. Joseph M. Ruffo, illustrator. Lincoln: Lyra Press, 1995 Limited Edition.
A very elegant slip-cased limited edition of Kooser's poems.

Matt Mason, Coffee and Astronomy and other poems. Omaha: Morpho Press, 2001

James Magorian, The Hideout of the Sigmund Freud Gang. Lincoln: Black Oak Press, 1987.