A conversation between Erica Charis-Molling and managing editor Janet MacFadyen with press members Richard Wollman and Anna Warrock
Slate Roof Press is a member-run press established in 2004 and committed to publishing Massachusetts and regional poets as well as poetry nationwide in alternate years of our chapbook contest. Check out our annual contest. We publish limited edition, art-quality chapbooks, which are designed by the poets and printed by member and master printer Ed Rayher. We pay careful attention to typography, paper choice, binding, and cover art.
Members, including Slate Roof Press contest winners, are involved in all aspects of the publishing process, from concept to marketing. We publish an average of two chapbooks per year, and our print run is 350 copies. All profits return to the press, and poets retain copyright.
We are committed to making our books accessible to print-impaired individuals, including people who are blind and visually impaired, learning disabled, or disabled in ways that make turning the pages of a book difficult. For help in accessing our site, contact: [email protected].
Erica Charis-Molling: Let’s start at the beginning. How did the press get started?
SRP: Slate Roof Press was established in 2004 to promote the work of poets in rural Franklin County in western Massachusetts. Two friends wanted an outlet for their work, so they put a classified ad in the paper advertising a meeting. At that meeting were the 5 original founding members of what is now Slate Roof, including Ed Rayher, our master printer. The founders followed the cooperative model of Six Rivers Press in San Francisco and Alice James Books in Maine. Since then we have expanded to serve poets throughout the state and region, and from time to time bring in members nationwide. All members currently join through our Slate Roof Press Chapbook Contest/Elyse Wolf Prize.
Tell us a bit about the press. What sets your press apart from other publishers?
SRP: There are a number of factors that make Slate Roof Press unique. In addition to being committed to quality of content, we believe that a poetry chapbook is a physical work of art—and that its physical presentation contributes to its meaning. Each book has a very individual look that echoes and supports the poems within. Each is hand-sewn with letterpress covers and features locally obtained artwork. Most other chapbooks employ a stapled binding—not nearly as substantial as full-length collections. Ed Rayher’s system eschews the staples, and using ingenious folds, creates a strong spine that can be printed on. The result is a chapbook that is as substantial and well-constructed as a full-length volume and can be seen, say, on a bookstore shelf. We also recently added a broadside competition that will have both a local Franklin County winner and a national winner. The broadside allows us to draw on our art and design strengths and to highlight poetry as a visual medium.
We are also a collaborative member-run press. All of us volunteer our time to edit, produce, and promote the books, which are designed in part by the author and in part by our book designer/printer. We have gluing parties, and sewing and assembly parties when a book is in final production. Each member takes on a different role in the press, but oftentimes they develop that role. For example, one of our members is blind, and thanks to her we now offer both audio books and books in braille. We are also very much an evolving press, and we make decisions by consensus. We have no blueprint or strategic agenda, so anyone’s ideas can be put on the table during the meetings. Anyone can suggest possible directions for the press.
Though we take publishing wonderful new voices in poetry very seriously, we also want running the press to be fun! And we want our products to be beautiful, unique, locally sourced, and environmentally friendly.
Can you give us a preview of what’s forthcoming from your catalog, as well as what in your current catalog you’re particularly excited about?
SRP: We’re super-excited at our newest forthcoming chapbook, Everything Begins Somewhere, by Amanda Doster, which is almost ready and should be available later this fall. David Rivard said that Amanda’s poems “make wonder out of acceptance,” and indeed that is an apt summation.
And we’re delighted, excited, and intrigued to see how our next chapbook is shaping up: The Wild Language of Deer, by Susan Glass, tentatively scheduled to be out early next year. Along with the standard text, we expect to be incorporating braille into her book. Since we have never produced braille before, her book production will definitely be a foray into the unknown. But we are not unnerved because master printer Ed Rayher has an uncanny ability to design and execute wildly imaginative books, such as books as boxes, books with furry covers, and work with all kinds of alphabets, including the Cherokee alphabet which he recently recast for the first time since the 1800s. Next up after Susan Glass’s collection is Richard Wollman’s Changeable Gods, a series of love poems (that began as emails!) which poet Alfred Nicol has said “is strikingly like that of Eugenio Montale…without his having been consciously influenced by the Italian poet.” Richard will be using his own art for the cover and design elements of the book.
What are you visions and goals for the press? Where you see publishing going in general?
SRP: One of the big goals we have is balancing the small town, rural roots from which we sprang with our increasingly regional and national reach. We’d like to honor both momentums, whether by casting our net for members sometimes locally and sometimes much more broadly; or by other mechanisms that serve both. For example, we have a vision of offering ongoing community programming here in Franklin County, but also we’d also like to participate more in regional programming, bookfairs, and poetry festivals. The rub with all of this is that we have to be realistic about the limited time our all-volunteer staff can put to such endeavors. We’ve participated in the Boston Book Festival, since Anna is based in Boston; and we’ve been to AWP, a big (and expensive) step for our small press. We’ve also begun to record our poets so that we can offer CDs to accompany the books.
What’s in your reading pile, either from your press and from other presses?
SRP: We all thoroughly read each other’s work before and after publication!! But in Janet’s reading pile is Joy Harjo’s A Map of the Next World, Alberto Rios’ The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body, Audre Lorde’s biomythography, Zami, and Christine Gosnay’s chapbook, The Wanderer. Richard is reading Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic, Nomi Stone’s Kill Class, and Warsan Shire’s Our Men Do Not Belong to Us. Anna is reading Polish poet Julia Fiedorczuk’s Oxygen (from Zephyr Press, which has a fabulous international list), Li-young Lee’s The Undressing, and Alice Oswald’s Falling Awake.
What advice would you offer someone looking to publish with you?
SRP: First, take a look at some of our books or read the sample poems on our website before submitting. Slate Roof Press prides itself on being open to a wide range of styles and poetic techniques, though all the books we publish share the common attribute of being particularly thoughtful in their attention to craft and expression. Since we operate as a collective, those who want to place their work with us need to be interested in participating in the work of the press. It is an unusual opportunity to be part of a vibrant and dedicated group. While it isn’t required, we find that chapbook manuscripts are most successful when there is a unifying theme or some other feature that ties the poems together.
What advice would you offer someone thinking of starting a small press?
SRP: We’re really glad for the group dynamics of our collaborative and would suggest anyone starting a small press seriously consider that model. We have solved difficult problems through discussion in ways we could never have imagined if faced with them by ourselves. Also, we’d suggest being open to unexpected directions that offer themselves to you, because nothing ever happens the way you planned.
Erica Charis-Molling is a creative writing instructor and librarian at the Boston Public Library. Her writing has been published in Crosswinds, Presence, Glass, Anchor, Vinyl, Entropy, and Mezzo Cammin. She’s an alum of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and received her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Antioch University.