When William Olsen got a message from Herbert Scott while vacationing with his wife, Nancy Eimers, in Cornwall, England, he thought his friend and colleague had gone “daft.” It was 1995 and the three poets shared a love of the word.
“We received a letter from Herb floating an idea that he wanted to start a small press,” Olsen recalls. “It takes so much to get something like that off the ground. But the press became Herb’s calling.”
Scott was undaunted and he charmed Olsen and Eimers, who helped him launch his dream, lining up donations and putting out calls for submissions. New Issues Press was born.
Scott, who was the Gwen Frostic Professor of Creative Writing at Western Michigan University, died in 2006. But he lived to see his dream come true with many new voices in poetry and prose going to press. On Sunday, August 30, New Issues Press celebrates its 20th anniversary at Bell’s Eccentric Café in Kalamazoo from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
“Twenty years for a small press, that’s something of an achievement,” Olsen says. “We always have an annual event, but we want this one to be extra special.” It will feature a 45-minute reading by several New Issues Press authors as well as music and an art sale. New Issues Press books will also be available. Suggested donations at the door are $10 ($5 for students).
“The reading will be introduced by (Kalamazoo) Mayor Bobby Hopewell, who will say a few words about our community and the arts,” Olsen says. “And there will be food and libations, lots of good talk, and a silent auction as well.” Managing Editor Kimberly Klose says, “Joe Gross will open and close the event with acoustic guitar. Along with the New Issues Press authors, we will also be hearing from former students who worked with the Press in its early years.”
Some poems published by New Issues Press are featured in videos created by Adriane Little for its Vimeo channel.
When asked how manuscripts are selected for publication, Olsen and Kolbe agree on the answer: “Excellence.” With up to 600 submissions at a time, the editors use graduate students as "first readers." Kolbe admits that not all that are worthy of publication can be, but the sorting process continues until eight or ten manuscripts rise to the top. The Press offers two prizes: the New Issues Press Poetry Prize and the Green Rose Prize. Each offers a $2,000 award and publication.
“What makes us different than the traditional publishing houses are the resources,” Kolbe says. When authors ask about marketing and publicity for their books, Kolbe says they get help from the same editorial team as well as a layout artist and students interning with the Press. Book covers are also designed by WMU students.
Over the years, Olsen says he has read many “enviable manuscripts.”
“It’s relatively easy to get to those final few manuscripts,” he says. “They can have a haunting quality.” After that, he says, to choose the final one for publication, “that part is something of a mystery even to me.”
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