Contemplating this unusual year

Joys of the Year

This year, 2014, was intertwined with the voices of Muriel Rukeyser, Julia Stephen, Virginia Woolf, Adrian Oktenberg, Nora Ephron, Emily Dickinson, Zdena Berger, Jane Cooper, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Audre Lorde, and many other great women. They offered transformative observations that are timeless in their poignancy and relevancy in our personal lives and the beauty and crises of our world.

We followed a year filled with celebrations: the centenary celebrations for Muriel Rukeyser at NYU, CUNY, Graduate Center, and Poets House; an extraordinary panel addressing the lives and relationships between Virginia Woolf and her mother, Julia Stephen, at NYU; and numerous Lazarus Educational Outreach Initiative programs springing from Virginia Woolf's and Julia Stephen's On Being Ill with Notes from Sick Rooms, co-sponsored by MassHumanities.

This year took a few unexpected turns — joyful as well as challenging. The winter and spring of 2014 included facilitating a course sponsored by MassHumanities in Literature and Medicine at Baystate Hospital in Springfield, MA. These inspiring discussions of poems, essays, and film leading to explorations of communications between patients and the medical world included individuals working in all capacities at the hospital. I, and Paris Press, greatly hope to continue these programs and public discussions in the future.

The Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference took place in Seattle, with Paris Press participating in the book fair, attending panels, speaking with writers, publishers, educators, and students about future educational programs, course adoptions, and publication projects. The Press was fortunate to have the help of an intern, Devon Walker. After the book fair closed, I had the wonderful good fortune of spending time with a true blue friend and college housemate, who offered insights about the Press, large and small.

Following the AWP Conference in Seattle, and our return to MA, I experienced a severe concussion that had unfortunate consequences through the year. Because I was unable to read or look at a computer screen for prolonged periods of time, the Press "refocused" with the assistance of intern Natalie Wisehart from Smith College, a new web designer Dara Madaragnoli, administrative assistant Marsha Lieberman, and many members of the Press's Advisory Board including Barbara Alfange, Kathy Service, and Marya Zilberberg. Paris Press concentrated on launching our long-awaited website and blog; applying for grants for future and ongoing book, event, and film projects; and soliciting new manuscripts online, with the thrilling goal of publishing a new book in 2015. The Press also continued preliminary work on our Muriel Rukeyser documentary.

As director of Paris Press, I am indebted to all who assisted the Press during this challenging year.

Sorrows in 2014

The spring included the death of poet and critic Adrian Oktenberg. The author of Paris Press's groundbreaking The Bosnia Elegies -- poems expressing empathy and compassion for the victims of war and honesty about war's terror, violence, heartbreak. and the hubris of those in power. Intertwined through the poems are lines by writers of war, including Cavafy, Charlotte Delbo, Whitman, Neruda.

Adrian Oktenberg was a close friend of Paris Press, proof reading manuscripts and offering feedback regarding books under consideration for publication. Her fierce agreement and disagreement assisted in decision making, books to consult, writers with whom to correspond and consult. The present Paris Press was founded after Adrian folded her own press "Paris Press," which was named for her mother, Roma Florence Paris. When I founded the nonprofit Paris Press in 1995, I honored its origin by maintaining Adrian's intent to honor her mother.

I have never known anyone as well read as Adrian Oktenberg. She offered literary, political, cultural, and historical discourse and education. She was a good friend and a brilliant one, and she has been deeply missed since her death in May.

The poet Galway Kinnell, renowned bard and teacher, died in November. Galway was teacher and friend to generations of poets, and he was my own teacher in the graduate program at NYU. In the summer of 2011, Galway and his wife, Bobbie Bristol, invited Paris Press to Vermont to film the first clips for our documentary about Muriel Rukeyser. Sharon Olds joined us as well, and we filmed Galway and Sharon for four hours, talking about Muriel, reading Muriel's poems and passages from The Life of Poetry, and reading their own work that is connected to Muriel in different ways. Galway's study, his library, his living room, and his two sheepdogs are generously included in the footage that we will edit and include in the Rukeyser documentary.

The following summer, in 2012, Galway visited Ashfield and offered an extraordinary poetry reading at Saint John's Church to benefit Paris Press. That poetry reading can be listened to here. Galway's expansive yet beautifully direct poems, his humor, his love of syntax and language, and his passion for his family and the natural world all appeared before the fortunate audience during that poetry reading, one of his last. His grandchildren Mirah and Ephraim joined him onstage to recite Keats and Shelley. Galway's generosity and warmth invited all present to gather, converse, and have their books signed at Gloriosa's next door to the church, where Paris Press and Gloria Pacosa offered a beautiful reception that lucky summer afternoon. Galway will be forever remembered and always missed by me, his hundreds of other students, Paris Press, the village of Ashfield, and lovers of poetry around the globe.

The most recent loss experienced by me and Paris Press, as well as the literary world, is the death of Allan Kornblum, founder and publisher of Coffee House Press. Allan served as a mentor to me in the world of independent publishing. With Sandy Taylor, co-founder and publisher of Curbstone Press, and following Sandy's death 7 years ago, Allan offered me advice about contracts, foreign rights, marketing, production, and authors. His attitude about small-press publishing was inclusive, serious, and profoundly generous. He shared his knowledge and decades of experience with many independent presses. Allan was inclusive not exclusive, and he valued the future of the printed book. His comments and questions at our distribution company's sales conferences addressed the well being of all literary presses in an era in which we are becoming an endangered species. He loved type, design, paper, binding, and original content. He accepted and encouraged acceptance of the electronic publishing world, but his background as a letterpress publisher with Toothpaste Press rooted his ideals and passions in publishing as he mastered the business side that enabled Coffee House to thrive and to stay alive beyond his death. Allan's legacy will be greatly valued by his coworkers, the independent-publishing community, and his writers. Paris Press and I will always be indebted to Alan and grateful for his longtime support of Paris Press.

The Future of Paris Press

The Press's future is full of great ideas for books to publish by overlooked living writers and forgotten, deceased writers. We have lists of ideas for outreach programs and readings. The Press continues to believe that our mission is essential — the publication of groundbreaking work by women and the public's education of that work and our authors. Much of our success has always relied on the generosity of individuals and public and private foundations. This continues to be true. While some independent publishers do not literally depend on outside funding, Paris Press always has relied on it. The Press began and it continues idealistically. As some have pointed out — this is not the foundation for a business plan, and the Press is a business. There are bills to pay even when we keep the staffing as minimal as possible: 1 1/3 employees.

Paris Press thrives through community. To continue our essential work, the Press needs new volunteers in all capacities, new additions to the Board of Directors, and an additional staff person who will focus on development and social media.

You are part of our community -- whether you purchased our books, attended an event or educational program, review our books, teach the books, donate to the Press, volunteer, submit your manuscripts, send us ideas for future projects, or simply peruse our website. We welcome you and I hope you will express yourself often in the coming year, and email me with your thoughts and ideas.

I thank everyone -- named and anonymous -- who have made this year possible. I wish you a new year filled with inspiration and cultural engagement -- the often-neglected food of our society.

Please donate to our year-end midnight match and ask others you know to do the same. With your participation, and the grounding support of those we have lost, 2015 will be the very finest year for Paris Press, leading to our 20th birthday on December 8.

With gratitude,

Jan Freeman, Director