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A Critical Look
Chelsea Biondolillo's essay collection The Skinned Bird (Kernpunkt Press) exemplifies the risks independent publishers take on that ultimately enrich the literary landscape. In a rich conversation with Dorothy Bendel for Atticus Review, Biondolillo discusses the universal appeal of a collection that often adopts experimental forms. "A lot of the writing in this collection pokes at bruises...my goal while revising these essays (about holding grudges, keeping secrets, falling in and out of love perhaps too efficiently) was to reach outside my experiences to find universal hurts—most small, but some large. I don’t want to pretend I don’t cry and don’t pine—I celebrate it. I build lyric palaces to my pettiness and melancholy..."
"This debut novel is an experiment with time and space and memory." Meredith Boe describes The Atlas of Reds and Blues (Counterpoint Press) by Devi Laskar, a novel that opens with Mother lying in her driveway, shot by police. In the Chicago Review of Books, Boe writes, "Laskar shows how women, and particularly women of color, not only have to manage motherhood, marriage, and ambition, but also must fight for respect on top of it all. Many scenes are based on her own experiences with unwarranted home raids and those questions of 'origin,' beating on her front door and into her head. If nothing causes a person’s malicious behavior toward you other than something you’re born with, how long can you fight it?"
"I think of it as a letter, not just to Scarlet, but to all three of my children explaining what I’ve been through,” says author Teresa Wong in The Star review of her graphic novel Dear Scarlet (Arsenal Pulp Press). Wong's story about her own experiences with postpartum depression are yet another example of an independent press taking on work that mainstream publishers didn't know how to market. According to reviewer Sue Carter, "Wong’s spare ink drawings capture her depression and fear over not bonding with her baby, the physical pain, and the pressures she felt to be a perfect mommy. She uses large swaths of black and plays with perspective to give a visual sense of her imprisonment" 
"From the weird and fantastical, to the broken and mundane, these tales run the gamut of genres, but all of them have the undeniable quality of heart, humor, and unbridled passion for something more." That's reviewer Michael A. Ferro writing for Heavy Feather Review about Josh Denslow's debut collection Not Everyone Is Special (7.13 Books). "By alternating between seemingly normal tales with systematic (yet thoroughly interesting) problems and scattering others throughout that incorporate elements of magical realism and fantasy, Denslow keeps his readers guessing as to just what might happen in each story—and the end result is something pretty extraordinary."
An Inside Look
When I started Magnify, my goal was to bring attention to the literary fiction and creative non-fiction coming out from small presses. I saw the newsletter as a way that I could give back to a community that does so much to enrich the literary landscape by publishing new and innovative work.

But when I think about my literary community, I think about all the other people—beyond just my publisher—who put their time and effort into creating literary community by connecting readers and writers: the owners of indie bookstores, the organizers of conferences and reading series, the non-profits that bring free or low-cost writing workshops to people who otherwise wouldn't have access.  In this issue of Magnify, I'm highlighting some of the community builders who've had an impact on my life as a writer, as well as my latest endeavor to create and support writers in my community.

This issue is a thank you to the community builders featured below, but it's also an invitation. I would love for Magnify to highlight literary community builders from across the country, but I need your help to do that. If you know of a literary community builder you’d like to see highlighted in Magnify, please use this Google form to send me their information. Check out my blog to learn more about what I'm looking for.  
I'm so excited to announce my newest joint project, Amplify: Women's Voices Louder, a series of writing retreats that I hope will create community among emerging writers interested in learning more about how to publish and then promote their work. I'm partnering with Kimberly King Parsons, author of the forthcoming short story collection Black Light, to host these all-inclusive retreats in a gorgeous house nestled on five acres of land outside of Portland. Woman-identifying and non-binary writers will leave our first retreat with a polished query letter, synopsis, elevator pitch, and artist statement. We are offering one full scholarship to a writer of color. 
Learn More and Apply
Founder of Forest Avenue Press Laura Stanfill is a bedrock of Portland's literary community, supporting the writers she publishes, the other small presses who go to her for advice, and the writers--including me--whose work she encourages. I asked Laura recently why community building was so important to her. Here's what she had to say: "Community is essential for authors and small presses. We must take care to lift each other up, because our competition isn’t each other; it's online eye candy—Netflix, Instagram, and anything intended for passive consumption. Books ask audiences to engage. To think. To be present. As readers, as stewards of words, we are each other’s best readers and amplifiers. Words are intimate. Stories matter. Let’s clear space in our hearts and our minds for underrepresented voices, for unexpected thoughts cradled in powerful sentences, for the bright honesty of the kind of work we do and how it can shape our culture, one reader at a time. 
 
"I built a whole publishing house with this concept in mind. Forest Avenue Press, founded in 2012, is about bringing authors together with readers inside indie bookstores. In other words, fostering real and intimate connection in public spaces. While I only publish a handful of titles per year, I spend many hours each month speaking to authors and helping other presses with building their brands, figuring out distribution, setting up events, and whatever else they need. Those connections are as critical to my business as my heartbeat is to my body. Sharing the knowledge I have access to—because of the business I built—means I can open doors to people who have been knocking and hoping for a response—writers whose stories challenge the status quo, and publishers who believe in their titles’ power to change the world. That’s my mission: knowing enough that I can pass what I know on, so more of us can get our work out there. I believe in us, the writers, and us, the readers, and us, the publishers."
Writing. Respect. Community.
This is the motto of Write Around Portland, an organization I've been proud to volunteer for since 2012. Write Around Portland brings free writing workshops to adults and youth in hospitals, schools, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, low-income housing residences, and other social service agencies. If you live in Portland, you can get involved with Write Around Portland by volunteering, donating, attending a community reading, or registering for one of the fee-based workshops that helps to fund their work. 
This month I was fortunate enough to teach a workshop at Clackamas Community College's Compose Creative Writing Conference. The day-long conference featuring a wide variety of craft workshops costs only $25 to attend and still manages to pay instructors for their time. According to Professor Nicole Rosevear "the goal has always been to make Compose a quality conference that is accessible to writers who would get value from a writing conference but may not be able to easily afford typical conference costs." 
If you're a regular reader of Magnify, you already know that owner of the indie bookstore Another Read Through, Elisa Saphier, is a prolific reader with wide-ranging taste and a keen sense of what readers will enjoy. Elisa's efforts at building community extend far beyond her monthly contribution to Magnify. At Another Read Through, readers can find book groups, readings that support local and visiting authors, and special events like the annual Pride Foundation Fundraiser, coming up on June 28. Here's what Elisa has to say about why she works so hard to build literary community: 
"I love having a place where people can come and meet readers, writers, word lovers. I'm doing something that I feel matters at a time when I feel largely paralyzed by what is happening in the world and unsure of what I can do to help. Providing a place for ideas and words and books about people not like me (a privileged white lady) and elevating authors who write those books, having them in the shop for readings—this matters. 
Being in a community that values this matters to me, and that's why it's so important to me to support other bookstores in the area, and local authors and publishers. We shape our community's values by showing what we care about, by what we center. So we highlight local authors and publishers, LGBTQ voices, and we create the community we want to see with what we offer."
As the founder of Why There Are Words reading series and WTAW Press, author Peg Alford Pursell builds community in many ways. I was honored to read at Why There Are Words Sausalito early this month, and am looking forward to reading at the New York branch of the reading at the Bowery Poetry Club on June 2 and the Portland series on August 18. Here's what Peg had to say when I asked her why she puts so much effort into building a press and reading series that support writers: 

"WTAW Press and Why There Are Words, the reading series, believe in the power of words and in the essential value of getting together in real life, sharing those words and their power. We know that the arts transform lives in ways that we aren’t able to fully understand or anticipate, and that’s part of the wonder and beauty of it all, that mystery. I’m often commended on how much I give to the literary community but the reality is that I receive too from that act. Writing needs both solitude and community, a topic I wrote about for Books by Women." 
Thank you to Laura Stanfill, Nicole Rosevear, Elisa Saphier, Peg Alford Pursell, and Write Around Portland for the work you do to foster literary community! And to my readers, remember to nominate yourself or other literary community builders you'd like to see highlighted in future editions of Magnify!
In the Inside Look column I'll share with readers a bit about my own writing life and experiences publishing my debut novel with the small press 7.13 Books. I'll also be reaching out to other writers, publishers, cover designers, book reviewers, and independent literary magazines and journals to learn more about the small press landscape. If you have an idea for the column, please feel free to reach out! 
Another Look
May is Short Story month so I wanted to choose one of my favorite collections to recommend. Margaret Malone's People Like You (Atelier26 Books) will lull you with its direct and sparse language, while stunning you with its humanness. I once heard Malone, at a reading, talk about how in short story, there isn't time to give characters this huge and lengthy transformation, and that she likes to focus on small arcs, small changes, small opportunities that characters may or may not take advantage of. Chances. And this describes her lovely book well—it's the small moments that make us who we are, that show how we live in the world, that are true about us, that alter our truths. Malone uses these small, everyday moments to show a surprising depth to the characters and stories, giving such insight into people like you, and so (of course) into ourselves as well.
Each month, Another Read Through owner Elisa Saphier will choose a small press book released a year or more ago for our Another Look column. Based in Portland, Oregon, Another Read Through ships, so if you want to order any of the books featured in Magnify, follow the links to order them from Elisa
Thanks so much for reading Magnify! If you have a review of a recent small press book you'd like to see included in our Critical Look, or questions about life as a small press author, feel free to contact me. See you next month! 

 
If you live in the New England area, please join me at Jabberwocky Bookshop in Newburyport, MA on May 31! Having grown up in Newburyport, Jabberwocky is the first bookstore I have strong memories of visiting, so I am particularly excited to be celebrating the launch of Besotted with them. I hope to see you there! 
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