Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Small Presses, Big Importance

Small presses, including university presses, deserve a lot of credit for supporting short fiction. Nearly half the books we receive as entries for The Story Prize come from them, and every year we read a lot of quality work outside of commercial publishing.

Some small press publishers are extensions of literary magazines, such as McSweeney's, Open City, and Tin House. Others are independent publishers, including Beacon Press, FC2, Graywolf, Milkweed Editions, Sarabande Books, and Small Beer Press. And then there are the university presses, some of which publish story collections every year as part of awards they sponsor. Among these are the University of Georgia Press (Flannery O'Conner Prize), University of Pittsburgh Press (Drue Heinz Literature Prize), and University of Iowa Press (John Simmons and Iowa Short Fiction Awards). Other university presses--including Carnegie-Mellon, LSU Press , and Ohio University/Swallow Press--simply publish a fair amount of short fiction.

Small presses often launch careers, sometimes resuscitate them, and also can sustain them. Having smaller organizations allows editors to take chances that commercial publishers most likely wouldn't. As a result, small presses publish more experimental fiction, and they can choose work primarily on the merits without necessarily having to calculate how promotable a book or author is. On the other hand, small presses don't have nearly the means to publicize work that big commercial publishers have.

In any event, here's a list of a dozen outstanding short story collections that we've read for The Story Prize:

The Smallest People Alive by Keith Banner (Carnegie Mellon)
Damned If I Do
by Percival Everett (Graywolf)
The Animal Girl
by John Fulton (LSU)
Human Resources
by Josh Goldfaden (Tin House)
Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link (Small Beer Press)
Teach the Free Man
by Peter Nathaniel Malae (Ohio University/Swallow Press)
Michael Martone
by Michael Martone (FC2)
Mothers & Other Monsters
by Maureen McHugh (Small Beer Press)
Other Electricities
by Ander Monson (Sarabande Books)
Refresh Refresh
by Benjamin Percy (Graywolf)
Women in the Grove
by Paula W. Peterson (Beacon Press)
The First Hurt
by Rachel Sherman (Open City)

A good source of information on small and university press publishers is the Council of Literary Magazines and Press (CLMP). These publishers provide vital support to the short story, so it's well worth supporting them.