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Journal, Day Five
For my final installment, I’d like to talk about another aspect of the way AJB operates that is different from most small presses. It doesn’t have to do with the fact that we’re a cooperative, but in the sense that our mission has always included an educational component by educating its poets as publishers, it might be considered an outgrowth of that philosophy (and also of the goal to empower authors and to create a community).
Nearly twelve years ago, Alice James Books moved from Cambridge and affiliated with the University of Maine at Farmington, and it has been a fruitful relationship for both. In exchange for housing and other support, AJB trains 12-14 interns per year, drawn mostly from the University’s BFA in Creative Writing Program. Though many (if not most) publishers offer internships, few that I’m aware of have a program of such size and scope. Because the press is small, we all work in what would be different departments at a larger publishing house, and that includes our interns.
They perform essential work for us, and are just as likely to design an ad, catalog or newsletter, as they are to handle administrative tasks, interview a poet or put together a press kit or press release. In addition, all interns are offered the opportunity to design and produce a chapbook of their own work at the semester’s end. We require interns to compile a semester-end portfolio of their work, and they receive course credit and a pass-fail grade. UMF’s program is unusual and in my opinion, visionary, in requiring a publishing internship for all its degree candidates (there are a number of other internship opportunities available on campus and locally, including with Beloit Poetry Journal).
For those students seeking a writing-related career other than teaching, we offer a quality work experience; and for all our student authors (as for our cooperative members), we offer valuable insight into what remains a mystery to many writers: how submissions are processed and editorial decisions made, and how a manuscript becomes a book. I remember what it felt like to have my nose pressed against the glass between me and the publishing world, and I am happy to be able to invite like souls into the community.