Journal, Day Two
I promised yesterday to talk in more detail about Alice James Books’ feminist/diversity commitment. Many people know that the press had a feminist mission from the beginning, but not that the commitment to publish women was never exclusive. The commitment to diversity has always been about providing opportunity for poets marginalized for gender and other reasons, such as sexual orientation, ethnicity, poetic style, “emerging” status as a poet, etc.
My understanding of the history—which largely resides in the collective memories of former collective members—is that despite discussions in the early years about whether to publish exclusively women, members read for quality, not gender, but advertised themselves as a feminist press. Two of the seven founding-member poets were men, and the press has continued to publish male poets throughout its history.
When I began my tenure at AJB six years ago, the ratio of female to male submissions (and titles published) was about two-thirds to one-third. Now, it’s closing in on 50-50, which I believe reflects the growing visibility of the press and growing awareness on the part of male poets that we don’t exclusively publish women.
I also suspect that it reflects a shift in opportunities in the larger literary marketplace: when the press was formed in 1973 there were far fewer opportunities for female poets to be published. I won’t say that things are gender-equal now, but they’re certainly closer, and male poets have to compete with female ones in a way they didn’t before, which perhaps has made it less unlikely that they would send a manuscript to a feminist press.
In talking about the diversity of our “list,” I’d like mention that we have made a firm commitment to continue publishing emerging well as established poets (generally at least half our titles are “first books”), and to publishing as broad a range of poetic styles as possible. We also do targeted advertising to reach poets from a range of ethnic backgrounds. I hope that poets of all stripes will think of AJB and the press with the big welcome mat outside the door.
April Ossmann is the author of the poetry collections Anxious Music (Four Way Books, 2007) and Event Boundaries (Four Way Books, 2017). She has published her poetry widely in journals and anthologies, including Colorado Review, Harvard Review, New England Review, and From the Fishouse (Persea Books, 2009). Her poetry awards...