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5 Questions for … Twelve Winters Press

CBR_Logo2Here at Chicago Book Review, we’ve been picking the brains of local literati, asking authors, publishers, booksellers, and other literary types just a few questions about what they’re reading, writing, publishing, and selling. Just 5 quick questions. We launched this new feature with an echat with local fave, author Michele Weldon. Today we continue the series with our echat with Ted Morrissey, publisher at Twelve Winters Press. We asked Ted about Twelve Winters has published, is publishing, wants to publish … Read on!

5 Questions for … Twelve Winters Press

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Twelve Winters Press Publisher Ted Morrissey

CBR: What new releases are you most excited about right now?
TWP:
Because of the uniqueness of the focus, and the talent of the poets, we’re especially excited about the forthcoming release of The Necessary Poetics of Atheism: Essays and Poems by Martín Espada, Lauren Schmidt and J. D. Schraffenberger. We’ll also be releasing two debut novels by award-winning authors who have published numerous short stories: Cheap Amusements, a literary detective novel by Grant Tracey; and Little Mocos, a novel in stories by John Paul Jaramillo. We’re also looking forward to publishing the inaugural winner of the Vachel Lindsay Poetry Prize, Shoreless by Enid Shomer.

CBR: What are some forthcoming titles you really want readers to know about?
TWP:
We’re working with translators Stephen Haven and Li Yongyi to bring out a dual language anthology of Chinese poets (currently untitled). We’re also pleased to bring out Dean Dean Dean Dean, a collection of flash fiction by Jim O’Loughlin. Our children’s imprint, Shining Hall, will be continuing the Einstein the Science Dog series, written by Melissa Morrissey and illustrated by (Chicago native) Miles Wisniewski; while our adult imprint, Maidenhead Hall, will be adding another installment of the Esmée Anderson Experiences, by E. S. Holland.

CBR: Which titles have been bestsellers for you?
TWP:
By far our best seller of 2015 was the novella Road Trip by Boston-based author Lynette D’Amico. Other titles that did very well in 2015 were The Endless Unbegun by Rachel Jamison Webster (who teaches at Northwestern University), The Waxen Poor by J. D. Schraffenberger (a CBR Best Book of 2015 selection), and I Am Barbarella by Beth Gilstrap. In children’s literature, Melissa Morrissey’s Shawna’s Sparkle (illustrated by Felicia Olin) had a strong debut; and our adult title City of Broad Shoulders by E. S. Holland has been doing well internationally, especially in Brazil. It ‘s worth noting that we discovered E. S. Holland thanks to networking at the Chicago Book Expo in 2014.

CBR: How do you select which titles to publish?
TWP:
Our selection approach is very eclectic. We look for well-written work, oftentimes that defies easy labeling. Sometimes we’ll hear via the literary grapevines of great manuscripts that have been having trouble finding a home (e.g., The Endless Unbegun); sometimes we’ll contact authors whose work was recognized via a contest but did not win publication (Road Trip); and sometimes we’ll solicit manuscripts from authors after reading their work in literary journals (Final Stanzas by Grant Tracey). We don’t generally accept unsolicited manuscripts, but we’re proud to say we’re already a press that authors want to publish with, so more and more we’re having authors contact us because they admire our growing list and have a manuscript that defies facile pigeonholing, which disqualifies it with a lot of publishers. Not us.

CBR: If you could publish one book by any author, what new title would you like to see from that writer?
TWP:
We know that Lynette D’Amico (author of Road Trip) has been toiling away on a full-length novel for some time. Her sense of structure is so imaginative and risk-taking, and her language play so fierce and fearless—to say we’re anxious to see that finished manuscript is an impressive understatement. So far Lynette has been keeping that book quite close to the vest.

 

twelve-winters-smallTwelve Winters Press is a literary press founded in 2012 in the tradition of Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, and Charles Dickens. Twelve Winters Press’s offerings include [Ex]tinguished & [Ex]tinct:  An Anthology of Things That No Longer [Ex]ist, edited by John McCarthy; The Waxen Poor, a collection of poems by J. D. Schraffenberger; The Endless Unbegun, a daring mélange of poetry and prose by Rachel Jamison Webster; I Am Barbarella, the debut story collection by Beth Gilstrap; Road Trip, an ambitious and off-beat novella by Lynette D’Amico, and Final Stanzas, a short story collection by Grant Tracey.

—Kelli Christiansen
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Big Questions in Small Doses

CBR_Logo2Extinguished & Extinct:
An Anthology of Things That No Longer Exist
Edited by John McCarthy

Extinction is a sad business, and poets have as much to say about it as scientists. Don’t mistake Extinguished & Extinct: An Anthology of Things That No Longer Exist for an elegy, however, because most readers will encounter more life forms here than they likely knew existed. The volume beckons readers to embark and reflect on a meditation regarding what it means to pass through this world and then pass out of it. The longevity of any given species is the least of the matter.

extinguished coverWithin these pages, everything these writers turn their attention to—from airships to nomadic tribes to lovers who have left to love someone else—feels more alive for being gone or its absence only imagined. A free-verse speculation of being the last surviving Jew follows upon a conjuring of the ghosts of the Falkland Islands wolf in five acts, which itself follows a brief prose history of the passenger pigeon. Humanity, we are reminded, not only remains this planet’s most ferocious predator but a species of animal equally as vulnerable as those we’ve plundered.

Fortunately, certain people can also summon a certain eloquence regarding the passage of all we’ve witnessed, lavishing an equally lapidary attention on a genus of orchids as well as a single flower with thousands of extant replicas. Unlike plants, we can sense the mortality in every birth from which nothing, particularly human history, can claim exemption. Yet the end inherent in every beginning only propels poets and storytellers to keep writing.

So, alongside long quondam Carolina parakeets and cave paintings of ancestral horses gone the way of the dinosaurs, we have in these pages Cambodian women who believe the ghosts of babies slain by the Khmer Rouge still live within the scarves in which they once were swaddled. Alongside scientific fact we have mythology—or stories from a world as close to deathless as humanity can fathom—and readers have only to turn a few pages to realize this book is far richer in anthropology than taxonomy.

The volume’s refusal to narrow its definition of extinction to anything as concrete as species of animals is both its charm as well as a potential source of frustration, depending on its audience or the reader’s mood at the time. There’s no continuous narrative here or plot to stoke interest, only an investment in contemplations of erstwhile phenomena, from a shuttered Chicago envelope factory to lost languages. As is also the case with anthologies, some voices also resonate more than others, irrespective of their subjects. Some writers prompt a desire to read more, some less, but the editor of the collection has allotted them all a roughly equal word count.

The cataloguing of the demise of mastodons, moas, and saber-toothed tigers interspersed among metaphysical speculation as to why we’re all here to begin with doesn’t demand much sustained attention. To those with fragmented lives and attention spans, this volume poses big questions but in small, digressive doses. Sitting in an armchair for a longer stretch, however, might leave some readers craving coherence; organizing the volume into related sections or by genre might have made some readers more comfortable. But then comfort is hardly poetry’s purpose, and though there’s some prose here as well, even the smattering of nonfiction essays are decidedly lyric.

twelve-winters-smallHad the editor divided the book into different categories of extinction, from cultural to botanical or scientific to anecdotal, Extinguished & Extinct: An Anthology of Things That No Longer Exist might appeal more to the left-brained among us, those who like organization to supply some teleological significance. It also might have calmed what feels like the chaos of subjects whose random presentation can feel a little profligate. Then again, if anything embodies chaos—if anything places us at the mercy of the gods, perennially determined to hew life from mud just to destroy it—it is extinction, whether taking the form of the flattening of a family home by a tornado or the disappearance of a certain birdsong from the forest.

Ultimately, given that extinction here conflates with everything literally under the sun, one also can’t help feeling randomness is also part of the point of this collection, because nothing leaves us helpless quite like absence, when our only enemy is silence. Nothing likewise leaves us freer to infuse the resultant emptiness with meaning of our own making, a possibility the volume’s lack of all organization may suggest tacitly.

The editor’s introduction to the volume stipulates that extinction itself is a concept predicated on materialism, that nothing can cease wholly to exist so long as it remains in the larger consciousness. A better, if clunkier, subtitle, he offers, would run more closely along the lines of “things that no longer exist in the traditional sense of existence,” which provides, if not exactly hope, a way of reframing loss. Had any of the subjects addressed survived in their old husks, their chroniclers would lack for material and perhaps miss something key to living in the present. Embedded in anything we perceive as beautiful, these poets daring to dabble in science softly whisper, is the awareness that it cannot last, however hearty its species. Each heart, after all, beats for only so long. All the more reason to grow quiet enough to hear its rhythm.

Three-Star Review

March 2014, Twelve Winters Press
Poetry/Anthologies
$14.99, paperback, 130 pages
ISBN: 978-0-9895151-4-6

—Reviewed by Melissa Wiley

Learn more about the book.

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