For this month’s independent press spotlight, we’re venturing over to Reno, Nevada, the home of Baobab Press. With a deep connection to place, particularly their own home, they publish a wide range of literature from children’s picture books to deeply-felt novels, short story collections, and poetry. We spoke with them about what they look for in submissions, the importance of literature at any moment, but particularly fraught ones, and the ways people connect to and grow from place.
Mary Rose Manspeaker: What sets you apart as an independent press? As a press that looks for risk and invention, what stands out to you in submissions?
Danilo John Thomas: Baobab Press is a proud affiliate of Sundance Books and Music, in Reno, Nevada, an independent bookstore that has been in operation for over thirty-five years. Owner of Sundance Books and Music, and Publisher at Baobab Press, Christine Kelly has a deep understanding of the myriad aspects of the book industry, its challenges, and its successes. Her knowledge offers the press an objective outlook on the publishing industry, and that helps us consider the big picture from both the buyer and the sellers’ points of views. This, of course, informs almost all aspects of the development of Baobab Press titles.
We also pride ourselves on remaining accessible to our authors. All aspects of development, save the actual printing, are performed in-house, which creates a dynamic creative space between press and author where ideas can be bounced around in regard to editorial and design. We like ‘playing in the sandbox’ with our authors, so to speak, and promote and make ourselves available to those discussions.
In regard to submissions, perhaps the easiest way to put it, is that we like to be surprised. This is why invention is so important. Invention elevates passable writing to remarkable writing. It makes old ideas new and edifying. We always welcome original ideas, of course. The caveat here, since we ascribe to a unified theory of writing, is that oddities for oddities’ sake don’t really do it for us either. We like coherence, logic, and reason for decisions made around form and content, and those decisions (whether in subject, form, syntax, diction) should, even if subtly, be intentional and well-orchestrated throughout the manuscript. So, somewhat impossibly, we are looking for writing that has a concern for language, and writing that shifts ideas so that they are not mundane (even if we agree with them). We are open to writing that takes formal risks, though that is not an expectation. In all cases, in all genres including children’s picture books, the end result should be fluid and cohesive. We understand that this is difficult to achieve, but it is a good goal for any writer. It is what we are constantly searching out, and we are surprised when we find it.
MRM: Can you speak more to your interest in literature with a strong sense of place? How is Baobab connected with its home in Nevada?
DJT: Our interests in place stem from a belief that an individual’s identity is formed in direct correlation to the places that they encounter, and vice versa. We like to see how a place influences a person or an idea, and how those peoples and ideas influence places. There is a multiplicity of locales and locals available across the world and in any given space. We like to see the connections drawn out in well-wrought images and tasks specific to those given spaces. When this is achieved, the stories, fragments and poems created often demonstrate the questions and considerations inherent to that place, and, in turn, how to address them. It’s there, that we often see parts of ourselves in the Other. That connections is so important and it is also why Baobab Press maintains a relationship and presence among our local arts and literature community. We feel happily obligated to the local community and state at large, and like to make ourselves available for questions through readings and in tandem events with diverse entities. For example, one of our authors will be hosted by the Nevada Museum of Art in conversation with Friends of Nevada Wilderness to discuss the dark sky sanctuary that heavily influenced the paintings in her book. While specific locales or regions do not necessarily color our acquisitions, we do like to represent Nevada along with authors abroad, in ways that push reader perspective beyond a places preconceived notions and caricatures. Our anthology series This Side of the Divide, tasked at opening up diverse interpretations of the country west of the Continental Divide, is a specific result of this idea, as are the interpretations of Detroit in Dorene O’brien’s What It Might Feel Like to Hope: Stories; Appalachia in Ryan Walsh’s Reckonings: Poems; Ohio in Allison Pitinii Davis’s Line Study of a Motel Clerk; the mines of rural Idaho in Jesse DeLong’s The Amateur Scientist’s Notebook; and the Presidents of these United States of America in Colin Rafferty’s Execute the Office: Essays With Presidents, to name a few from our catalog. (The latter example, it is worth mentioning, illustrates the marriage between idea (President) and place extremely well, though in a less traditional mode.)
On a more personal level, publisher Christine Kelly was raised in Nevada. She has investigated the state hither and yon, and Nevada is very much her home. Like a good home it has offered security, and that has led to a kind of devotion and possessiveness best articulated as representational stewardship educated by passion and experience with Nevada’s spaces, places, peoples, and their identities. So, of course, we have several books published by Nevada authors. They detail the diverse some of the Nevada identities we want to champion, and, we should say, we take pains not to neglect the talent next door as well as further abroad. There is opportunity all around, and some closer than you would think. We have definitely not exhausted the many faces of Nevada nor its talents.
MRM: What would you say is the most important aspect and outcome of supporting independent presses and bookstores? Of bolstering the literary arts?
DJT: The most important things that indie presses and stores do, when at their best, is champion and provide culture to a community, both local and broadly, through their catalog, what they put on their shelves, and the programs and events they support. The collective of independent bookstores and presses across the country has the ability to invest in a variety of ideas, usually hand selected and bought with intent, so that people can find pieces of themselves in the literary arts. In so doing, people have the opportunity to add a tool to their kit, which, hopefully, helps them navigate the world by experiencing the world.
MRM: How have you adapted to the COVID pandemic landscape, and what are your goals for the future? Has the past year and a half changed your outlook?
DJT: Early on in 2020, due to the confusion and befuddlement everyone was experiencing on a global scale, we delayed publications. We are still dealing, as are all presses, with supply chain and printer availability issues, so our biggest adaptation to the pandemic has been really button up all of our development and marketing processes in order to efficiently get things done well ahead of time. We have been able, fortunately, to maintain our regular operations, and in some cases, we have been busier (due to 2020’s pushed titles) than we were before.
All things considered, now more than ever, we maintain a belief that the future is built by being proactive in our acquisitions, development, and marketing methods. Ideologically speaking, in the time of misinformation, our mission of publishing timely manuscripts that will resonate for years to come, is more important than ever.
MRM: Tell us about your most recently publications and what’s in the works—feel free to plug your new books!
DJT: In early September 2021 we published a trio of illustrated books. The first is Brian Crane’s Pickles Tails: Volume One, a collection of the award-winning Pickles comic strips featuring the Pickles’ family pets Muffin and Roscoe. We also released author Lisa Sobiek and illustrator Paula Robison’s Pip Pip Toodle Doo, a luminously colored children’s picture book that follows Pinky, a friendly little bird who loves to swoop, sing, and make new friends, as well as, The Moon’s Tear: A Desert Night’s Dream, from renowned painter Sophie Sheppard, which is a myth she wrote to accompany the large canvas paintings that bring to life (in stunning detail) the quiet landscapes of the Great Basin.
Forthcoming, in Fall 2022, we have Cartoon Logic, Cartoon Violence, the debut collection from Alexus Erin. Ashley M. Jones, Alabama’s first Black Poet Laureate and author of REPARATIONS NOW!, states, “In Cartoon Logic Cartoon Violence, Alexus Erin shows the heartbeat beyond the pixels of human perception to the pains and joys therein. These poems journey, with a relentlessly curious and personal speaker’s voice, from loss to body image to the multifaceted Black experience. In this book, we are illuminated as if on a technicolor screen. We vibrate with inescapable life.”
We will also be releasing Souvenirs, a collection of fictional object histories from award-winning poet Karen An-hwei Lee and Andrew Colarusso that Carole Maso calls “a mystical archive, at once whimsical and grave, these dark charms conjured by two contemporary Scheherazades, attempting to forestall world’s end, and in communion with the saints: Borges, Calvino, and so many others, linger in the mind. Recalled in a variety of registers, these traces—souvenirs of the dissolving world—so hard to hold—haunt and fill us with longing.”