Literary roots & shoots: New Island publishing ideas in 2011

Literary roots & shoots: New Island publishing ideas in 2011

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The Island has always had its share of literary dons and doyennes, and many – McCullough, Brooks, Horwitz, Riggs – were busy this year. But a review of local literary traffic also demonstrates a healthy new force in local writing and publishing.

Jan Pogue’s work at Vineyard Stories, for example, is creating a fresh new voice for Island stories and lore. Ms. Pogue’s little-publishing-house-that-could is creating a high-quality platform that will have published more than two dozen titles by year-end 2012.

Ms. Pogue sees a new publishing perspective in place now, using the Island cache as its core.”‘The Morning Glory Farm book’ changed the paradigm. I don’t see myself as a niche publisher now. Books like that have ‘legs’ – they’ll sell off-Island. Next year, we’ll publish two books, one on Cape and Island lighthouses photographed by Alison Shaw, that has generated interest off-Island already,” she said.

“Morning Glory Farm, and the Family That Feeds an Island” has exceeded 14,000 copies in print with another printing to come. It was named one of the top 10 cookbooks by The Food Channel this year. Island resident Susie Middleton’s cookbooks, with a third on the way, are gaining traction on- and off-Island as well.

The difference is quality and marketing. Small-run books don’t look small any more. Leaving aside “Morning Glory” and “Schooner” (another Vineyard Stories book published in 2011, about the Gannon & Benjamin Marine Railway), the shelf appeal of Tom Dresser’s excellent “The Wampanoag Tribe of Martha’s Vineyard” is light-years ahead of his earlier books, for example.”I agree that [new publishing possibilities] give heart to other writers. I feel I’m at the forefront of a wonderful time. If we don’t do these stories, they will disappear. There wouldn’t be a body of work, such as ‘Schooner’ that you can look at in 30 to 40 years because the big publishing houses won’t do them,” Ms. Pogue said.

“People are paying attention to work that’s being done here by authors like Alan Brigish and the books he’s doing with Susan Klein. Alan is a sophisticated guy and knows how to market online and it’s working for him,” she said.

Another example of publishing savviness is the Martha’s Vineyard Museum extending the appeal of its Civil War centennial exhibit this year, publishing “Charlie Mac,” the story of a Civil War Island soldier (See MV Times, Dec. 22, 2011).

If the game is changing, so did the subject matter at a time when we seem to be attracted to past and present heroes. And we found a couple of new author voices we’ll hear from again.

There were some truly great real-life books this year from Sebastian Junger’s gritty “War,” a year in the life of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, to “Midnight Rising,” Tony Horwitz’s treatment of abolitionist revolutionary John Brown.

Sometime Island resident Joseph Bucklin Bishop offered up “The Lion and the Journalist,” a story of Teddy Roosevelt and Massachusetts South Coast journalist Joseph Bucklin Bishop, in a way we can identify with. Also close to home, Island resident Robert Carter Hayden Jr. self-published “Pills, Potions, Powders and Poisons,” a family story of his African-American forebear who was the state’s first pharmacist of color in the nineteenth century. Great read.

And keep your eye on summer resident Yuliana Kim-Grant, whose novel “A Shred of Hope” treated the subject of Asian racism and loss involving the marriage of a Korean woman and her African-American husband. Ms. Kim-Grant can write.

An overlooked book, “King Rat and His Court: Lessons on Corporate Greed” by part time Vineyard Haven resident William Arthur Bruno, presciently fulminated against the corporate one-percenters just as that movement moved into the public eye with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Up-Islander Livingston Taylor published a wonderful small book called “Stage Performance,” devoted to his performance students at Berklee College of Music, but is also full of real-life wisdom for accountants and fisherman as well.

And summer resident Linda Levy gave us “A Kingdom of Madness,” a novel about a family’s descent into dysfunction, driven by an emotional train wreck of a father.

That’s what I love about this job. I get to read and be surprised by great books written by literary greats, as well as virtual unknowns that sometimes are a far more satisfying use of reading time than the next in a series from a well-promoted superstar author.