To help celebrate the 19th anniversary of Pasadena-based Red Hen Press, Poetry International sits down with managing editor Kate Gale. Nineteen years ago, Kate Gale and publisher Mark E. Cull founded the press and have since established an impressive repertoire of poetry, literary fiction, nonfiction and memoir titles. In addition to hosting regular readings and art events, Red Hen also operates an outreach program, Writing in the Schools, to bring literature and creative writing to underserved students attending Title I schools in the LA area.
New and forthcoming poetry titles for Red Hen Press include The Forage House, by Tess Taylor; The Ogre’s Wife, by Ron Koertge; Slice of Moon, by Kim Dower; Chopper! Chopper!, by Verónica Reyes; Becoming Judas, by Nicelle Davis; Interrobang, by Jessica Piazza; Boomerangs in the Living Room, by Rex Wilder; and Something Indecent, edited by Valzhyna Mort and series editor Ilya Kaminsky.
Poetry International: Congratulations on 19 years for Red Hen Press! The luncheon was an amazing event, with many warm-hearted and passionate people in attendance. What were some of the highlights for you?
Kate Gale: Some of the highlights of the press were publishing David Mason, Peggy Shumaker, Chris Abani, Percival Everett, Douglas Kearney, Lisa Krueger. I could go on. Publishing significant authors whose books needed to be in the world makes me feel that I’m doing something.
Pasadena’s mayor, Bill Bogaard, spoke about the importance of writing to the region’s art community. In what ways does a community need a strong literary press, and in what ways does a literary press need a strong community, do you think?
A literary press needs people who come to events, buy books and are part of the group who stick around and make the whole thing flow. Thriving as an organization requires a village.
A literary press needs stakeholders, people who want to make sure it’s around. People who have generosity of spirit and care deeply about literature and books and life with books. That’s one of the most exciting things about working for a literary non-profit, is that I’ve been able to get to know a number of individuals who have that kind of generosity.
What we need as a community are people who are not hoarders, but givers. Who are not asking what the literary community can do for them, but what they can do. I am honored by the generosity of the literary community of Pasadena, of Los Angeles, and nationally.
You wrote a beautiful message to celebrate the 19th anniversary for Red Hen Press, stating that publishing books is partly about “storytelling and the swim of language.” The message also states, “The West Coast is a place for reinvention.” Can you talk a bit about you’ve observed about both reinvention and the swim of language from your vantage point as managing editor?
At Red Hen we publish work that represents a level of mastery and excellence but is diverse aesthetically from formalist poetry to spoken word poetry. That swim of language is about really good work that comes in different forms from verse novels to short stories to poetry and memoirs.
In Los Angeles, the place for reinvention, we’ve created under the sun a new kind of literary city, our own Paris, complete with readings by the beach.
Charles Yu, C.D. Wright and Alice Sebold each gave tremendous readings during the anniversary celebration. What kinds of qualities does Red Hen Press look for when engaging with writers? What kinds of relationships are you looking to build?
We are looking for authors, not books. We’re very proud of the authors who have helped us build the list. We want relationships with authors who are working to promote their work and to promote the press. Also, we want authors whose work continues to surprise us with every book.
Red Hen Press publishes powerful books, but that’s just part of the picture. What upcoming events and readings are you excited about?
We’re very excited about the events at AWP, particularly our 20th anniversary event with Gary Snyder, Bob Hass, Eva Saulitis and moderator Peggy Shumaker. Also at Boston Court in April we have Ron Koertge reading with Tony Hoagland, and finally on January 18th we have a Wanda Coleman Tribute at the Central Library with Terrance Hayes reading with Douglas Kearney.
Next year you’ll be celebrating a 20th anniversary for Red Hen Press. Congratulations! In a perfect world, what will the next 20 years be like?
We will move into our own space in Pasadena, we will increase the staff to ten people and this will allow us to promote our books more effectively and run more smoothly. We will have a fine foreign rights program, which brings in a significant income stream, and we will take on more authors whose books sell in volume. We’re happy with what Red Hen has accomplished in the last twenty years, but the next twenty years are going to be spectacular.