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Creating a Statewide Community in the Publishing Arts

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It started in a sandwich shop, Schlotszky’s on 4th Avenue in downtown Huntington, West Virginia. Gathered there were a handful of “creative types” talking about renting office space together and splitting the cost of utilities, copier, Internet access, and telephone service. How could they get help paying for an office while they worked on their separate publishing projects–a consultancy in book development, a small publishing enterprise, a budding magazine, and the archives of West Virginia Writers, Inc.? These meetings continued for several months in various restaurants, cafes, and one another’s homes as the musings turned to solid ideas.

Why not, someone said, put out an annual calendar? Why not gather up some of the best examples of West Virginia photographers’ work as the headshots and cameo shots? What about text? Why not try excerpts of poetry? After all, unknown to most of the nation, West Virginia had some of the best poets and writers in America.

And so the adventure was launched–Publishers Place. Within 18 months, the organization had won its 501-c-3 nonprofit status from Internal Revenue Service reviewers, had published its first Pride in West Virginia calendar (1998), and had offices down the street from Schlotszky’s.

We think we have a model that people in other states will find useful. In fact, our broad, long-term goal is a nationwide organization of autonomous state chapters united under the Publishers Place, Inc., name, which is currently being trademarked. A key to building a nonprofit like this lies in working relationships with members of the state news mee or2C with large and small businesses, and with relevant governmental offices. For West Virginia, important connections include but are not limited to the Economic Development Office, the Governor’s Office, the Cultural Center, the Department of Education, and various community museums, libraries, and Chambers of Commerce.

 

What We’ve Done to Date

 

Five years and counting later, Publishers Place, Inc., has John Patrick Grace, a book editor, as Executive Director; Mark Phillips, a graphic designer, as Associate Director; and a five-member Board of Directors that includes Jan Dickinson, Chairman and Director of Communications and Marketing for the West Virginia Development Office.

Our organization has issued five successive calendars; two collections of writing based on personal experiences of solitude penned by West Virginia high-school students (River Fog Rising and Light that Splits the Dark); and a collection of poetry, Wild Sweet Notes: Fifty Years of West Virginia Poetry (1950-1999).

The first collection of “the solitude papers,” River Fog Rising, was derived from a class that John Patrick Grace taught at Marshall University for students from three area high schools. Ken Eagle Feather, educator and author of Traveling With Power, called the book “proof positive that the youth of our nation are connected to the world in wonderful and powerful ways.”For the newly released second collection, Light that Splits the Dark, Grace provided guidelines and invited West Virginia high-school English classes to participate. Both collections exemplify an innovative approach to composition that involves “taking notes on one’s thoughts.”

Wild Sweet Notes

was, as far as we could tell, the best-selling book in the state in the autumn of 2000, and it went into a third printing in the first year. The book also was short-listed for the prestigious American Poetry Anthology Award. Edited by Barbara Smith and Kirk Judd, the book was three years in the making and brought together 134 West Virginia poets working in the second half of the 20th century. West Virginia Governor Cecil H. Underwood bought a copy of the anthology to place in each middle school and high school library and each public library in the state.

 

Money Matters

Publishers Place is funded in part by charitable contributions. For instance, we got $19,150 for Wild Sweet Notes from the Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort and $10,000 from the Verizon Foundation for Light that Splits the Dark. Also, we offer monthly sponsorships for our Pride in West Virginia calendar. Each sponsor gets its name on the calendar in exchange for a tax deductible contribution of $1,000 and the purchase of 100 calendars at the wholesale price of $5 each. Book and calendar sales further support the organization for marketing and general business expenses.

What’s ahead? A second poetry anthology; perhaps a coffee-table volume of portfolios from the state’s best photographers and a children’s book on growing up in West Virginia, and definitely a database of all professionals and amateurs involved in the publishing arts in West Virginia, building toward an annual get-together for cross fertilization and synergy. Interns from the Marshall University School of Business found that the Publishers Place model was unique in the nation. Unlike any other nonprofit the researchers uncovered, Publishers Place, Inc., brings together a total cross section of creative talents in the publishing arts: designers, photographers, writers, editors, publishers, and teachers.

 

Amanda Ballard is Assistant Marketing Director of Publishers Place. She also handles marketing for John Patrick Grace’s for-profit editorial consultancy, Grace Associates, Ltd., and she is working on her Master’s degree in English Literature at Marshall University, Huntington, WV. For more info, visitwww.publishersplace.org, call 304/697-3236 or e-mail amanda.publish@cloh.net.

 

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