Early on, I realized that my mission as a writer was to not only get my work out into the world, but to relay my passion to others through the readings, workshops, and talks that I give. As co-founder and managing editor of Red Hen Press in Pasedena, California, Kate Gale has taken that same mission and made it her mantra.
Her “small press with big ideas” publishes poetry, fiction, and literary nonfiction with 250 published titles to date. Red Hen Press holds annual reading series in Southern California and New York and boasts poet laureates and book award winners among its authors.
Gale’s needs are simple yet extraordinary: She wants works of excellence. Nothing less will do.
Lori: You co-founded Red Hen Press in 1994. What was the publishing world like back then and how does it compare to now?
Kate: At that time there were a number of big publishers in New York, but now there are a few conglomerates. I think it’s gotten harder for writers to get published unless they have a book that can be made into a movie.
One normally associates New York and Paris as literary meccas – not Los Angeles or Pasadena. Yet, you wanted to change that view when you and your husband started Red Hen Press. Have you accomplished that and how?
Yes, I wanted Los Angeles to be a literary city and I feel we have succeeded. Red Hen has four reading series but many other organizations have readings as well. Red Hen has a reputation of building literary community in a city best known for film.
What do you see as the fate of small publishing houses? What are you hearing in the trenches?
Independent publishers are thriving. We are acquiring more and more books that used to go to the big six publishers in New York, and for us, book sales are growing and our reading venues are well attended.
Red Hen Press promotes wonderful events and programs benefiting literacy, particularly the Writing in the Schools Program. What sort of success stories has Red Hen experienced – from students and from the writers you send into the schools to teach?
The students love the writing in the schools program, and the teachers say that it improves their writing. Our writers enjoy teaching in the program. But most of all, this program has given us the opportunity to inspire creative and intellectual work at the K-12 level.
You’ve stated that writers should be “dangerous” in their writing, confuse their audiences and confuse themselves. Is that what makes you give a manuscript a second look?
You need to think as a writer about what story you can tell that’s different. Think “Light is like Water,” by Marquez or “Distance to the Moon,” by Calvino; think Lydia Davis, Ron Carlson, Doris Lessing—all of them are pushing the door open into the realm of the imagination. I don’t want to read a story about your grandmother catching a cold and complaining to your mother unless you have something profound going on underneath the surface.
Two of your imprints – Arktoi Books and Boreal Books – focus on lesbian writers and Alaskan writers, respectively. Red Hen Press also honors the Latino community with a poetry collection award every other year. Why is it important to you that these groups be recognized?
There are not enough opportunities for publication for lesbians and Alaska is a geographically remote area in terms of publication. We need to publish work that is marginalized whether because of geography, gender preference or simply being under recognized.
You’re one very busy publisher, along with being an editor, writer, librettist, blogger, college professor, wife and mother. What’s your secret to staying sane?
Who says I’m sane? I am doing more than I should. I need more time to write as a matter of fact, but I try to balance everything, but I am not quite as successful as I would like. The secret is to breathe and only do one thing at a time.
What’s your escape when you’re not surrounded by words? Getaways? Hobbies? Games?
Gardening, running and going on a writing retreat each summer.
What’s your advice to writers seeking publication? What should be their first, second, and third steps?
Step 1: Write well.
Step 2: When you’re sure it’s ready, send to publishers and/or literary magazines that publish the kind of work you are writing.
Step 3: Be utterly fearless and keep sending it until you find a publisher. Be willing to send to small places, don’t just focus on NY. Be persistent. Finding a home for your work requires almost as much work as writing it.