Small Press Interview Series: central square press

a conversation between Erica Charis-Molling and editor Enzo Silon Surin

Erica Charis-Molling: Let’s start at the beginning. How did the press get started?

CSP:  At Central Square Press, our mission is to publish underrepresented writers, especially those whose poetry reflects a commitment to social justice regarding African American, Caribbean and Caribbean-American communities. However, the idea for the press was born out of numerous heartfelt conversations with my peers, who are phenomenal poets, some with MFA degrees and beyond, who had very little to no success finding a home for their manuscripts. Truthfully, I considered quitting poetry altogether because it is an exhausting endeavor trying to find a home for my own work. I knew I was not alone in my frustration, so I decided to create an opportunity for these poets to publish their work, to become one more door for manuscripts trying to make their way into the world.

ECM: Tell us a bit about the press. What sets your press apart from other publishers?

CSP:  I am not sure about what sets us apart from other publishers, but Central Square Press works diligently in cultivating our relationship with our authors as much as curating the books we publish. We are constantly working on our titles, from the poems themselves to the cover art for the book, to make sure it is something that both publisher and author are proud to have out in the world. The relationship that is forged between publisher and author during this time period is one that both can appreciate and treasure. It takes time to do this and we can afford to take the time only because of our publishing model.

We started out publishing one chapbook a year and then moved to 2-3 chapbooks. In being flexible with the number of titles publish, we can ensure not just a quality product in the hands of our readers but a consistent flow of publications. We are also environmentally conscious and use the print on demand method of printing.  This allows to print no more than what is needed in the world so as not to waste our natural resources. This method of printing has an added benefit for our authors and allows their books to stay in print much longer than most. In fact, our books are never out of print, so our authors can experience a longer shelf life for their life’s work.

Our publishing model also makes it more cost effective to run Central Square Press since we can avoid unnecessary costs and reinvest that money in royalties for our authors and in running the press. As an LLC, we do not qualify for resources and benefits that a non-profit enjoys so we must be flexible in how we manage our operations.

ECM: Can you give us a preview of what’s forthcoming from your catalog, as well as what in your current catalog you’re particularly excited about?

CSP:  We are proud of the family of titles we have published in the seven years since we launched Central Square Press. We are very excited about our catalog this year and what’s coming in 2020 and 2021. We recently publish a debut chapbook by Bonita Lee Penn titled “Every Morning a Foot is Looking for My Neck” and will be publishing a powerful collection, by Dr. Tony Medina this fall, our first full-length publication. We are also looking to publish two full-length collections and an anthology in 2020, with two additional anthologies and two chapbooks to follow in 2021.

ECM: What are you visions and goals for the press? Where you see publishing going in general?

CSP:  In the next two years, our goal is to launch an imprint that will publish scholarly work that dives deeper into the experiences of those who make up the Caribbean diaspora. The goal is to have a broader conversation about the plight and struggles of those who battle displacement and who struggle with identity security at home and abroad. We hope to publish authors from an international pool of writers and scholars.

As for the future of publishing, I think it is prime for growth. However, there needs to be a shift in our perception of the publishing world and our place in it as writers. We are often taught to be creative consumers and producers; we want to be published but not necessarily become those who publish other writers. As a result, we fall in line with a pre-determined path for publication, even when it doesn’t successfully serve us in a way that is always fruitful.

For example, the number of independent Black publishers is very low compared to what it used to be while hundreds of black writers come out of writing programs every year.  There are two reasons for this, that I think are important to address here. Firstly, not many black poets are being groomed as editors and as future publishers. Among the number of poets who graduate from MFA programs every year and who are part of professional or social groups, the conversation rarely shifts from the lack of publishing opportunities to the creation of publishing opportunities. But this is not something that is unique to poetry. For decades, the rap music industry functioned the same way.

That leads me to the second reason. The model for publishing must be approached with creativity, even if it means breaking away from the mainstream. The more I learned about the publishing industry, the more I realized how feasible it was to throw my hat in the mix but not many of my peers view this track as an option. We need to invest more in cultivating future editors and publishers, especially from underrepresented populations.

ECM: What’s in your reading pile, either from your press and from other presses?

RMP: CSP:  Right now, I am reading a lot personal essays and scholarship that address displacement and identity formation. I am particularly interested in work that deals with the African diaspora in the Caribbean, especially as it relates to the effects of social and political violence on the Haitian diaspora. The Common Wind: African American Currents in the Age of the Haitian Revolution (Verso) by Julius Scott is on my desk right now and a few more books like Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism (Monthly Review Press), Roxane Gay’s Ayiti (Grove) and Lawrence Raab’s collection of essays Why Don’t We Say What We Mean? (Tupelo Press) are on deck. I am also fully immersed in Tony Medina’s manuscript that will be published later this fall from Central Square Press. It is a very striking and refreshing “study” on the systematic violence targeting black lives in America.

ECM: What advice would you offer someone looking to publish with you?

CSP:  Be patient. Currently, we don’t accept unsolicited submissions because we don’t have the personnel to spend the quality time necessary to review the submissions. We hope that will change soon. In the meantime, there will be opportunities to submit individual poems since we have a few anthologies in mind for 2020 and 2021 that will result in calls for submissions. The best way to stay in touch is through our social media pages and our website.

ECM: What advice would you offer someone thinking of starting a small press?

CSP: Do it but stress the small in small press if you must. Don’t feel like you must do what everyone else is doing and at their rate. Do what is comfortably within your reach but don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. The goal should not be a big splash but ripples upon ripples so make sure to have a mission, vision and a business plan for press. And you don’t have to start completely from scratch. Reach out to other small presses and don’t be afraid to ask questions. There are plenty of resources and community to get you started and to help you sustain and grow your press. Lastly, value your authors and their work and don’t take the publisher and writer relationship for granted.

Learn More About Central Square Press

Erica Charis-Molling is a creative writing instructor and librarian at the Boston Public Library. Her writing has been published in Crosswinds, Presence, Glass, Anchor, Vinyl, Entropy, and Mezzo Cammin. She’s an alum of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and received her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Antioch University.