Small Press Interview Series: Grid Books

a conversation between Erica Charis-Molling and editor Elizabeth Murphy

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

Elizabeth Murphy: Grid Books began as Off the Grid Press, which was founded in the fall of 2003 as a collaboration between poet and activist Henry Braun, then living off the grid in Maine, and Somerville poets Tam Lin Neville and Bert Stern. Their first offering was a collection of Braun’s new and selected poems, Loyalty, which went on to win the Maine Literary Award for Poetry.

Over the years, Off the Grid Press has established a reputation for publishing writers whose work is often sidelined by mainstream publishing, with a special focus on older poets. In 2011, Stern and Neville established the Off the Grid Prize to honor writers over sixty, whose sensibilities were formed in earlier generations but whose vision is fresh. The prize is awarded annually. In 2015, Bert and Tam granted editorial control to me, with the charge of broadening the press’s mission and reach and establishing the organization as a non-profit. I re-launched the project as Grid Books and made Off the Grid Press our imprint.

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

EM: Over the years we have gained a strong reputation for paying attention to creative work that springs from the margins, whether those margins have been dictated by market forces, social trends, or issues of access. In keeping with this mission, we continue to administer the Off the Grid Poetry Prize for older poets. We believe this contest, which awards one poet over sixty a prize of $1,000 and publication of their book, meets an important need for both writers and readers of contemporary poetry. It’s worth mentioning that our reading period is currently open, and we’ll be accepting manuscripts through August 31st! See our website for submission guidelines.

The press has also distinguished itself for the quality of its publications. Although we are a small non-profit press, every book we publish receives the same close attention. Our books are carefully edited—an author working with us can expect to be in close contact with an editor throughout the editorial and production process. Our poetry collections are produced with smyth-sewn binding and are designed by Michael Alpert of Bangor, Maine.

Because of the close relationships we build with our authors, I like to think that we also distinguish ourselves as a press that is intent on building a community. I always look forward to meeting my authors in person, and each year at AWP, we’ll all gather for a meal.

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?

EM: I’m very excited to announce the publication of the 2019 Off the Grid Prize winner, Breather by Santa Fe poet Ioanna Carlsen. I’m also thrilled to be publishing a new collection by Jon Davis, his second book with us, An Amiable Reception for the Acrobat. Both collections will publish this September.

At the same time we are working on a reissue of Fanny Howe’s novel The Wages, and our first foray into audio book production with Elaine Terranova’s poetry collection Perdido.

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

EM: My goal is to continue to evolve our mission and find new and exciting ways of growing into it. Recently, I was talking with another small-press publisher, Jim Kates of Zephyr Press, and explained that our mission might seem, on its face, quite broad. His years of working with Zephyr, watching it grow from a small press producing poetry chapbooks into an internationally recognized publisher of award-winning translations, gave him a different perspective. He drew a circle in the air as if to illustrate the “margins” described in our mission, and said, “Well, the mission is broad and at the same time, narrow.” I embrace this view, especially as I think ahead to all that Grid Books can and will do to continue exploring those margins.

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

EM: I’m about to order a beautiful volume of unknown World War I poets, collected from the archives of West Point Military Academy. It’s called Beauty is the Beginning of Terror. It was compiled by Colonel David Harper, who teaches English and History of the Book, and his cadets, as part of an assignment in his course. I’m fascinated by the subject matter, and the project is one I’d love to see come out of Grid. Thornwillow Press of Newburgh, NY, did a wonderful job as publisher and printer.

I’m also sifting through Sun Gardens: Cyanotypes by Anna Atkins, a catalog from a recent exhibit at the New York Public Library.

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

EM: I’d say to take a look at our website and don’t hesitate to reach out with inquiries or proposals. In general, we are seeking work that explores the margins and pushes the boundaries set by the market and short-lived trends. These days we’re especially interested in collaborative projects and those encompassing oral history.

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

EM: Be patient. Expect to do a lot of your own administrative work and to work largely as a volunteer. Also, don’t forget that books require marketing and publicity. Editing and designing books is the fun part—but then you need to get them into readers’ hands.

Learn more about Grid Books

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.