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Publisher Spotlight: Atelier26

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The way that Atelier26 describes their approach to publishing is poetry in itself. They describe their mission as, “We believe that reading is far more than just another form of consumerism, that books are not static objects but living, thriving conveyances of human expression, thought, and emotion. We believe in literature as contemplation, conversation, and provocation. We believe books can foster community and cultural vitality. Finally, we believe in the reality of a literary public — writer, publisher, bookseller, librarian, teacher, reader — and we celebrate the dynamism and mystery of this public.”

For more beauty, here is Editor M. Allen Cunningham’s remarks on his unique and wonderfully idealistic approach to publishing, the disappearance of the “middle class” in acquisition, and where he sees Atelier26 in five years.


 

IPG: How did Atelier26 get its start?

M. Allen Cunningham, Editor: Atelier26 was born of my indignation and idealism as a writer, and my wish to help other writers. Although I’d published two of my own novels with a respected commercial publisher of quality fiction, and although those books were both well-received, I was unable to find a home for my short story collection. I knew of several other writers in my social circles, wonderful writers, whose excellent projects were also being passed over in the increasingly cautious and overly commercialized environment of contemporary publishing. That made me indignant. I wanted to see if I could help get some of these works out into the world where they deserved to be. I wanted to shine a light on beautiful, idiosyncratic writing that larger publishers might be too timid to publish. So my idea was to use my own story collection as a means of learning the publishing process from the publisher’s side, establishing the Atelier26 identity, and then to branch out to publish work by others. After a successful online fundraiser I released the collection, Date of Disappearance, as a handsomely designed limited edition with original illustrations by Nathan Shields. This gave me something to show other writers whose work I admired. Our next title was the exquisite fourth novel by Harriet Scott Chessman, The Beauty of Ordinary Things.

IPG:  What differentiates Atelier26 from other publishing companies?

M. Allen: Atelier26 is author-run, which means that I bring a writer’s sensibility to my editing and publishing practices. In other words, Atelier26 strives to be as humane in its operations and imaginative in its outlook as our authors are in the books they write. This imaginativeness as a publisher pertains to everything from the intensiveness of editing to the author-liberating unorthodoxy of our contracts.

IPG:  What are your upcoming titles?

M. Allen: This September brought Sidney Wade’s Bird Book, a new collection of poems by a masterful poet. It’s a nature book for poetry lovers, or a poetry book for nature lovers, full of sublime and playful verse that celebrates birds as much as it explores the dynamism of language. This is also an urgent and meaningful book in our time of climate change. Bird Book will be released as an illustrated paperback and an enhanced e-book containing a bounty of links to bird photos and audio. In November, we publish Woody Skinner’s debut story collection A Thousand Distant Radios, full of lively, wildly imaginative fiction quite unlike anything I’ve read in a long time.

IPG:  Tell us a bit about your continuation of the Regeneration Series, starting with Funny-Ass Thoreau. What else is in store for us?

Stevenson in the States

M. Allen: Volume 2 in the Regeneration Series, Stevenson in the States, will be a distillation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s nonfiction about his late nineteenth-century journey across the U.S. by “emigrant train.” Stevenson was poor, unknown, and ill at the time. He got a very good taste of what immigrants to this country endured. Timely themes there, and they are handled in Stevenson’s characteristically gorgeous and thoughtful way.

IPG:  What do our readers need to know about your books?

M. Allen: Atelier26 books are beautiful inside and out. Every title we publish is a product of our pure and fiery enthusiasm and receives our greatest care. We’re not trying to just sell boatloads of books, we’re focused on providing a fresh and unforgettable reading experience with every title we publish. We’re working to earn the recognition, among readers, that our books are uniquely moving, meaningful, fun, and affecting. Our books have earned great praise and won awards (such as the recent PEN/Hemingway Award Finalist honors for Margaret Malone’s People Like You) not because we have a massive budget or know the right people, but because we remain dedicated to this vision.

IPG:  In your opinion, how has the publishing industry at large changed over the years?

M. Allen: As an author I’ve had a front-row view of the industry changes since the publication of my first novel in 2004. So-called “midlist” writers have been largely abandoned in these years, as many mid-sized independent literary publishers have been pushed out of the game and behemoth corporations have consolidated control in publishing and bookselling. These huge corporations operate as media companies, which they are, and this is rarely compatible with the notion of a healthy publishing climate. In many ways, changes in publishing have mirrored larger socioeconomic trends: the loss of the “midlist” corresponds to the constant squeezing and shrinking of the middle class, and just as the middle class historically has served to produce stability and prosperity, so the “midlist” has, historically, produced the finest and most lasting literature. To my eyes, publishing today is fairly polarized. With a few exceptions, publishers are either humongous or tiny. The bright side here is that something of a renaissance has been fermenting for some time. The small among us have begun to enjoy a new “legitimacy” as the finest writers bring us their work, as indie booksellers gain ground in the market and in the consciousness of readers as champions of quality books, and as scores of new and viable small presses spring up in the service of literary publishing. IPG is a hugely important presence in this renaissance. Overall this is a marvelous and exciting time for independent publishing.

IPG:  Where do you see Atelier26 in five years?

M. Allen: Atelier26 has been growing gradually in the last few years, as we become more widely recognized — in the literary community, in the media, and via literary awards — for the unique excellence of our titles. I see us continuing to grow our list, publishing more than our current average of two to three titles per year, and making the most of the greater budgetary flexibility that comes along with such growth. We’re not going anywhere, and my expectation is that readers, reviewers, and booksellers will increasingly place us in a league with the finest and most trusted independent publishers out there.

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