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  • Scenes:Hawthorne Books an interview with Rhonda Hughes

Could you briefly describe Hawthorne Books's history?

We started in the basement of my house off Hawthorne Boulevard in Portland, Oregon in 2001. Our first two books were launched on the first anniversary of 9/11 with an anthology called September 11: West Coast Writers Approach Ground Zero, edited by Jeff Meyers, which included essays, poems, and stories by T. C. Boyle, Alice Walker, Ken Kesey, Maxine Hong Kingston, and other notable authors. The second book was Things I Like About America, a collection of personal essays by Poe Ballantine. I had been reading Poe's work in The Sun for years and also admired his short fiction after discovering his story "The Blue Devils of Blue River Avenue" in The Best American Short Stories 1998, edited by Garrison Keillor.

When Hawthorne first began and we had to find and convince authors to work with a new, unproven press, I immediately wondered if Poe had any unpublished work. I wrote to Sy Safransky, publisher of The Sun, asking about Poe and he forwarded my email to him. It turned out that Poe did indeed have work, and so we began our relationship by publishing Things I Like About America, followed by two novels, God Clobbers Us All and Decline of the Lawrence Welk Empire, which have a common narrator, Edgar, a young surfer nurse's aide trying to find meaning in his world. A few years ago, Hawthorne published Poe's second collection of nonfiction stories, 501 Minutes to Christ, and next year will mark Poe Ballantine's first memoir, entitled Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere, about his life in Chadron, Nebraska, and the disappearance of his neighbor, a math professor, later found burned to death tied to a tree near the local college campus. Poe and I joke that we are akin to Charles Bukowski and Black Sparrow. At the very least, he has been identified as Hawthorne's house author.

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Cover, Clown Girl

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Hawthorne Books Logo

How would you characterize the work you publish?

Hawthorne publishes literary, short, and historical fiction, as well as nonfiction such as memoir and personal essay.

Although we publish a range of work, most of our catalogue is literary fiction such as Monica Drake's Clown Girl, the story of an aging female clown struggling not to give in to prostitution as her demand wanes. It was recently optioned by Kristen Wiig, who is both writing the screenplay and staring in the movie. Another novel that did really well for us was Gin Phillips's The Well and the Mine. Set against the racial tension in 1930s, it's the story of a coal mining family in Alabama trying to solve the mystery of a dead baby found in their well. Barnes & Noble chose it for the Discover New Writers Award, and we later sold the rights to Penguin.

All of our books have an ample amount of pathos and humor. Hawthorne appreciates stories with themes such as marital drama, familial issues, addiction, mental illness, death, racism, and suicide, while never losing sight of the need for balance and humor.

Hawthorne is publishing more nonfiction these days, and our best seller to date is Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead: The Frank Meeink Story as told to Jody M. Roy. Frank was born in Philadelphia and became a skinhead in junior high. After his release from prison for kidnapping and assault, Frank escaped the skinhead life but fell into drug addiction. Now a recovered racist, drug addict, and alcoholic, Frank advocates against hatred by speaking at schools and organizations. He's also working on a reality show that teaches anti-hate messages. We had blurbs from Cornel West and Morris Dees, as well as an introduction by Elizabeth Wurtzel.

Who is your audience, and in what ways are you trying to reach them?

Our audience is people who read The Sun, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, and Creative Nonfiction, to name a few. We try to reach that audience by increasing our visibility online as...


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