- BlairAn interview with Lynn York
Could you briefly describe your press's history?
Blair is a new, nonprofit press combining the lists of Carolina Wren Press and John F. Blair, Publisher.
Judy Hogan founded Carolina Wren Press in 1976. Throughout its history, the Press has published authors not only from North Carolina and the South at large, but from all over the country, with works of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction for adults.
Poet Andrea Selch directed the Press from 2003 until 2015, strengthening CWP's national reputation through its poetry series with titles that include L. Lamar Wilson's Sacrilegion (2013) and Evie Shockley's a half-red sea (2006). Selch also established the Bakwin Award for Writing by a Woman.
In 2013, Robin Miura joined Selch as Co-director of the Press and served as Director from 2015-2017. Miura, an independent editor who has previously worked at Press 53 and Oxford University Press, came to the Carolina Wren to strengthen its fiction list. Together with Board Member Lynn York, she established the Lee Smith Novel Prize, awarded biannually to a work of Southern fiction.
In 1954, John F. Blair published his first book, Whispering Pines, by John Henry Boner. This volume of poetry by a native of Salem, North Carolina, was first published by Brentano Brothers in 1883.
Long out of print, Whispering Pines became the first in a long line of poetry books that Blair published—not for commercial success, but for the pure love of the poetic word.
Along with poetry books came more commercially successful titles about coastal North Carolina, including the perennial best-selling Judge Charles Whedbee books of folklore. Through the years, literary gems that sold minimal copies were published alongside popular cookbooks and travel guides. Since that first book, John F. Blair, Publisher, has published several hundred other titles.
After Blair's death in 1986, his family decided to continue his legacy. Carolyn Sakowski, President, and Blair family member Margaret Couch led the enterprise for several decades, publishing award-winning fiction and nonfiction, continuing the mission of providing amazing books to North Carolinians, Southerners, and increasingly, the entire United States.
On January 1, 2018, Sakowski and Couch retired and sold the titles of John F. Blair to the nonprofit Carolina Wren Press. In light of the legacy and reputation of John F. Blair, the new press took on the name Blair. We have recently grown, taking on three new full-time employees working to bring new, varying voices to the public through quality, literary books. The renowned poet, Ada Limón, has also joined our ranks as the new Poetry Editor and current judge for the 2019 Wren Poetry Prize. Though we are a small operation, we continue to work and grow.
How would you characterize the work you publish?
We strive to publish quality writing, focusing on authors and subjects historically neglected by mainstream publishers, including women, people of color, authors with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ authors. True to our roots in North Carolina, we look to the many voices of the South— and beyond—as sources of work and inspiration.
The new Blair organization combines the strengths of its predecessors. Like John F. Blair, we offer new and backlist books about culture, history, travel, and food in the Southeastern US and beyond. Strengthened by this backlist, Blair also continues to expand the mission of Carolina Wren Press, publishing additional literary fiction titles of both national and regional interest, with a focus on new and diverse voices.
Who is your audience, and in what ways are you trying to reach them?
As a press dedicated to publishing diverse voices from both the South and beyond, we try to reach a wide audience within our local community and beyond. Our audience consists of any and all interested in Southern history, culture, and food as well as those interested in poignant, wrenching stories, novels, and poems that speak to different human experiences.
We continue to try reaching our audience through book reviews and giveaways; various author events in bookstores and festivals and conferences across the nation; and through marketing promotions on our website and social media. We also provide a frequent...