- ScenesFour Way Books: An interview with Martha Rhodes
Four Way Books
Could you briefly describe your press’s history?
Four Way Books is in its twenty-eighth year of publishing poetry and short fiction collections by emerging and established writers. We operate out of lower Manhattan with a small, efficient staff that works together in close coordination, all positions filled by long term, highly committed personnel.
We serve readers and writers — mostly, but not exclusively adults, from all walks of life, all corners of the country. Our titles have been honored with awards such as the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, The Lenore Marshall, The Norma Farber First Book Award, The Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry, The Great Lakes New Writers Award for Poetry, to mention just a few awards over the year. Our titles have also been on the NYT top 10 list for poetry. Stellar reviews in the NYT, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and many literary reviews have both been encouraging and thrilling for staff and author and have succeeded in giving our titles more reach. Because we matter to readers, FWB has been profiled by the Best American Poetry, the NYT, and the LA Review of Books and Writers for Change (excerpted here) “New York has seen plenty of ruin over the last two decades, from the ash of 9/11 [FWB office is just blocks from Ground Zero] to the wreckage of Hurricane Sandy. But for over 20 years, FWB has also been building something of its own, a city within a city, something cognizant of — but impervious to — that ruin… [A] thriving small press, publishing some of the most interesting, aesthetically diverse poetry and fiction in the country.” “A sanctuary.”
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How would you characterize the work you publish?
Narrative, lyric, quiet, domestic, political, linear, jagged, spare, expansive — we don’t fit into any niche; we aren’t groupies of any trends. We publish what makes us think, breaks our hearts, makes us laugh — engages us, worries us, concerns us, speaks to us. Well-crafted writing by writers who expertly manage their content. We publish work by yetto-be known and popular, buzzy, award-winning authors (as well as under-the radar tours de force) whose work is massively resonant in contemporary American life. Some of our authors dig where they stand, others throw the shovel farther away. All are deeply engaged with the world, the complexities that characterize their inner and exterior landscapes depicted through expert management of craft through the decisions they make in the use of language, syntax, form, structure, and so forth. How the author manages content is the key factor for us when we think about accepting a book and then as we go on to make editing suggestions to a given author. We are also attuned — actually I would say that we are especially attuned — to hearing the speaker’s mind in action, to being able to hear/experience the gears cranking as the speaker discovers thoughts and feelings, the moment(s) of discovery and surprise activate our own discoveries and senses of surprise as we read and so we don’t want to feel that the content was pre-digested before it even got to the page. We want to feel its aliveness and be thrilled by that, no matter how somber or devastating those moments on the pages might be.
Who is your audience, and in what ways are you trying to reach them?
We hope to be a great leg up to our authors, emerging and established, connecting them with longtime literary folks and those who are newly discovering contemporary writers. We seek niche readers by subject matter (health communities for a doctor poet, etc), expanding the lit audience! We have strong cohorts of African American and Asian American, Latinx, and queer authors. We publish authors in their 20s–80s and climbing. Writers and readers alike hail from diverse, often underserved demographics. We offer readers the best new American writing across genres, across aesthetic divides, with many ways to learn of and appreciate the work. We hope to find reading and presenting opportunities for...