Publishing Gone Local: Part 1

Ithaca is a town where ‘going’ local has been all the rage for decades. In fact,  Ithaca has gone local, and it’s easy to feel a sense of self-reliance in this community. Whether you find it at The Piggery, or the Finger Lakes Wine Center, or the “Local Authors” series at Buffalo Street Books, appreciation abounds for all things Ithaca made. There’s even a cool store on State Street called IthacaMade.

One of the most exciting components of Ithaca’s lively local scene is the number of small and independent book publishers that call Ithaca home. Cornell University Press, Owl Gorge, Ithaca Press, Clandestine Press, Larson Publishing, McBooks, and Snow Lion. These publishers specialize in areas that draw from all aspects of Ithaca: the famous natural beauty, the environmental awareness, the prolific artistic and scientific output, and the vibrant spiritual community.

Cornell University Press is awe-inspiring, and the “about us” on their website does little to dispel the mythical image of this press. It was established in 1869 – the first university press to be established in the United States – and it currently resides in Sage House on Cornell’s campus, “where the staff keeps company with the house’s carved bats and stained-glass birds.” A scholarly publisher in many disciplines, Cornell University Press publishes 120 new nonfiction titles per year. In addition, the press also has two imprints: Comstock Publishing, which specializes in life sciences and natural history, and ILR Press, with books in labor and employment relations, the health care professions, and human resources.

A lesser known, but equally “Ithaca” press is Owl Gorge. As the name suggests, this small press devotes itself to one of the most beloved aspects of the Ithaca region – the gorges. These watery giants are perfect for hiking, swimming, or simply meditating, but they are fairly well hidden unless you know where to look. The two books of local photographs currently available from Owl Gorge are: Ithaca – the city, gorges, and colleges, by Liz Bauman and Tony Ingraham, and A Walk Through Watkins Glen—Water’s Sculpture in Stone by Tony Ingraham. You can view excerpts and sample photographs from these books on their website, owlgorge.com

McBooks Press, located at 520 North Meadow Street, is an independent press with a wider lens than Owl Gorge, but a more narrow focus than a large publisher like Cornell. McBooks publishes works of nautical historical fiction now, though in the past have also published nonfiction, on subjects that included boxing, food and health, and the Finger Lakes Region. Their newest book (upcoming release October 2011, $24.95) is: The Price of Glory, which is book no.3 in “The Nathan Peake Novels” (HC) by Seth Hunter. The book is described as follows on McBooks’ website:
Captain Nathan Peake’s adventures continue as he charts a perilous course into the dangerous waters of post-Revolutionary Paris. There, he encounters two of the most beautiful and scandalous courtesans in history and their playmate, laughingly dubbed Captain Cannon, who is about to win enduring fame as Napoleon Bonaparte.

Clandestine Press, run by Bob and Esther Doherty, is an artisan publishing company (Bob still uses a hand-operated printing press) that specializes in poetry, children’s literature, and the work of the Welsh poet, Leslie Norris. Without a website, the press certainly lives up to its name, but you can reach Clandestine at (607) 273-8036. Stay tuned for an interview with Bob and Esther in the coming weeks.

The publishing companies covered here thus far certainly embody Ithaca: intellect, love of nature, pragmatism, and whimsy. But Snow Lion Publications and Larson Publications capture another important side of Ithaca’s character – that of the spiritual. Ithaca abounds with lovers of meditation, kundalini yoga, and of course, followers of Buddhism. Ithaca is the North American seat of the 14th Dalai Lama and Namgal Monastery is here.

Snow Lion Publications has spent more than 30 years preserving Tibetan Buddhism through its publications. The background story is this: established in 1980, Snow Lion started out as a general press. The devotion to Tibetan Buddhist books sprang from meetings with the Dalai Lama, which convinced the founders that this was the area in which Snow Lion would specialize. It is now the world’s largest publisher of Buddhist resources.

Larson Publications (located in Burdett, NY) offers “resources for spiritual independence and social relevance: freedom and interdependence, inspiration, living with meaning and purpose, philosophy, spirituality, religion, meditation, psychology, alternative healing, astrology, vegetarianism, poetry, and more.” Regardless of the subjects of their publications, they stress their desire to transcend divisions (east/west, believers/non-believers) in favor of pursuing “world community through personal awakenings.” Larson Publications started in 1982 as a North American subsidiary of Sweden’s Bokförlaget Robert Larson AB, as a general publisher, and became an independent company with a spiritual and philosophical focus in June 2007. Watch this month for the new release of Parvaneh Bahar’s memoir, A Poet’s Daughter: Bahar of Iran, from Larson.

I’ll leave you with a publishing company that is Ithaca in name and in location: Ithaca Press. Ithaca Press pitches itself as an all-in-one company: for a reasonable cost, they will proofread, copyedit, design (layout and book cover),print, and manage copyrighting and licensing. A subsidy publisher, Ithaca Press promises that “your book will be one that meets industry standards and can be sold in bookstores and other avenues of sale.” An interesting part of their website is this comparison of Ithaca Press vs. self-publishing. They can be contacted here.

Be sure to visit our blog every Tuesday for more posts related to all things literary and local: bookstores, readings, publishers, and writing groups right here in Ithaca, NY.

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Amy Pershing / Chevese Turner
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Diane Tober
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Larry Scheckel
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