Archive for April, 2010

New from Fenway Press: TOO LATE FOR THE FRONTIER by Ann E. Berthoff


Americans are often described (and describe themselves) as dreamers. But what happens when your dream runs smack into reality and fizzles out?

You might end up as a crackpot curmudgeon, blaming your failures on the government, or foreigners, or politically correct liberals, or women, or the vagaries of history, or other enemies of your freedom to do as you damned well please. And feeling your life has been made miserable by subversive forces beyond your control, you might in turn make life miserable for some of those within arm’s reach.

Meet Franklin Pierce Anderson or “FPA” (1856-1932) of Epworth, Iowa, as presented by his grand-daughter, master story-teller Ann E. Berthoff, who in turn has access to the often embittered letters written to her by FPA’s son Benton Rees Anderson, prime target for the old man’s cantakerousness. By judiciously selecting from these remarkable letters her uncle wrote her during the famous Iowa Blizzards of 1975-76, as well as from other sources, Ann Berthoff  skillfully weaves a chronicle of her grandfather’s corrosive stubbornness and self-righteous folly, and its impact on those around him.

But if FPA is a prize-winning American Curmudgeon, Benton Rees Anderson emerges from Berthoff’s account as a remarkable American storyteller in his own right, with a sharp eye for the dramas of family life, a muscular prose style, deft analytical skills, and a matchless memory for detail—as we tend to remember insults more vividly than we do praise.  Benton was a cultivated man, a teacher, college-educated at a time when few rural American boys—and fewer girls—went past high school. So, inevitably, Benton himself becomes a character in this story. And if writing well is the best revenge, FPA, warts and all, leaps off the page as Benton’s chief creation.

Whether FPA is a “representative American type” or “one of a kind” every reader will have to decide for herself or himself. Berthoff is clear that an injured Benton has given us a slanted account of his father. Not everyone on the family felt the same about the old man. So in a way, what Berthoff offers us in Too Late for the Frontier is an exercise in critical biography. Swept along by the power of an engrossingly angry (and awed) portrait of a father by a son, we are still invited to maintain a skeptical distance by Berthoff herself, who in turn resists her own impulse to sentimentalize her childhood visits to the family farm in Iowa. In Berthoff’s words, “The mystery of personality usually outlasts attempts to explain it in terms of cause and effect and the one who seeks to disclose the real secrets of personality often ends by revealing more of himself than of the subject he intends to reveal.”

Fenway Press is delighted to bring you this complex American family chronicle. NOTE: This is a limited edition. To reserve your copy, write to david.gullette@simmons.edu. $16 includes shipping.




Ani Gjika, perhaps the first Albanian-American poet ever to come our way, has written a remarkable first book of poems, which Fenway Press will proudly publish next February. Some of the poems in BREAD ON RUNNING WATERS were begun while Ani was studying at Simmons College, others when she was teaching English in Thailand, and yet others during her time in the Graduate Poetry Program at BU, where she studied with Robert Pinsky, Louise Gluck, and Rosanna Warren, who has written a lovely Introduction to the book. Here’s an excerpt:

“Ani Gjika’s book follows a gentle narrative arc from her Albanian childhood, her life in India and Thailand, to accommodation to life with all its immigrant difficulties in the New England. It is also a life in her adopted poetic language, in which the sound of a commuter train becomes a promise of composition and integration: “Whistles weeeeeave   weave  weeeeave…” (“Location”). She has made this language her own in poems beautifully woven in a design of great depth of feeling and intelligence.”

More on the BREAD ON RUNNING WATERS page (click on the right).


Friends new and old:

I’d like to announce the launch of Fenway Press, a consortium of writers who will band together to publish their work independently, using efficient new printing technologies, and spreading the word about new books through online networks .

Our first title will be my novel Dreaming Nicaragua (see under “Pages”).

Our second title will be George Nitchie’s book of poems Around the College (see under “Pages”).

Why begin an enterprise like Fenway Press?

As Jason Epstein makes clear in “Publishing: The Revolutionary Future” (New York Review of Books, March 11, 2010) traditional publishing is obsolescent. Cunning writers realize that by using a rainbow of new tools–On Demand publishing, Online advertising, Blogs and Websites, Social Networking, etc–they can free themselves from the tyranny of trade publishing houses and reach their target audiences easily and at minimum cost. The writers selected to join the Fenway Press will pool their energies and talents to help each other design, print, advertise and distribute their books. Readers will be able to purchase Fenway Press books online at this website. Aside from contributing to a fund to maintain the website and publish an occasional advertisement, each author will keep all proceeds from the sale of his/her books above the costs of the actual printing (and state taxes).

Take Dreaming Nicaragua as a test case. I’ve found a printer in St. Louis who will produce the book cheaply but elegantly. The per-copy profit will be over 50% of the list price. There will definitely be some black in in the ledger.  [In my case, all proceeds will be donated to our Sister City Project in Nicaragua (www.newtonsanjuan.org) which is altogether fitting, since the people of that region are in a way the co-authors of the book.]

I see this initiative as the publishing equivalent of Fair Trade: remove the middle man as much as possible, so that the producer of the goods (coffee, novels, chocolate, poems) is linked directly with the consumer (reader) and can be fully recognized, honored, and (of course) compensated for his/her labors. So here’s our working motto for Fenway Press: FAIR TRADE FOR AUTHORS.

This means, at least for me, leaving Amazon.com out of the loop as well: The Beast charges 35% of every sale, which does bite into one’s margin. I’m even debating the use of PayPal (but since many people have stopped writing checks, that may be a compromise I’ll have to make).

This is the birth of an idea. It will be altered and reshaped in the weeks and months ahead. I have a steep learning curve ahead of me. For starters, this is the first time I’ve ever blogged. But I’m looking forward to the adventure. And I welcome all comments and suggestions, the more trenchant, the better.

In my next post I will describe Dreaming Nicaragua and give you a taste of the book’s varied texture.

As my friend Fidel Pavon says, !NI UN PASO ATRAS! (Not one step backwards!)


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