Last week at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in Las Vegas, as we presented our IndieFab Book of the Year Awards, we also gave out our special award for Publisher of the Year to Cleis Press/Viva Editions. I’ve interviewed Publisher Brenda Knight and have been following this growing indie publisher all year, so I was asked to present the award. The idea was to build suspense, so I saved the name of the publisher until the very end, although by then everybody could probably guess which publisher it was. Here’s what I said:
Back in the late ‘70s, I was going through the angst of puberty, some people on this stage were not even a gleam in their parents’ eyes, and LGBTQ was nothing but a vowel-free pick of Scrabble letters. In that environment, a new indie company published a book with the bold, challenging title, Fight Back: Feminist Resistance to Male Violence. The title captured the indie spirit of the times, when challenging long-held prejudices and beliefs about gender roles and sexual identity was something new and radical.
From there, what began as a lesbian press has since morphed, under the guidance of its leader, into a fiercely independent publishing company whose mission is to bring tolerance and acceptance of all lifestyles to all audiences. It’s a message that is in tune with the changing times while rooted in the indie spirit.
To us, the indie spirit is personified in the woman in charge of our choice for Independent Publisher of the Year. She has a sense of mission, of purpose, to take what could be a very niche market—erotica, feminism, LGBTQ literature—and make it relevant and useful to as wide a readership as possible. And she’s done it, with the introduction of more mainstream Romance titles and social media activism. The company is growing during a time when, allegedly, fewer people are reading. Well, they’re reading what SHE’s publishing. And society is catching up with, and embracing, her message. That’s why this publisher can release everything from The Big Book of Domination, whose subject matter I don’t need to expound upon here, to See A Little Light, the memoir of Husker Du rock star Bob Mould and what it was like for him to grow up gay.
A few months ago, for our Foreword This Week newsletter, I asked this publisher if she would tell us her secret, so we can all imitate it. She said:
In truth, it’s a lot of hard work and elbow grease. We call ourselves the little publisher that could, since we do amazing things on a daily basis. I don’t know if I have any real secrets to share, but I will say I think of myself as a “cool hunter,” and I try to find trends before they surface. We acquired a lot of bondage books way before Fifty Shades hit.
I also asked her what love is, and she said:
All of us here … feel that through the diligent work of helping to create a more sex-positive culture, providing pleasurable reading, and having a sense of fun about it all has made this a more loving world.
Howard Lovy is executive editor at Foreword Reviews. You can follow him on Twitter @howard_lovy