About New Native Press
New Native Press:
Marginalizing the Mainstream
by Thomas Rain Crowe
In 1979, I left northern California, where I cut my literary teeth as editor/publisher of Beatitude magazine and Beatitude Press (one of the first magazines to publish the Beat poets during the 1950s), and returned to the North Carolina mountains of my boyhood with the idea of beginning something of a literary bioregional tradition here in a part of the country that was generally considered to be “the boondocks” of the American literary landscape. Having, in California, been at the epicenter of a burgeoning Bioregional/Greens movement while keeping company with some of its founding literary fathers such as Gary Snyder, Peter Berg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Michael McClure, it seemed only natural that the imprint of my first publishing venture should be “New Native Press” –an amalgam of bioregionalism and the Beats.
James Laughlin’s New Directions has always been a publishing model for me, and I’ve always been interested in the international aspects of the literary world. In my days as an editor of Beatitude in San Francisco, the issues I edited were heavy with translations–Russian, Spanish, French, German, Italian….So, this has been carried over to my oeuvre as a publisher. To date, NNP has published work by authors from France, Hungary, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and India, in addition to those from the U.S.. All this interest in contemporary international literature was peaked with the publication in, 1998, of the Celtic language anthology Writing The Wind: A Celtic Resurgence (The New Celtic Poetry) — a book which took over three years to complete, during which time I came to know many of the poets who were to appear in the book, and so my connection to the world of Celtic literature and its various traditions became not only informed, but intimate. My eyes were opened to the rich vein of talent and tradition embodied in these marginalized writers, as well as the struggles and hardships this kind of isolation presented, artistically as well as psychologically and culturally. And it was probably during conversations with such language-activist poets as Bobi Jones in Aberystwyth, Wales, and Aonghus MacNeacail on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, and Michael Davitt in Dublin, Ireland–all of whom I met on two trips to the UK and Ireland during the years when I was working on the book–that the seeds were planted for my eventual decision to make NNP into an exclusive publisher of the work of writers writing in marginalized and/or endangered languages. These poets not only educated me as to the wealth in their respective and long-standing literary traditions, but dazzled me with their own individual talents–adding to my enthusiasm and the idea that it was absolutely essential that such a comprehensive multi-lingual book be created in order to fill a huge hole in the international literary canon.
After publishing Writing the Wind, I took a few years off to work on my own writing and to do some traveling. During this time, I had the opportunity to indulge in further, extended correspondence with these language-activist poets, and others, and to really think deeply about the implications of what it must mean to write in cultures where the number of readers are declining drastically, and where the language, to the outside world, is considered “dead”. During this period, I was, serendipitously, receiving manuscripts from all over the world, including a Native American poet in Alaska and a translator of poetry in the Marathi language in Bombay, India. It was, then, that the idea crystalized for me that NNP should become a vehicle, albeit a small vehicle, for the voice of disenfranchised writers anywhere in the world.
In becoming a champion for writers writing in marginalized languages, I had also found an exclusive niche for the press–no small feat at a time when the industry was in the throes of enormous decline in readers of books, and especially fine literature. With this epiphany, I began contacting the writers and publishers directories that had been carrying descriptive ads for NNP, and changed the statement-of-purpose clause to fit the new agenda–becoming, instantly, the only press on record that I know of devoted exclusively to the publication, in translation, of writers writing from the language edges of their particular cultures. The aim of the press, with this change of direction, became twofold: to introduce English language readers to interesting international voices and to give so-called “marginalized” writers (and especially language-activist writers) a larger pulpit from which to preach and a larger and more diverse audience.
When asked, today, about the press’s moniker and how it relates to being an exclusive publisher of endangered language writers, I respond by saying that I’ve simply taken the notion of what it means to be a “new native” and projected it onto a larger universe. As a publisher, I am embracing the entire planet as my “bioregion” and identifying many marginalized languages and cultures as being just as important, in diversity, as are the more prominent and dominant languages and cultures, world-wide. So, in this sense, my vision as a steward of the place in which I live has not changed, in principal, only in scale.
Thus far, NNP has worked with a Native American Indian poet from Alaska who is, single-handedly, trying to save his people’s Ahtna language; poets writing in the Celtic languages: Welsh, Breton, Manx, Cornish, Scots Gaelic and Irish; a Geordie poet native from the region of Newcastle-on-Tyne in northern England; and a translator from Bombay who has translated the work of one of that country’s most prominent poets of the past century writing in the Marathi language. Most recently the press has published a first time translation of a complete collection from the ancient Mayan language into English by a single native speaker, Feliciano Sanchez Chan, titled 7 Dreams. This beginning is indicative of the scale and diverse nature of the press’s vision, as I believe that the world we live in today is, indeed, a global village, and that we must be cognizant of the plights and perils of those who are far-distant from us, since what we do locally has global implications. Cultural, environmental, industrial, and political ideologies and practices no longer exist in the kinds of imagined vacuums they did one-hundred or even fifty years ago. New Native Press’s “bioregion” is, now, a planetary one. One which cherishes all languages and all cultures, no matter how marginalized or remote, as I believe that the world, and life lived in this world, is only as rich as the amount of diversity in it. To aide in the preservation of languages and cultures is, admittedly, a selfish endeavor on my part, as I personally don’t wish to live in a world that has become mono-culturally top-heavy and myopic, in the same way that I don’t want to live in a world absent of whales and elephants. This, then, is my credo as I work locally, here in my home county in North Carolina for the preservation of the Southern Mountain dialect that was spoken by my Scots-Irish ancestors, and for the preservation of the Tsalagi language spoken for centuries, here, by my Cherokee Indian neighbors. In this sense, the new NNP statement-of-purpose is a political one in that I believe that one’s language is one’s primary politic. Since language is at the heart of any culture, for the culture to live on, so must its language. The language-activist poets being published by NNP love their languages and love their cultural heritage. By using his or her indigenous language as their primary language rather than writing in the language of their colonizer, each of these writers is making a strong public political statement.
“I believe that the world, and life lived in this world, is only as rich as the amount of diversity in it. I personally don’t wish to live in a world that has become mono-culturally top-heavy and myopic, in the same way that I don’t want to live in a world absent of whales and elephants.”
At the moment, and largely as a result of the success of the Celtic anthology, NNP has distributors in five countries, in addition to the several vendors that handle the press’s books here in the US. All this has given NNP greater visibility and the kind of name-recognition, both home and abroad, that we’re hoping will benefit our “marginalized language” books and the poets and translators they represent. We’re also hoping that new readers will be attracted to our books and our agenda, and that the interest will be passed on by word-of-mouth.
And what about the future? For now, my biggest challenge is to survive a crashing market. To still be around in ten or twenty years when poetry comes back into vogue, and has captured a true readership. The way that I am doing that, is one day, one book, at a time. And doing these with enthusiasm and with style. Its been an exciting and busy few years living and working in the global village. But as trying and financially frightening as it’s been at times, I think that it’s been well worth it, and that we’ ve made the right choice to go this way.
Thomas Rain Crowe and New Native Press can be reached through the following contacts:
Phone (828) 293-9237
New Native Press
Post Office Box 661
Cullowhee, North Carolina 28723 USA
Phone # (828) 293-9237
E-mail: NewNativePress (at) hotmail.com