Literary Lunch: Author turns publisher

By Heather Lee Schroeder
May 5, 2006

APPETIZERS: Writers in the round

With a great month of readings ahead of us, I had a hard time choosing what to plug this week. In the end, though, my vote goes to "Writers in the Round: African-American Voices," which features Amaud Johnson, Fabu Mogaka and Catrina Sparkman. These three outstanding local writers will showcase their recent work at 7 p.m. Tuesday as part of the Wisconsin Academy Evenings at the Overture Center, Wisconsin Studio.

Johnson, a poet and assistant professor of English at University of Wisconsin-Madison's creative writing program, will read from his newly released collection "Red Summer." This collection, which won the 2004 Dorset Prize, explores a series of race riots that happened during the summer of 1919. Mogaka, a poet and storyteller, designs writing curriculums for children, and Sparkman, a fiction writer, has written, produced and directed experimental theatrical pieces that have been performed in Madison area theaters, including "The Cinderella Show" and "Mother Love."

I would be remiss if I didn't mention poet Robin Chapman and physicist Julien Sprott's discussion of their collaborative effort "Images of a Complex World" at 2 p.m. on May 14 at A Room of One's Own, 307 W. Johnson St.

And at 7 p.m. on May 18, you can take your choice: Wisconsin poet Jacquelyn Lalley will read with Juliet Patterson at Avol's Bookstore, 315 W. Gorham St., and Madison novelist Jennifer Chiaverini will read from her latest, "Circle of Quilters," at Borders Books East, 2173 Zeier Road.

ENTREE: Author turns publisher

What do you do when you're unhappy with the quality of books your publisher releases? If you're Madison writer and photographer Richard Quinney, you start your own press.

Quinney, a retired sociology professor who has written a number of books including "Journey to a Far Place," "For the Time Being" and "Borderland," founded Borderland Books earlier this year. The press has released its first two offerings, both by Quinney. "Where Yet the Sweet Birds Sing" and "Once Again the Wonder" are drawn from Quinney's journals and photographs.

After publishing a number of books with commercial publishers, Quinney found himself becoming more and more interested in hand-produced limited edition books, partially because he didn't like the quality of the paper, the binding and the photographic reproductions his work had received with other presses.

"I was concerned about getting a quality publication with the other publishers I was working with," he said.

He said he wanted to produce books himself, much like his friend and renowned book artist Walter Hamady does. In fact, Quinney said if he had his own letter press, he would create his books from start to finish. Instead, he works with a quality printer located in Vermont.

It cost Quinney around $10,000 to produce each book - no small sum - but he said he's committed to creating beautiful and high-quality books.

Luckily, Quinney has made a valuable connection with the company Ivan R. Dee, Publisher, which has agreed to distribute Borderland Books. Access to distribution channels can be the biggest stumbling block for small publishers, but the agreement with Ivan R. Dee has opened many doors for Quinney and could eventually help him expand.

"I could help other people produce books," Quinney said, adding that he hasn't actively sought to do so yet.

To learn more about the press, visit

DESSERT: Festival No. 5 looking good

It might seem too early to start thinking about this year's Wisconsin Book Festival. After all, it doesn't happen until Oct. 18-22. But at the festival headquarters, planning is well under way for what festival director Alison Jones Chaim says will be an outstanding fifth festival.

Of course, Chaim is duty-bound to say that, but after hearing about what's planned, I concur. Among this year's headlining acts are Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon ("The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay"), graphic novelist and illustrator Marjane Satrapi ("Persepolis" and "Persepolis 2"), graphic novelist Chris Ware ("Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth"), and neuroscientist Robert M. Sapolsky ("A Primate's Memoir").

There'll be a special focus on children's literature, and A More Perfect Union will return with a theme of "to establish justice" and readings by Marge Piercy ("Sex Wars"), Anthony Grooms ("Bombingham") and James Yee ("For God and Country"). In addition, festival organizers plan to offer an expanded lineup in Milwaukee, including poet Ted Kooser.

New funding has given the festival a boost. The event has formed a partnership with Virginia Quarterly Review and received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission and an Arts Access Fund award from the Madison Community Foundation.

Of the five-year anniversary, Chaim said, "It's a big deal. We've learned a lot, and we still see just amazing opportunities for growth and development going forward."

Heather Lee Schroeder's "Literary Lunch" appears twice a month. E-mail: Web site:


©Literary Lunch 2006