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The Joys of Publishing the First Book (and the Mistake)

Baxter Hathaway at Ithaca House opened the literary door for me when he published my first book of poems, Devils Live so Near, in 1977.  I walked into his studio with a little chapbook of my poems, and he read it in front of me--and said, "It's good!  I'll take it!"  In that moment I thought it was going to be easy to get books published.   My third poetry book took ten more years to find a home!

Baxter printed Devils Live So Near by hand on a letter press, the quality of the paper was exquisite and archival, and he used different shades of ink for chapter headings. 

Baxter hosted Ithaca House readings as well, and I soon found myself part of a literary community--I was no longer just one poet alone with my heavens and hells.

Mistakes?  Just one, on the first book--which is that I didn't get to read page proof.   So there was one typo that was serious enough to require an errata sheet.  The second book from Ithaca House had an even worse typo that kept one poem from making sense.

Writers can survive anything but serious typos.  Ask to see proofs.  Insist on it, nicely, but insist

Baxter Hathaway opened the door for my literary life.   I will always be grateful!

P.S.  The chapbook, Woman with Bangs/Woman with Mango, was printed up on construction paper by Ken Kowalski.  It worked though as a calling card.   Don't look down on chapbooks or local presses.

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nice introduction

The kind of introduction you had to literary publishing culture doesn't happen for a lot of writers and poets these days so your experience is something to treasure. The typo issue is a real one. Too many writers assume that once in the hand of a publisher, they can let their entire guard down and do nothing but wait for a finished product. Not, as you have pointed out, a smart assumption at all.

Founder of Creative Thinkers International
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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Thanks, Aberjhani!

Your comment reaches me in rural Hawai'i on the Big Island, where life is good, and slower even than in Tennessee.

I was lucky.  I didn't realize how lucky at the time!

I hope to meet you in Oakland--drinks are on me!