early history

Publisher’s Note:

In preparation for our celebration of Carolina Wren Press’s 30th anniversary, I asked Judy Hogan to write a history of the Press’s early years. She was glad to have the opportunity to tell this survival story, which is both her personal story and a reflection on the hard times artists and activists lived through. –Andrea Selch


By Judy Hogan, Founder

“If you don’t believe you can make a difference, you certainly won’t.”

I never planned to be a small press editor and publisher: One thing led to another. It took a lot of time, money, faith, and calling on other people’s time, money, and faith to do it. I was a writer first and when, in 1966, I was ready to send out poems, I tried to get into some small literary journals. But my poems all came back, rejected. Later I would learn that many ‘little mags,’ as they were called, had been founded by writers who, like me, hadn’t been able to get their own work published, and that some of the most distinguished small-press editors had started out this way.

The proliferation of small, cottage-industry presses came about through a combination of many circumstances and events. First of all, large publishers were beginning to be bought and sold by conglomerates, with the result that they did less and less new fiction and poetry; the country was in revolution because of the Civil Rights struggle; there was the Vietnam War, to which more and more Americans were opposed; and there was the renewed surge of the feminist movement. At the same time, there was the new National Endowment for the Arts, and offset printing was becoming more affordable. Those were also years when our government spied on its citizens: reading mail, tapping phone lines, infiltrating peace and activist groups. These events were all happening in the mid-’60s and early ’70s, creating a certain ferment which definitely affected me and drew me into publishing.

The roots of Carolina Wren were in Berkeley, California, though it was birthed on January 1, 1976, in Chapel Hill, as I sat in my living room in Chase Park Apartments, looking past the balcony, where I fed wintering birds, into the woods behind them. Chase Park had grown out of the Chapel Hill Civil Rights struggle and was run by the Interfaith Council.

I had arrived in Berkeley, newly divorced, with my two-year old daughter, Amy, in the fall of 1964 to begin a Ph.D. in Classics, and shortly thereafter the campus erupted in what became known as the Free Speech Movement. I signed an early petition, but I didn’t understand very well why students were boycotting classes. They were angry, too, at those of us who crossed their picket lines to attend class. I remember that someone swiped a sign at me. Those students had spent the summer in the South, registering black voters. They had learned to recognize when those in power were abusing their power, and that was how they saw the University of California-Berkeley administrators. I was grateful to be back in school with a government loan and a part-time job, and I was deadly serious about doing well. I would later come to understand the students’ views and also be horrified by some of the things tried in order to stop them. Helicopters flew over Berkeley and tear gas was used to break up crowds, sometimes without warning. It’s fair to say that Berkeley politicized me as well as giving me the possibility of learning Greek and Latin with fine scholars. I never finished my degree, but I received an excellent classical education. When I left there in 1968, with my new husband, Terry Hogan, I had decided to give myself to writing rather than persisting in the academic world. Terry got a job in the Economics Department at Northwestern and we moved that fall to Evanston.

Hyperion Poetry Journal was launched in Evanston the following summer when Paul Foreman, a friend of my Berkeley friend Foster Robertson, visited us there and proposed starting a journal, but it was in many ways a Berkeley magazine in the beginning.

Paul and I were both poets, as was Foster, with whom he was in love and whom he later married. He had been reading the little newsletter I sent to family and friends while I was a graduate student, to keep them up-to-date on me and Amy. I called it The Kanga-Roo News and in recent years I had expanded it to include a literary supplement, where I “published” my own poems and those of friends and wrote articles on poets I was interested in, Ezra Pound especially. Paul proposed we “expand the Kanga-Roo News Literary Supplement,” i.e., start a journal. We decided on poetry only. He had with him Holderlin’s long poem-novel, Hyperion, and inscribed it to us: “For Terry and Judy and Amy and Tim (when they grow up), in gratitude for their friendship, in love for their spirit, in hope for their future, with faith that the fates will be kind, the gods will be tender, and the earth rich and full in its bounty…. and to commemorate the birth—or rebirth—of Hyperion!”

I liked the name because Hyperion means ‘the one who goes beyond’ and was the Greek light god, father of the sun, the moon, and the dawn. Paul returned to Berkeley to find the poets and began mailing me poems. I had never edited before, but I figured I’d learn how. We both had definite ideas as to what gave value to a poem and we decided we would always tell a poet in writing why his work had been rejected. That was a good discipline. Paul and I also came to realize that our own experiences could help us understand another poet’s. Often I would defend and open up a woman’s poem that made no sense to him, and he’d do the same for a poem by a man if I hadn’t understood it. We agreed that if either of us wanted to publish the poem, we would. He had also two helpful thoughts. One was that “there was no such thing as a perfect poem,” that is, that we shouldn’t go overboard picking at other people’s or our own poems; the best poems had flaws. Another helpful idea was that we should keep an eye out for “those strange fish:” poets who are very different or very new, whom we might reject just because they seemed strange. We could both appreciate a wide range of poetry with our eclectic tastes and we published many different new voices, many of whom went on to publish books and become well known: Sheila Nickerson, Richard Dauenhauer, Colette Inez, Harold Witt, Dave Oliphant, Manizar, et al.

Paul paid an “underground printer” for the first issue of Hyperion with money he’d received from the G.I. Bill. He then hitchhiked to Evanston, having spent all his money, to bring us the first copies and spend the rest of the 1969 Christmas holidays with us. He and I were both visionary. We believed our little poetry magazine could change the world. Maybe it has, or is, or will. Hard to know. But if you don’t believe you can make a difference, you certainly won’t.

Felix Pollack, librarian at University of Wisconsin, had been collecting little mags since the 1950s. I was very excited when he subscribed. We also learned of COSMEP, the Committee of Small Magazine Editors and Publishers, and in 1973 we both attended their annual gathering in New Orleans, at Tulane. By then Terry and I were living in Cedar Grove, N.C., 25 miles north of Chapel Hill. Paul and Foster had started Thorp Springs Press by buying a 1250 Multilith offset press. A used one cost $1000, which was my annual payment on my college loan. Terry wasn’t happy that I defaulted on it in 1971 and sent the money to Paul to buy a press.

1973 was, in fact, a momentous year. I met many of the writers I would later publish: Amon Liner, Jaki Shelton [Green], Virginia Long Rudder, Bill Herron, Miranda Cambanis. For both Paul and me, a literary magazine or a press meant a community of people. He had begun to gather writers around him in Berkeley after he married Foster. When I arrived in North Carolina, I wanted to find the writers and set about looking for them. I remember going to UNC Library in the spring of 1972 and finding a list of poets published by UNC Press. The only one I was able to meet was Charles Wright, who at the time was teaching a Continuing Education class in poetry. He invited me to visit his class. I did. They liked my comments on their poems, and someone proposed forming a group after the class ended. We met monthly and some good writers emerged from that group: Cindy Paris, Mark Shuman, Mitchell Lyman.

It was at one of those group meetings, in January 1973, that I met Amon Liner, who was working at UNC Library as a cataloguer. Amon was brought to the group by Betty Bolton, who also worked at the library, but I had already heard of him. He was the poetry editor for the Red Clay Reader and Red Clay Books, which were published by Charleen Whisnant in Charlotte, about whom I had learned soon after I came to the state in the summer of 1971. The model she represented was important: an independent-minded woman writer putting new poets—both black and white—into print. I would later publish some of those she had published: T.J. Reddy (Poems in One Part Harmony, 1980), Amon Liner, and Paul Newman (The Light of the Red Horse, 1981). Charleen had said that Amon knew more about poetry than anyone else in North Carolina. So, when I found myself sitting next to him at this meeting of our poetry group, I was prepared to be intimidated, and I even felt a little competitive, but Amon quickly disarmed me by asking about my six-month-old baby, Virginia, who was on my lap.
It was the beginning of a short but very important friendship. Over the next three years, until his death in 1976, Amon came to our home for supper several times, and we went to his apartment in Glen Lennox. I learned what a dedicated poet he was. When we two were together, we didn’t normally talk much, though he talked freely with Terry. I did have several meetings with him to talk about Chrome Grass, which I had agreed to publish by the summer of 1974, before he went to UNC-Greensboro that fall to get his MFA. I visited him there several times. He was upset about my separation from Terry in late ‘74. At UNC-G he wanted me to meet Tom Huey, whose work inspired by Amon was the best of his that I saw; I published his poem broadside This Life: A Salutation in December 1975, when we had a reading at Somethyme restaurant in Durham for Amon and Jaki Shelton. I also published Huey’s Force Hymn, also written for Amon, in 1979.

No, Amon didn’t intimidate me. We had a lot of respect for each other. He had invented a machine-like form and had taken on topics like mechanized genocide and the surplus of material objects in our lives, while I was still immersed in the traditional subjects of poetry—love and other human relationships, the natural world. But Amon never measured my work harshly. When I asked him and a couple of other people to choose the strongest poems of a selection for my first book (Cassandra Speaking, Thorp Springs Press, 1977), he made very helpful choices and told me why. He could appreciate a wide range of poems, and he cared deeply about the work of other writers. He introduced me, by giving me his address, to T.J. Reddy, in jail by 1974 for being one of the Charlotte Three, wrongly convicted of burning a stable. Amon, who knew I wrote to writers in prison, said, “Here’s another prison poet you might want to write to.”

Amon also alerted me to Julia Fields when Red Clay published her book, East of Moonlight. Once, when I visited him at UNC-G and said that after three years of reading his work, I was beginning to be able to tell his strong work from his weak work, he asked, “Do you think it takes all editors three years to get used to my work?” Some never would have, I’m sure. He was at the time sending around Rose, A Color of Darkness, trying to get it published. He hadn’t succeeded by the time he died in July 1976, and that was the next book of his I published, in 1981, after Chrome Grass, which came out the day after he died.

Despite not talking that much, we communicated so deeply that, when Amon died, I didn’t feel like I’d lost him. He was such an ongoing part of my life, my consciousness. It’s fair to say that he’s still alive in me some way, somehow. He also introduced me to Anna Akhmatova and Osip Mandelstam, whose work was just being translated into English. These poets became even more important to me later, when I began to meet Russian writers in the 1990s.

That spring, 1973—when the dogwoods were in bloom, so March probably—I met Jaki Shelton for the first time. She and her husband, Sherman, had written me a postcard: “We are two black writers. Would you be interested in publishing our work?” They had seen Hyperion in the Confederate Memorial Library in Hillsborough. I wrote back to send poems, and they did. I accepted some from each one. Shortly afterward Jaki visited me in Cedar Grove, on the tobacco farm where we were living in the farmer’s old frame house that had been moved across the field to make room for the fine brick house he had built for his family. Jaki seemed both fragile and stern to me. She had very clipped, short hair; she was young, slender, and carried a briefcase. She was barely 20, I know now. I knew she had courage to come alone to see me in those racially tense times, when school integration was just beginning to happen in North Carolina; I had immediately become aware of the polarization of the races here. Everyone we met, black or white, had to know where we stood on ‘the racial question.” I passed Jaki’s test, and I genuinely liked her poetry. After she left, I looked across the fields to the edge of the woods, where the small white dogwood stood out, vulnerable, brave, and it seemed to me that that was the perfect image for how Jaki had affected me.

We too became friends. We also helped each other with our children, picking them up from daycare, and we shared each other’s emotional ups and downs. In 1977 she would write a poem for me, “Dead on Arrival,” in which she wrote: “… they asked me to identify/ the smile. /the smell/ the style of her art./ they asked for identity/ a season./ a year./ a place./ I could only give them/ the time of birth/ her astrological chartings/ and the names of her lovers…”. I remember my surprise when I read her poem that began with the line “the moon is a rapist peeing in my window.” I had never considered before that the moon could be ugly in any sense; I was steeped in the Western European tradition of the moon as a serene goddess, the moon as an accompaniment to romantic love. But for Jaki the moon was a white male face in the dark night, intent on violence. She and other black writers took on the job of educating me over the years. In January 1975, when I moved with my three children to Chase Park, as one of a minority of white families, I learned even more about the limitations of my “white liberal” understanding.

In 1973 I also received poems from Miranda Cambanis, a Greek poet in exile in Chapel Hill from the junta of those years. Miranda was also writing poems in English and she had found Hyperion in the Intimate Bookshop on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. I accepted some of her poems and then asked to meet her. Most of our friends lived in Chapel Hill and we often went there to shop or for the libraries. Miranda too became a friend. When Tim entered a nursery school for four-year-olds that met three mornings a week, in the fall of 1973, Miranda and I worked out a babysitting exchange. One of those three mornings I was Paint Mother at nursery school; on one I kept her two-year old Alexis, taking my one-year old Ginia with me, and on the third morning I left Ginia and had a few hours to myself. Miranda didn’t say a lot about what it had been like to be a young poet coming along during a modern Greek poetic renaissance; she had known Seferis, Elytis, and others. But her poems and the play she showed me, The Execution, told me a lot. I published the play in 1975 through Thorp Springs. Later, in 1986, I would publish her poems, The Traffic of the Heart.

One of my favorite poems of hers is about poetry and conjures up Miranda for me: passionate and elusive:

Poetry lives in perpetual insomnia
and not in damp houses with leaking roofs and hungry children
as has often been said by well paid intellectuals at cocktail parties,
wishing, in their drunkenness, to be poets with any other voice
except their own.
In these times of distress and improvisation,
when some are killed for only one night and others for an eternity
they don’t even want to know,
poetry lives in perpetual insomnia and stays away from sleeping pills
or promises of eternity or poems about herself.
Poetry is thin, with dark eyes and a hollow face that echoes all
the time without distinction. The distinction lies in her breasts that
are full of beat under her vague dress that changes colors according to the statements.
She never fails, grows old or dies but simply moves to the next place
when it is time to move, to slap, to love, to incorporate the unspoken
before it fades away unrecognized.
When poetry sleeps, she is fatally wounded. Her breasts lie still under
her red dress and her voice surrenders to inarticulate shrieks that freeze
the tears and put a gun on the temple of those who reject their own
heartbeat and believe they can cross reality when they can only lift it.
Poetry comes quickly to us, all of us, as a sin and as ecstasy,
without preparation or purpose or continuity, like a stray bullet from
the guts of a rock that managed to speak after centuries of silence.
Poetry does not protect herself but moves in and out of pain like a warrior
and like a woman who lost all of her sons in violence and is still
going through the shadows erect, strong, and justified, without hope and without death.
Poetry is the voice of those who refuse to forget their isolation,
and so she lives in perpetual insomnia like a captive snake before it surrenders.

(“Poetry,” The Traffic of the Heart, Carolina Wren Press, 1986, p. 11)

Miranda introduced me to a whole different way of using metaphors. Once she and I translated “Marina of the Rocks” by Odysseus Elytis, a favorite poem of hers. “You have a taste of tempest on your lips./ Where have you been all day long, lost/ in what harsh contemplation of stone and sea?” (Hyperion 13, Translation Issue, 1976, p. 242). It could have been written for her. It may have been!

In 1973 I went with my whole family to the COSMEP conference in New Orleans. There I met Anne Pride of the new feminist press, KNOW, in Pittsburgh; Jackie Eubanks, a Brooklyn librarian and feminist; and others in this renewed women’s movement. They were turning COSMEP upside down. Most of the little mag editors of the ’60s had been men, and they were generally anti-establishment and at odds with being too organized. The feminists were there to learn how to publish. They expected the organization to run well and be useful to them: they insisted on having babysitter support and putting women on panels, and being included in bull sessions. I was intimidated by them at first, but they gave me such support, holding my baby while I gave my first poetry reading. As I got to know them, they didn’t seem scary at all and I found that I, too, wanted to be a feminist. Two books I especially remember that KNOW, Inc. had published around that time, which I brought home with me, were The Politics of Housework and I’m Running Away from Home But I’m Not Allowed to Cross the Street. The latter book was about a woman who had seven or eight children. Even though I only had three children myself, I could identify with her.

One after-effect of that conference was that I organized a COSMEP South conference and drew about 30 people, including two young men, one of whom was Steve Hoffius, who had just done a Whole Earth Catalog and later worked for Southern Exposure; Ann Deagon; and Linda Brown Bragg, who wore a big Afro and had had a book of poems published by Broadside Press in Detroit, which was publishing a lot of black writers at that time. David Wilk also came. He was doing Truck magazine and later, in the early ‘80s, he became director of literature at the National Endowment for the Arts, after Len Randolph left. We met one fall weekend in 1974 in a large building off Fearrington Road in Durham. We had all brought sleeping bags and stayed overnight. The barbeque promised by the man we had rented the building from evaporated, and I was hustling to buy hot dogs and hamburgers and press my friends into helping with food at the last minute, but it all worked out. T.J. Reddy, with whom I’d been corresponding, sent a letter which I later published in Hyperion 12 (1975): “Although I am in no position to be with you because of the present state of affairs (leaving much to be desired in the way of freedom, justice, and equality), let me extend my appreciation for the consideration directed toward creative survival. Your interest is by no means taken for granted.” He wrote from Albemarle Prison.

Out of that conference grew a COSMEP South distribution project; in 1975 I became its coordinator and earned $2000 a year. Southern Poetry Review, St. Andrews Review, Truck, and other small presses and literary magazines sent books, and we did move some of them. It was always an uphill struggle though.

By 1974 I was also organizing readings at Somethyme Restaurant in Durham. I had read in the Durham Morning Herald of Terry Sanford, president of Duke University, and his openness to new ideas. I wrote to him and suggested that Duke have poets in residence. Gene Fowler, whom I’d met in Berkeley at Paul Foreman’s house in 1971, and Norm Moser, whom Paul was also publishing about that time, were the poets I had in mind. Both called themselves shaman poets, were in need of jobs, and were rather eccentric, to say the least. Terry Sanford replied and suggested I visit him to talk about it. I did. He listened, then turned me over to his “Radical-in-Residence” (his name for this person—remember this was 1974, and in the early 1970s most universities in the country had been in turmoil for years about something or other). This Radical very kindly took me to Somethyme for lunch and introduced me to Aden Field, who worked there. I never worked out the writer-in-residence program at Duke, but Aden later helped me set up a series of readings, mostly for new women writers. A group of Durham women were doing a Whole Women’s Catalog, and to support them I said we’d have a women’s reading. New women writers came out of the woodwork, women who were becoming poets partly because of their new-felt freedom to speak out, be themselves. They were gaining confidence in pursuing their own interests and talents because the women’s movement was making it possible.

The first reading set off others. Somethyme was owned by three people at the time, one of whom was Mary Bacon, who later opened Anotherthyme Restaurant a few blocks away. She used to stay until the end of the reading to hear my poems because I always read last. Many of those poems read at Somethyme found their way into Black Sun, New Moon (Hyperion 15, 1980), which was a gathering of women’s poetry from our area but also from around the country. New women poets were emerging everywhere. I quoted Esther Harding, a follower of Jung, in my introduction:
“As we have followed woman through the various vicissitudes of her life, the myth of womanhood, shrouded by the illusion of man’s anima which he has projected upon her, and which she has carried uncomplainingly through all the years of her unconsciousness, has faded, and the real woman as she is in herself has emerged. In so defining her personality she has released herself from the anima projection of the man; she has stripped herself as far as possible of the garment of glamor with which he has clothed her and has dared to reveal herself in her weakness and in her strength. Man’s illusion painted her in colors superhuman both in their brilliance and in their sombre tones. To him she has seemed divinely fair and demonically ugly. When she steps out into the light, she both loses and gains by the change. Formerly the effects she produced arose from the unconscious, either her own or the man’s and she could have little or no control over them. Now for the first time she is humanly responsible for her own qualities. If she sins, she can repent; if she does well, it is her own doing. It is, indeed, unquestionably a gain in psychological evolution, for by revealing herself as she is she has become a self-conscious individuality” (The Way of All Women, p. 300).

I also went to the COSMEP conference in New York City in the summer of 1974, taking Ginia, who was two, and riding with Norm Moser and his friend Jim Cody, in Norm’s ancient Chevrolet. It took us forever to get there, because Norm didn’t like interstate traffic and kept leaving I-85 and I-95 to follow Highway 1. But as we approached New York, we had to go on the New Jersey Turnpike. Norm couldn’t get his car up to the usual highway speed, despite his preference for the middle lane. It was a bit hairy when a fire engine sped by us on one side and a police car on the other, sirens blaring, but we made it. COSMEP met at Columbia that year, and this time there was babysitting for Ginia. I offered to be secretary and took copious notes, which were published in the COSMEP Newsletter; this may have been why someone nominated me for the board the following year.

In 1974, perhaps partly because of my increased community activity with readings, COSMEP South meetings, seeing poets, and my first creative writing class that fall through UNC Extension, called “Women as Writers, Thinkers, and Artists,” Terry and I had more and more conflict. He blamed the women’s movement for breaking up our marriage. But it wasn’t so simple. I don’t think I would have ever been happy just being wife and mother. And, though, he had never tried to keep me from writing and publishing or organizing readings, perhaps he didn’t like the results. At any rate, we separated in late 1974, when I moved with the children to Chase Park. He moved to Nature Trail Park, not far away, and we took turns having the children.

Then in 1975, at the summer COSMEP conference in Davis, California, I was elected to the board, coming in third of the seven elected. John Bennett had come in first and he was supposed to be the chair, but he quit because he couldn’t cope with the pressure within the small press ranks for more serious organization, especially distribution. Then Hugh Fox, who’d come in second, panicked at the thought of being chair and reminded us that he was going to Europe that year. That left me. There were now three women on the board (for the first time), the other two being Anne Pride and Mary MacArthur, who was doing Gallimaufry, a mag out of San Francisco; she later became director of the National Endowment for the Arts for awhile. We three met and consulted as to how to make COSMEP more effective. After word got out that we’d talked together, we were dubbed “The Feminist Conspiracy.” Once the men’s panic died down, we did quite well as a board and succeeded in getting an NEA grant to put “a van on the road,” the battle cry of small presses in those years. I administered the van project from Chapel Hill. We bought an old library bookmobile, painted it sky blue with fluffy clouds, parked it in Carrboro on a vacant lot where Wendy’s is now, and filled it with a thousand small-press books, but the tractor- trailer itself had one mechanical problem after another. It got to Charlotte and to the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, and that was about as far as it went. I learned a lot from that failure!

I did two other things in the fall of 1975 that are worth mentioning: I went to a COSMEP East conference at Temple University in Philadelphia, taking all three kids with me. I left Amy, who was 13, with an old friend in Baltimore, but I drove into downtown Philadelphia in my old red Plymouth Dodge late at night and found myself surrounded by the lighted up Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and other historic buildings, with Tim and Ginia asleep in the back seat. I did miraculously find the place where we were staying and could “crash.”

Back in Chapel Hill, Sherman Shelton, Jaki’s husband, had the idea that we should do another kind of crashing, so we “crashed” a meeting of the poets who would be teaching the Department of Public Instruction’s Poetry-in-the-Schools program for 1975-76. Sherman had been trying to get one of the Poetry-in-the-Schools jobs; he’d gone to the department and found out from the black secretary that there was a meeting about these jobs the next day. So we went. They didn’t dare turn us out, but I’d never felt so hated before. It shook me up. I remember Sherman trying to comfort me on the way home about being like a turtle. I believe his idea was mythic. The turtle wouldn’t be defeated in the long run. But at the meeting, poets I’d met and already published in Hyperion had glared at me or been supremely embarrassed. We were definitely not welcome and didn’t stay long. We’d made our point, however, and shortly thereafter that program was turned over the N.C. Arts Council and anyone could apply to be on a list of poets available to do Poetry-in-the-Schools work. I later learned from Len Randolph, the founder of the program, that North Carolina had been the last state to handle this type of program through the Department of Public Instruction. The rest did it through their arts councils.

Earlier in 1975 I had been allowed to do some work in the Hillsborough schools, but the administrator, a poet herself, told me that she wouldn’t let me teach kids above sixth grade because I was too associated with prison poets! She probably was thinking of T.J. Reddy; for sure she wasn’t going to risk my rocking her boat at the high-school level. So I told the fifth- and sixth-graders about T.J., how he was in prison for something he hadn’t done. A year or so later I had in my fourth-grade poetry class the daughter of our landlord farmer, who had finally kicked us out of his old farmhouse in 1974—two days after I wrote a review of T.J.’s first book in the Durham Morning Herald in which I called him a modern saint. This child’s best friend was black, which her parents probably didn’t know. I enjoyed the irony of that.

Meanwhile, Thorp Springs Press had been publishing the writers I was finding and being found by: Virginia Long Rudder (After the Ifaluk), Miranda Cambanis (The Execution, a play), and Tom Huey (This Life: A Salutation, a poem broadside for Amon). Hyperion 12 (1975) had in it Lance Jeffers, T.J. Reddy, Jaki and Sherman Shelton, Amon, Miranda, Mitchell Lyman, Roz Wolbarsht, Marion Phillips, and Mike Riggsby. By the end of 1975 I had promised to publish Liner’s Chrome Grass, Bill Herron’s American Peasant, and Mike Riggsby’s Milky Way Poems. That December, when Paul and Foster visited me, he suggested I start my own press, arguing that the audience for my authors was more in North Carolina. So, on January 1, 1976, I decided to begin Carolina Wren Press. I chose the name because I loved the bird, its liking to be near people, its cheerful, confident call (“cheering, cheering, cheering you!”; certainly not “teakettle, teakettle, teakettle!”), and the male wren, I had leaned, constructed four or five nests and then let the female choose the one she liked best.I also was very aware by then that there was an “in crowd” of literati in North Carolina, and a triumvirate of respected literary men: Guy Owen, who edited Southern Poetry Review; Thad Stem of Oxford; and Sam Ragan, who edited The Pilot in Southern Pines. Charlene Whisnant had previously challenged their hegemony, and I had found myself surrounded by the writers who couldn’t break into the inner circle these three dominated. These men were good people, but their vision was limited as to what poetry could be and could express and who the important poets were. They seemed out of touch with all the new voices rising around me. So having ‘Carolina’ in the name of the press appealed to me. My writers were also important to North Carolina, and the South, even if the Carolina Quarterly (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s mag) and Southern Poetry Review wouldn’t publish them. They were a motley crew: African-Americans; new women writers; Amon Liner, who was extremely innovative; and some who were on the fringe—as was I—just because we were not from the South. All of us were intensely committed writers, with vision, with a lot to say to our audience. But we weren’t writing in the standard academic mold of a lyric poem organized around one central image.

A symptom of the way I felt was in my dedication of Hyperion 16, the special Southern issue and our last, which finally was published in 1980. I dedicated it to Amon Liner (1940-1976) and to T.J. Reddy (1945- ): “two outstanding Southern gentlemen.” There I was trying to break down stereotypes again!

In 1976 I was living on food stamps and in subsidized housing, plus receiving free daycare for Ginia under Title XX as I made my way back into the job market. The COSMEP conference was in Austin, Texas that year; and Paul organized it with other Austin area writers and editors. This time I went alone (Terry took the children to the West Coast to see his parents). It was a lively, warm, funny conference; I remember that we all broke up laughing when I described our new van project and told the assembled editors and writers that we’d all get to know each other better if we ate and slept together. There was also a woman there urging us to learn accounting so we could turn our liabilities into assets. I can’t say that I ever learned exactly how this worked, though I did learn how to keep books. But Paul revealed his own economic approach to book publishing when he claimed it only cost $.60 a book, and his wife, Foster, immediately contradicted him. His reply was that he had to believe it cost $.60 a book in order to keep publishing. I also remember vividly Len Randolph holding up a copy of the cover of Chrome Grass, talking about this new press, Carolina Wren, and how strange that felt, and how good. It was real. I was a publisher!

Sadly, when I got home to Chapel Hill, I learned that Amon had just died the day before. His book had just arrived from the printer.

Our next book was Mike Riggsby’s Milky Way Poems. Mike was a self-proclaimed street poet. For some time Paul Foreman had been publishing Julia Vinograd, Berkeley’s street poet, who sold well. He called her books his “bread and butter” books. As I was to do with all our writers, I let Mike have his books at 50% discount, which meant $1 each. He’d go out and sell them at varying prices, apparently, depending on his customers’ ability to pay. He was a fan of Jim Morrison and Ezra Pound (“Pound on, Ezra!”). Mike was irrepressible and a skilled con artist. He would call me up and say, “Judy, I want to come over and fix you a nice chicken dinner, with milk gravy and biscuits.” Then, after I agreed, he’d tell me that all I had to do was buy the chicken, etc. He would cook it. Later, when the director of the Southern Historical Collection at UNC Library got interested in acquiring Carolina Wren poets’ papers, Mike managed to get $200 for his collected papers (literally, poems written on paper bags and scraps of paper) by telling the negotiator that he was dying of cancer. He was a cheerful soul and loved me in his way. I did gradually learn to draw boundaries with Mike and other poets, too.

In 1977 I put three books into print: Jaki Shelton’s Dead on Arrival, Bill Herron’s American Peasant, and Eat Your Natchos, an anthology of poets who had been at the Austin COSMEP conference in 1976. Loom Press was printing the books, which were saddle-stitched (stapled). Natchos was supposed to be a money-maker for COSMEP, but I priced it at $3, and the 300 copies cost me $900. Bookstores take a 30-40% discount; and there’s the cost of postage to mail the books to reviewers and buyers. I didn’t even break even, which Len Fulton, the editor of The International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses, had said was heaven for us small publishers, but I learned to price better.

Although I had talked Jaki into giving me her fee from the radio program Louise Cleveland produced of Carolina Wren poets in 1977 for WUNC-FM, toward the cost of publishing her book, and Bill Herron contributed to his book, I was still short more than $1000 on printing bills at the end of 1977, and I had to pay Loom Press over a year or so at $100/month, rather painfully in those days. The New Voices radio programs celebrated Jaki, Amon (we talked to his mother and some other writers who had known him), Miranda, T.J., Virginia Rudder, Mike, and Bill Herron.

It wasn’t until 1978 that I got my first N.C. Arts Council grant for $1000 and was able to publish in 1979 Tom Huey’s Forcehymn, begun and dedicated to Amon before he died and finished afterward. I had formed by this time a nonprofit corporation and gotten IRS tax-exempt status, not easy to do for a publisher. I’d attended a conference in the Midwest that explored the choice—nonprofit or for-profit—for small publishers. I assessed all my motives as being nonprofit, i.e., serving the public. I could take a salary as a nonprofit’s editor, but I usually put money into Carolina Wren out of my meager funds rather than the other way around. I was eventually able to get other kinds of grants for Carolina Wren, which paid me to do projects (distribution, book reviews, teaching), but I never received much money to edit.

Books I’d promised to publish accumulated, and I chipped away at getting them into print: Rose, A Color of Darkness by Amon Liner, Poems in One Part Harmony by T.J. Reddy; Rituals of Our Times by Bill Herron, all in 1980, when I finally received my first NEA small-press grant. I had held off from applying until I finished my term as chair of COSMEP. I wrote an article for Southern Exposure’s Southern Literature issue in 1981, and some of what I said there expresses pretty succinctly what I was about in those years.

Writers, like hobos, are mavericks by and large: a bit at odds with society in one way or another, unconventional in their hearts and minds, whatever their clothes, job, income or style of living might suggest. Fairly early, I realized that when you publish, you don’t just publish the work, you publish the writer. You don’t just go through someone else’s orchard picking the best specimens; you feed the tree, you prune, you worry over the harvest; and only then, when all you’ve worked toward matures, do you get involved in selling the fruit, persuading other people that this writer is going to be important to their lives.

If you wonder why I keep doing it—why I’ve dug my heels in even more deeply—I guess I’d have to say I do it because my desire to do something that is both for the world and in the world can be best expressed by publishing. I’ll write myself and hope to see my work in print. But publishing is a very social act–an act, for me, of social change.

I like a term from accounting lingo: accrue. Little by little, good things accrue. You keep a fire going long enough, and people will come to you. The word spreads, when the news is good, by all sorts of methods that defy the big media and their pressures and their increasingly heinous tactics…

People want words that help them live and understand their lives. And that’s the main reason the large publishers are failing, because they’ve lost touch with that… Small outfits like Carolina Wren are doing more and more of the real work that keeps a culture’s life alive. We’re working with the writers, helping them pick their best work, keeping them writing in a period when there’s seldom an opportunity for new writers to make much money from their writing. We’re getting the new work into print: almost all the important new poetry and fiction is coming out of the small presses (Southern Exposure: Celebrating Southern Literature. Vol. XI, no. 2., Summer 1981, pp. 92-96).

Between 1976 and 1991, the books poured out. I was aiming for more than I averaged: two a year over fifteen years. Others I published:
Black Sun, New Moon. Hyperion 15. Special Women’s Issue. 1980.
Focus South. Hyperion 16. Special Southern Issue. 1980.
The Light of the Red Horse. Paul Newman. 1981
The House Within Me: Poems from Little River School. Edited by Lisa Creed. 1981.
Brinktown. Novel by Sharon Ramirez. 1981.
Quiet Poems. Gene Fowler. 1982.
Bombs. Short stories by Randee Russell. 1982.
Wind Over Ashes. Leonard Randolph. 1982.
The Far Journey and Final End of Dr. Faustwitz, Spaceman. Vol. I. Amon Liner. 1983.
Dead on Arrival and New Poems. Jaki Shelton Green. 1983.
Plum Blossom. Translations of Li Ch’ing-Chao by Jim Cryer. 1984.
Elmatha’s Apology. Play by Rebecca Ransom. 1984.
Rainbow Roun Mah Shoulder. Novel. Winner of the first Minority Book Prize.Linda
Brown Bragg. 1984.
Roadmap. 1984
The Traffic of the Heart. Miranda Cambanis. 1986
A Living Culture in Durham. An Anthology of Durham Area Writers. 1987.
The Far Journey and Final End of Dr. Faustwitz, Spaceman. Vol. II. Amon Liner. 1987.
The Boy Toy. Phyllis Hacken Johnson. Lollipop Power. 1988.
Watering the Roots in a Democracy: A Manual on How to Teach Writing in the Public
Judy Hogan. NEH-funded. 1989.
Love, or a Reasonable Facsimile. Novel by Gloree Rogers. Second Minority Book
Prize. 1989.
Brother’s Keeper, Sister’s Child. Margaret Stephens. 1989.
This Road Since Freedom. C. Eric Lincoln. 1990.
Letter in a Bottle. Letters between Graham Campbell and Elaine Goolsby. 1991.
The Only Thing I Fear Is a Cow and a Drunken Man. Mary Kratt. 1991

One thing I learned early was the importance of book design. Even before I began hiring David Southern directly, he had been doing some of my books for Loom Press, and his wife, Susan, was typesetting them. He did wonderful designs, and Susan’s work was impeccable. Their fees were very reasonable, too. They lived simply in an old house in rural Durham County, and I used to enjoy my visits there. They both cared deeply about literature and making beautiful books.

Late in the 1980s, at the home of some mutual Durham friends, I met Martha Scotford Lange, now Martha Scotford, and I found out that she taught design at NCSU in the Design School and wanted to design books as a volunteer. By 1989 she and/or her students were designing most Carolina Wren books. She was a steady and supportive presence on the board, too, and continued to work with the press after I left.

A word about the first two minority book contests which Carolina Wren sponsored. The original one, held in 1983, with the winner, Linda Brown Bragg’s Rainbow Roun Mah Shoulder coming out in 1984, grew out of a conference of the N.C. Cultural Arts Coalition, held at Johnson C. Smith in Charlotte. By then T.J. was out of prison (he had been since the late ‘70s and had helped coordinate the COSMEP book van’s visit to Charlotte), and he had helped organize the Cultural Arts Coalition and was its first staff person. I was asked to give a workshop at the conference on publishing and the Charlotte area writers clustered around me, telling me their frustrations with getting published, both in magazines and in books. Callaloo was having a contest that year and they were all entering it. It occurred to me that minority book contest would help connect these African American writers with their audience, so I proposed a joint sponsorship with the Coalition and for the winning book to be announced at their spring 1984 conference. I said I’d find the money but I’d need their help in getting out the word in North Carolina. I also asked them to choose two judges, and I’d be the third. Jerry W. Ward, Jr., then at Tougaloo in Mississippi,and Sondra O’Neale, then at Emory in Atlanta, joined us at the conference at Fayetteville State. We’d all read the manuscripts ahead of time. We had about six that had come in, some quite strong. They were submitted anonymously. We were all independent thinkers, but we came together fairly easily to choose Rainbow, even though it wasn’t completely finished.

One powerful memory from that conference was that, when we were all leaving, the judges and I, my car battery was dead. Sondra and her husband jump-started my car, and I drove all the way home from Fayetteville to Chapel Hill on a jump. I pulled into one small gas station, left the engine running, explained to the man that I couldn’t stop the engine, and begged him to let me get gas. He filled it up without a qualm, and I went on my way.

Linda did finish Rainbow in time and I was especially proud of that book. I loved its exploration of a very human woman as spiritual healer. Linda, too, became a good friend. She now holds an endowed chair at Bennett College in Greensboro, which was the inspiration for the fictional college in the book.

In 1988 I again summoned cooperation for another minority book prize. Jerry Barrax at NCSU had become the Editor of Obsidian II, and they co-sponsored it. Again the judges were Jerry and Sondra. The winner, Gloree Rogers, was a Durham writer I’d had in my classes and also helped in library consultations. Gloree had been handicapped from birth and told essentially her own story through the novel form. I knew it still had some weak spots, and I had to step back from casting a vote, but they both wanted it as the prize book. Gloree and I then spent more time making the book stronger. Sondra and Jerry gave us both a long list of African American books by women to read. Gloree’s was indeed a story she had to tell. Jerry wrote for the back cover: “Love, or a Reasonable Facsimile is a necessary work. We have a continuing need for books that detail the thoughts, problems and experience of people we find it convenient to shut out of our lives. It is the experience of people in the American society who are very much ignored. This book finds a voice for these people and for black American women.”

Based on Jerry’s enthusiasm for the final book, he recommended me to Helen Otho at St. Augustine’s College, who offered me the job of creating a Creative Writing Department in 1990, but I didn’t have a master’s and the college needed that credential. But in 2004 I was hired by this same college to teach Reading and Comprehension, and for that I didn’t need a master’s. I like the work very much, and it’s the right time in my life to do it.

Early in the fall of 1980 I ran into Cindy Paris in a Durham business-machine store. Neither she nor I went any longer to the poetry group where we’d first become acquainted in 1972 (it later became known as the Friday Noon Poets), but she remembered my feeling for poems and my supportive feedback. She had a new job at the Durham Library in Project Lift, and she said, “We’ll have to get you into the library as a Writer-in-Residence.” Meantime, she arranged for me to teach a Continuing Education class through Durham County Schools at Githens Junior High. The following spring she sent me to a N.C. Humanities Council grant workshop to write a grant to give a writing course in the library. It had to involve humanities themes (the meaning of life and/or literature) and also humanists. Usually humanists are university professors with Ph.D.s. Fortunately, N.C.H.C. was flexible. My almost-Ph.D. in Classics qualified me as an Independent Humanist. Published writers could qualify too. I had always wanted to get writers to read good books and had been shaped a lot by Ezra Pound’s ideas in ABC of Reading. So I designed “A Roadmap to Great Literature for New Writers.” In that first course, funded and offered in the fall of 1981 in the Stanford Warren branch of the Durham County Library, formerly the “black” library, I insisted my students read all of The Iliad, The Odyssey, some Sappho, Catullus, Propertius, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Dante’s Inferno, and a good part of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The article telling about the course emphasized that it was being taught by a local publisher and was for out-of-school adults between the ages of 30 and 60. My being a publisher was the main draw, but here we’d hoped for 8-10 people and we had 70 turn up the first night. I was floored and the NCHC director was very excited. “A lighthouse program!” he exclaimed when I called to tell him. I allowed 20 in the workshop following the lectures. The NCHC found money so I could offer a second section of the workshop. I kept the pressure on those in the workshops to read the books and write the assignments based on the books, or lose their places. The 16 who did make it all the way through that first course felt like veterans. They wrote wonderfully by the end. My theory that all that reading would definitely improve their writing proved true. They learned technique at a less literal level, and their feeling for the important human themes and content was reinforced amazingly. Then I was able to get a spring course funded.

Eight years later, in 1989, I had grant money and time to write and publish a book about the courses. I quoted from the 1-cent stamp of the period: “The ability to write: a root of democracy:” “Laughter has been perhaps the single most important ingredient in what my students by 1986 were beginning to call ‘the recipe.’ I guess I knew I was winning what has been at times a very tough fight to keep the Roadmap program alive when my students began to tell each other about ‘the recipe.’

By then I was able to tell them that I had seen people even I didn’t think could turn into very good writers astound me with how fast they improved just by doing what I said: reading the books, studying and thinking about them, coming to lectures which helped them understand and interpret them and make connections to their own lives, and doing the weekly writing assignments…
They have been as varied in background, cultural, and philosophical points of view, in jobs, education, and age as one can imagine. But, scarcely realizing what exactly they were looking for, they were, I sensed early, in addition to wanting to develop their writing, out looking for ‘something more.’ …. there was a largely inarticulate longing for better structures of meaning, better ways than they had of understanding and interpreting their own life experiences…
It was very important that they were active, engaged participants. We all talked; we all wrote; we heard each other’s writing. They learned as much from each other’s stories—both the suffering and the transcendent joy—as from the classics. But the classics helped them, I now understand better than ever, re-find what so many people in our country have lost, or are confused about: an image of man, of woman—of human being—that is timeless, generous, worthwhile, and helpful to live with and by.

They learned to go from framework to framework, universe to universe, and it meant they had to see their own framework, or lack of it, differently. They had to make new choices about what they believed about life, their lives, human nature, what human beings are capable of for good and evil….

My students have… given me amazing tribute in their letters and comments. I’ve been called a ‘pagan priestess,’ compared to Athena helping them realize they were in fact on Ithaca; they have conjured Athena as a Carolina wren urging them to get busy with their writing; I’ve been compared to Martin Luther King in my action as a catalyst in the community; even compared to Virgil leading them as Dantes through literature (the history of literature apparently having formerly been as daunting as an inferno!). They have especially commented on my propensity to get them ‘off their asses,’ and the very first class gave me a lovely pottery cup, with a picture of Penelope at a loom with various epithets of her and the usual adjectives in Greek on the cup, but with a whip painted on the handle” (Watering the Roots in a Democracy, 1989, pp. 5-8).

Of course, doing the library classes through the 1980s turned up more writers to publish, and many of them went into print in A Living Culture in Durham and Watering the Roots in a Democracy. The NCHC-funded classes also gave me a living wage. I emerged from poverty briefly, especially during the NEH years (1986-89). The classes took a lot of time, for I did most of the lectures and read all the students’ work. I gave free writing consultations, too, in the three libraries I eventually worked in (Durham main downtown, Stanford Warren, and May Memorial in Burlington). I wrote, administered, publicized, and reported on all the grants, and they didn’t always come. I was scrambling at times. Sometimes Carolina Wren and I were broke at the same time. 1984 was an especially hard year. I had had NCHC grants 1981-84 (spring), and then they told me to apply to NEH. I did in 1985, but they turned me down for the fall of 1985. They said they didn’t believe my students actually read those books. I was incensed. I had received a one-time grant from the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation in 1985, and when I told Mary Semans about the NEH rejection, she said, “Try again.” The second time I received the grant for the fall of 1986, with the requirement that I have an evaluator, and I was able, through Daphne Athas, a professor of creative writing at UNC-CH, to find Townsend Ludington, who was head of American Studies in the English Department at UNC. He visited my classes in both Durham and Burlington and gave me high marks. I remember one class in Burlington, when my audience of six or so wasn’t very responsive. I asked them if they had any questions about the book. No. About the author? No. “About anything?” I asked rather desperately, since Towny was visiting. No. He said, “It’s okay, Judy.” I’d convinced him by then that my program was working.

The combination of teaching, publishing, and doing the community organizing, including readings and signings, to draw people to the classes and sell the books as they came out, meant that the word spread about me as a teacher and editor and about the books. Ten years after I’d started the press and fifteen years after I’d moved to the state, sales were definitely up. And either I, the books, or the classes were featured in many local newspaper articles through those years. And volunteers! The writers came to my house to do bulk mailings of catalogs; they helped get publicity out, and they filled orders. They offered ideas, and in that difficult summer of 1984, they sent money. I was desperate. No money for me or the press. I wrote friends, writers I’d published, students, and asked for money, and I got $2000, which did tide me and Carolina Wren over.

When I sent Rainbow Roun Mah Shoulder to the printer in 1984, the last book of the NEA grant in 1983, I did not have the money to pay the printer. I ended up matching that $6000 grant with another $12,000, or 2 to 1. And Rainbow became our best seller, going through four print runs and selling 5000 copies before it was picked up by Ballantine of Random House. As Rainbow’s sales flowed in (it got good reviews in library media, and Linda herself sold it everywhere she went, at academic and women’s conferences), I paid myself back for money I’d loaned Carolina Wren. We paid the printer on time, and I kept my good credit arrangements with them. At times I felt like a venture capitalist as I shifted money around to meet the most pressing needs. I remember that when the check finally arrived from the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation for the Roadmap class they funded, it was just before the gas would have been cut off.

I was passionate about the importance both of the press’s work and teaching classics to new writers. I also realized something in those years. Once I care, I fight and work toward the realization of what I believe is important, and over and over again, my passionate persistence was able to bring to fruition what I believed should happen.

In the meantime, I’d also joined with others in 1983-84 to launch the N.C. Writers’ Network, and between 1984 and 1987, I was its first chair. Until that organization could get on its feet and get its nonprofit status, Carolina Wren accepted the NEA and NCAC salary and program grants.

In 1985 I learned that the Durham Arts Council (DAC) was an old downtown building. I applied for affiliate status, with their encouragement, and was accepted. I realized, when they introduced me to the full council, part of the reason they wanted me. True, Carolina Wren rounded out the arts organizations they supported. They had the Durham Choral Society, Durham Theater, Young People’s Performing Arts Company, Durham Symphony, Durham Art Guild, and the Savoyards (Gilbert and Sullivan), but they also needed to show they supported minority artists in a city that was half African American, and Carolina Wren did. This meant Carolina Wren would have an office and storage space when the new building opened.

But although the DAC dispensed some operating money, they also put limits on fund-raising activities by affiliates. This seemed unfair to me and some other affiliate groups. We were doing most of the programming at that point, and they pointed to our activities when they raised money, but we weren’t supposed to go ourselves to private donors or local foundations. So we had some affiliate revolt, and I was seen as the ring leader and chief troublemaker.

When the new building finally opened and a ball was held to celebrate it, I invited as my guest an elderly black man, Welford Wilson, who’d moved to Durham and joined the class I was giving for black writers in the Warren library. Welford had been a great source of moral support when I got discouraged. He was up for this bold move. A mutual friend, Kirsten Mullen, who later held the job of Literature Program Director at the NCAC from 2001 to 2003, helped us get ourselves fixed up, and off we went. I still depend on Welford’s legacy of unfailing optimism: “Whenever people are involved, there is always hope for change.” He had spent his life as a union organizer, and his mother had warned him against ever going into the South. He’d had a stroke in his 60s that put him in a coma for months, but he’d recovered both speech and mobility and spent a lot of his time and energy in his 70s helping me. I believe he was the only African American present that night of the ball, or one of the very few.

Finally, in 1988, when I applied to DAC for a loan to reprint Living Culture, the council itself began to understand what an asset I really was to them and the community. I had turned in, with my application, a copy of Townsend Ludington’s evaluation letter to the NEH at the end of my first NEH grant, and they were astonished to learn how highly he thought of my teaching work. I also got a second and two-year NEH grant, and by the spring of 1988 a salary grant from NCAC and was able to hire my first office manager at 3/4 time, Lucy Lewis, to run the office and help with all the tasks of the press, which I had always done myself or portioned out to volunteers.

Two years earlier, in 1986, Lollipop Power, a feminist collective that had been publishing nonsexist, multiracial books for children since the early ‘70s, decided to dissolve its corporation and cease publication. They had to turn their assets over to another nonprofit, and Carolina Wren was their first choice. I accepted and asked Margaret Stephens, who’d been filling orders for me and was pregnant with her first child, if she’d like to be Lollipop Power editor. For me, having young children and publishing went well together; you had something to think about and contact with other adults while you were more confined at home. She agreed. And, since Lollipop’s books were still selling and they still had some cash on hand, Margaret even got paid a small salary.

In 1989, when I was writing the book about the Roadmap classes and offering this model to libraries, I was very aware of the community of writers, diverse and very human, whom I had collected around me. I called it a “gift-giving circle,” a la Lewis Hyde in his book The Gift. I also tried to articulate the strategies I’d used and the leadership model which I believed was essentially new as far as the conscious awareness of how a woman’s leadership style might differ from a man’s. I articulated what I’d figured out in an essay called: “How I See Myself as a Mother Leader,” which was published by Mt. Olive Review in their Winter-Spring 1995-96 issue, pp. 351-359. I described the strategies I’d become aware that I used to accomplish things: intuition, self-revelation, developing and working within a matrix or territory (this becomes a community), going with what I have and doing a good job, no matter how few the people or slim the resources, meeting people where they are, keeping my morale up, supporting and nurturing others, enhancing communication, networking, using the weapon of saying aloud what people are thinking but not saying; fighting by putting my defenses down rather than up. I had also become aware that the secret of how I got people to do things and got us all to work together was that I was able to love and enjoy a lot of different people, often very different from each other. I could “see” them and appreciate them. Even some rather difficult personalities hung onto me when I gave them boundaries because they knew they were difficult and appreciated that I hadn’t rejected them outright. I also treated everyone well: rich, poor, friend, stranger. When you meet a new person, you simply don’t know all that they might be able to give to your cause if they come to trust and believe in you.

By 1989, 13 different Carolina Wren books had been chosen by NEA to take to the Frankfurt International Book Fair as good examples of what small literary presses in the U.S. were doing: poetry by Jaki, Amon, T.J., and many others among the 33 books I’d been responsible for putting into print were chosen. Thirteen in three years of small press exhibits. Not bad.
In 1988, when I decided, not to “kill” my small press, as another writer had written she was going to do (the woman editor of Lame Johnny Press in South Dakota), but to give it away, it was a flourishing small press, with a growing national, even international, reputation. Our focus had been on women and black writers, but we’d published an eclectic group of writers, including white men, and though we hadn’t pushed this in so many words, several of our authors were gay. It’s not coincidence that when my children were almost all gone from the nest, I was ready to let go of being an editor, publisher, and president of the board. I was 51 in 1988, and my life was stressful, with long hours doing too many jobs. Plus, I wanted more time for my own writing.

Still, it wasn’t easy for me or the press to separate. The press had been my baby, even if it had become a large community of people. We decided to get help from a consultant that had worked with DAC. In the early spring of 1990, we gathered the Carolina Wren board of directors and Shelley Day, the staff person who had replaced Lucy, and discussed the fate of the press. I’d realized, meantime, that I couldn’t give away the work unless I gave away the power. Elaine Goolsby had become the editor, and others were taking on specific jobs, but they all still depended on me for grant writing, solving many of the problems, and summoning our lively corps of volunteers.

What I remember about that day is that the consultant asked me to leave while the others decided whether or not to keep Carolina Wren going. I walked around outside for the half hour or so that it took them to decide, that, yes, they would continue. I was so happy and grateful to them. Then my transition of letting go began in earnest. My last big project was the Tell Me A Story That’s True conference at NCCU in June 1991, which focused on women’s narratives and was designed to accompany the publication of two new books: Elaine Goolsby’s Letter in a Bottle and Mary Kratt’s The Only Thing I Fear is a Cow and a Drunken Man, which Elaine edited. I had tried to get an North Carolina Arts Council grant for Letter in a Bottle the year before and been told they couldn’t support a nonfiction book—only poetry and fiction, despite the NEA funding creative nonfiction at the time. I protested and gave them good reasons to change their rules, which they did a couple of years later. But meantime I had a book to get out. I remember that getting the news about the unavailability of the grant funds was like a kick in the stomach. But I’d had so many over the years that I didn’t spend much time stewing about it.

I’d become convinced, partly through reading Carolyn Heilbrun’s book Writing a Woman’s Life, that many stories about women’s lives were not yet in texts. So I came up with the idea of having a celebratory conference on the importance of women’s narratives. The idea was so timely that many pieces fell together with relative ease. I had once again been a Sartre “genius,” a definition I found in Writing a Woman’s Life: “one who invents in desperate circumstances.” We called together women’s studies people and other activists in the Triangle area, met and planned this conference for a year. We offered it free to women interested in either women’s written narratives or oral histories. Our committee included black and white women; our site was NCCU, and Paulette Bracey of the Library School there was on our board and helped with campus arrangements. Many women studies’ scholars, oral historians, and writers in the Triangle area gave workshops. The Women’s Studies Department at Duke was especially supportive. The Duke library’s Manuscript Collection had just bought the Carolina Wren archive, plus my own papers, 20 years of my dairies, and my small press collection. Carolyn Heilbrun even met with us that spring when she was in Durham for a big conference at Duke.

I remember telling an auditorium of 600 women and a few men that the stories they were writing down were an important part of the human record, and there seemed to flow from that group a huge wave of happy enthusiasm. We had a wonderful T-shirt which we sold, but I hadn’t felt rich enough to buy one. One of the conference women bought one for me. We had a reading by Mary Kratt and a dramatic reading of some of the letters in Elaine’s book.

In short, it was a day to rejoice in, and we made enough money in grant support for the conference and book sales to pay for the books. The conference itself was free, but it generated its own momentum in income. One of the women on the conference planning committee was Sonja Stone, a professor at UNC-CH. She also joined the board that spring. She and I really connected, and then shortly after the conference, she died suddenly of an aneurism. She was in her early 50s, as was I. She was memorialized at UNC by having the new black cultural center named after her, and later by Carolina Wren in having the minority book prize named for her.

The hardest part of letting go of Carolina Wren for me was losing the voice the press had been. But once I realized that, I also realized that it was time, past time, to speak more in my own voice through my writings.

The Carolina Wren years taught me a great deal about people, about myself, about how to bring to reality dreams you have dreamed and visions you have seen. Late in 1989 and early in 1990 I began, as time permitted, to write a short book for those who would carry on Carolina Wren, trying to articulate what I had done and how I had done it:

Things come down to nothingness all the time, and you have to build them back. That sentence, which I recognized immediately as the opening sentence of the book I wanted to write, came to me when I wasn’t even thinking about writing on December 3. I was worrying rather about how I was going to pull Carolina Wren out of its financial crisis, like a rabbit out of the hat, one more time…
There weren’t models to speak of when I began Carolina Wren. That’s why it was hard. But I had already begun to try. Like seeing a job advertised in the newspaper for which you have all the qualifications even though you never did that exact job before, I knew I could do this even though I hadn’t yet attacked it directly and head on…
I used to suffer the nothing a lot more. I see it and feel it right now, when everything feels fragile again, but I know I won’t feel fragile or hopeless for very long. A dialogue goes on in me all the time, and I keep weaving on a loom inside me and in my actual life where I once had nothing, only air. At times I still feel the nothing; how it all goes back to air—to string; it all unravels. But also I weave again and fill the spaces. It is easier now in 1989 than it was in 1975. ..
There’s a new coffee-maker, too, given to me by a writing student, I think because I told my class that the only time I had ever wanted a servant was when I read about how Trollope had a manservant whom he paid an extra five pounds a year to make and bring him coffee at 5 a.m. so he could get up and write. Now I have a Trollope manservant in the form of a coffee-maker. I plug it in near my bed and turn it on when my alarm goes off, and it will brew me coffee to help me get out of bed. I won’t have much time, but a little these days, so I’ll see what I can do about this book. Call it a woman’s political narrative. Call it A Visitation of Geese. Call it how I became “a genius” by “inventing in desperate circumstances.” Call it what you will. I am writing it because the first line arrived, the Trollope manservant arrived, and because one of my Carolina Wren board members said she wanted books about strong women for Christmas, and she told me I am a model for her. With that much encouragement, how can I refuse to plunge in and do my best?
(from Chapter 1, A Visitation of Geese, unpublished)

January 19, 2006
Moncure, NC


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