Perugia Press Turns Twenty

Perugia Press Turns Twenty:
Celebrating Milestones with our Local Community

Susan Kan

By Susan Kan and Rebecca Hart Olander

For 20 years, Perugia Press has published the best new woman poet each year—the winner of our annual, national contest that draws more than 500 yearly submissions. Our aim is to produce beautiful books that interest long-time readers of poetry and welcome those new to poetry, and to give a leg-up to women at the beginning of their publishing careers.

The press began as a one-book experiment, and we have gone on to produce books that earned nationwide acclaim. Many Perugia Press poets have published additional books, won poetry prizes, and been hired to teach college-level creative writing. Excellence comes this way: one book at a time. Read more of our story here.

On November 12th, Perugia Press will celebrate its 20th anniversary with an afternoon of free, drop-in, poet-led workshops and conversations, and a reunion reading in the evening. At that time, founding director Susan Kan will step down, and the new director, Rebecca Hart Olander, will formally take over. This year, 2016, is momentous for Perugia Press.

Why is the anniversary of Perugia Press important to our local writing community? Why is it important that Perugia Press is based here?

As Chase Twichell says in her blurb for our commemorative anthology, Brilliance, Spilling (to be released at our anniversary events), “In the last few decades, the publishing of poetry has gone through a seismic shift. Although the big commercial houses still publish a few volumes, it’s small presses like Perugia Press that are doing the essential work of scouting out the best new poetry and bringing it into the world. The future of American poetry literally depends on this kind of dedication and effort.”

For a small press to survive and thrive is what we’re celebrating. For the local community of writers and readers of poetry, this means access to an established, mature resource, a bank of knowledge about publishing. Although Perugia Press doesn’t specialize in publishing local writers, we are firmly rooted in this community, and benefit greatly from it. Likewise, the community benefits from having us here. We bring our award-winning poets to the area for readings, and the valley shows up to listen. With our poets comes a network; they serve as ambassadors for the press, taking news of this amazing community back home with them. We invite local poets to participate in this sisterhood.

When Nikky Finney lived in Northampton—as the poet-in-residence at Smith College—she became a friend of the press, participating in the judging day for our contest and reading twice with our poets, once with Lynne Thompson, another time with Nancy Pearson. At the reading with Nancy, she noted that the audience was lining the staircase leading to the full room. She said we needed to take this in, that most towns and cities across the country don’t have our appetite for poetry, don’t spill out of rooms to listen to it.

We thank our community by offering, on November 12th, an opportunity to sit down with us and our poets to find out how a small press works, what our poets are thinking about, and have questions answered about submitting manuscripts to poetry contests and book publishing.

Susan Kan is the director of Perugia Press. She founded the press in 1997 and is proud of the work she has done to bring women’s writing to the forefront year after year. She looks forward to continuing to serve on the board of Perugia Press.

Rebecca Hart Olander is the incoming director of Perugia Press, as well as an instructor of writing at Westfield State University. After serving on the board of Perugia Press, and as a judge and screener of manuscripts, she is thrilled to be taking the helm of the press as it moves into its next phase.

Note: See the Straw Dog Bulletin Board for details about the Perugia Press anniversary celebration on November 12th, along with area readings on the 10th and 15th of November featuring Perugia Press poets.

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