Oregon Literary Fellowship Spotlight: Forest Avenue Press

Throughout May and June, we’re highlighting each of the 2014 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipients on our blog. Applications for the 2015 Oregon Literary Fellowships are online now. Applications are due in our office by Friday, June 27, 2014. For more information about how to apply, contact Susan Denning at susan@literary-arts.org.

Forest Avenue Press of Portland is a 2014 recipient for an Oregon Literary Fellowship in publishing.

About: Founded in 2012 in Portland, Oregon, Forest Avenue Press publishes quiet novels for a noisy world. They are known for lovely covers, working with local artists, and publishing and promoting Oregon writers. Laura Stanfill is the founder and publisher, and Gigi Little is the graphic designer. Click here for their current catalog of titles.


What is your mission? 

Our mission is “Quiet books for a noisy world.” As a regional, homegrown press, we work to publish, promote, and celebrate Oregon authors. Our events-based philosophy encourages people to visit their local bookstores instead of buying titles online. While we love offering a home for Oregon writers’ work, what drives us is wanting to connect more regional writers and readers to each other. We want to contribute to the local literary conversation–to ignite that conversation–at bookstores here in the state and beyond.

What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship? 

The funding has been a wonderful benefit, but we’re most grateful for the recognition. Two years ago, when I founded Forest Avenue Press, we threw ourselves into a crowded literary marketplace where the majority of readers (and reviewing agencies) favor the established New York presses, and where independent publishing efforts often vary in quality. Proving yourself as a small press is definitely about the books–the quality of the writing, the editing, the covers, the interior design, the blurbs–but it takes more than those things to get noticed, because there are so many good books out there.

Winning a 2014 Oregon Literary Fellowship has given us a huge boost, strengthening our statewide reputation and showing we’re serious about publishing Oregon writers. We cite the award in every press release, letter, and bookseller outreach email. It’s part of our platform now. We’re not just another startup press with lofty goals; we’re a press that has been awarded an Oregon Literary Fellowship. Since the announcement, we’ve seen better bookseller response, an increase in requests for review copies, growing social media numbers, and a more geographically diverse slush pile.

What projects are you currently working on? 

We’re organizing a number of summer events to celebrate our two new titles, Dan Berne’s page-turning debut novel, The Gods of Second Chances, and The Night, and the Rain, and the River, a collection of twenty-two stories by Oregon writers, edited by Liz Prato, and featuring letterpress art by Clare Carpenter of Tiger Food Press. We used the bulk of our fellowship funding to support the anthology, which features stories by Gregg Kleiner, Scott Sparling, Joanna Rose, Sage Cohen, and Cindy Williams Gutiérrez, among others. In September, we’ll complete the 2014 publishing season with Carry the Sky, the debut novel by poet Kate Gray, a past recipient of an Oregon Literary Fellowship and an Oregon Book Award finalist. It seems so fitting to use the remainder of the fellowship funding to support Kate’s breathtaking debut novel, which Hannah Tinti has called “lyrical, moving, and hauntingly beautiful.” In addition to those projects, we are open to submissions through July 1, looking for two quiet novels to publish in 2015.

What advice do you have for future applicants?

Our advice to future applicants is to really get clear about your goals for the upcoming year, from looking at the budget numbers and estimating as best you can to thinking about how your project (or mission) directly impacts Oregon readers and writers. Is your anticipated use of funds realistic and in line with what other presses spend? What makes your press different? How can you impact your community–or the state, depending on your mission–with the work you’re producing?

At the time of the fellowship deadline in 2013, we were preparing to launch our very first fiction title, A Simplified Map of the Real World, Stevan Allred’s linked short story collection, set in a fictional rural Oregon town (think Estacada). I chose Stevan’s manuscript to set the tone for the press, in terms of quality and regional focus, and I believe that submitting it to Literary Arts strengthened our application considerably. On the front-cover map of his book, Stevan sneaked in homages to Robin Cody’s classic Ricochet River and Brian Doyle’s beloved Mink River, honoring the state’s literary legacy while doing our best to contribute to it. Our mission is right there, on the cover of Stevan’s book. So that’s my other piece of advice. If you have multiple titles or volumes, choose the one that best reflects the mission of your press, as you’ve distilled it on your application.

Judge’s Comments

By Jason Cook, publishing judge

If their first story collection, A Simplified Map of the Real World, is any indication of the quality of their future catalogue, Forest Avenue Press promises to be a dynamic and valuable contributor to the independent publishing world. Their maiden effort evinces a clarity of editorial vision and a professional presentation which can stand as examples to publishers who have been operating for years. It takes a wide skill set and a deep knowledge base to survive in this business–many intelligent, enthusiastic people don’t. With a little support and a bit more luck, Forest Avenue has what it takes to thrive and provide authors with a vibrant platform and readers with great books for years to come.


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