An Interview with Anhinga Press Co-Director Lynne Knight

Knight, LynneAs co-director of Anhinga Press, Lynne Knight has worked on more than 100 literary publications, including books by Naomi Shihab Nye, the late Robert Dana and Judith Kitchen, and Diane Wakoski. Her book of poems Quantum Entanglement (Apalachee Press) was released in 2010. Her poetry has appeared in Louisiana Literature, Tar River Review, Poetry Motel, Earth’s Daughters, The Ledge, Slipstream, Broome Review, Comstock Review, Northwest Florida Review, Epicenter, Redactions, Iconoclast, Epicenter, HazMat, So to Speak, and J, as well as in the anthologies Off the Cuffs (Soft Skull Press), Touched by Eros (Live Poets Society), The Poet’s Guide to the Birds (Anhinga Press), Beloved on the Earth, (Holy Cow! Press), and North of Wakulla (Anhinga Press). She is a winner of the Penumbra Poetry Prize in 1996, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and is a fellow of the Hambidge Center for the Arts and the Bowers House. She is the co-editor of Snakebird: Thirty Years of Anhinga Poets. Born in Traverse City, Michigan, she grew up in South Florida and graduated from the University of Miami and Florida State University. She has exhibited her drawings, pottery, sculpture and digital images throughout the eastern United States. In other lives, she has worked as an art teacher, potter, videographer, copywriter, and graphic designer. She lives in Tallahassee, Florida.

As a new editor at The Minnesota Review, I am becoming more and more curious regarding the the publishing process. I know how we are doing it here at TMR, but how is everyone else? How might I do it for myself? Reaching out to another press and requesting an interview seemed like a reasonable idea. Lynne Knight of Anhinga Press graciously offered to answer my questions almost as soon as I emailed her. #dedication, which I understand to be the true blood and guts of operating a small press.

Anhinga Press started in 1974 as an outgrowth of the Apalachee Poetry Center, a nonprofit dedicated to enhancing poetic and artistic literacy. Anhinga functions as a part of the poetry community at large: publishing books, sponsoring events and educational opportunities, hosting and participating in writing festivals, and coordinating texts with local colleges. Anhinga publishes about 4 books of poetry a year and publishes 2 contest winning books a year. Past poets include: Naomi Shihab Nye, Erika Meitner, and David Kirby. Thank you Lynne for a peek inside Anhinga!

 

anhingaADELE WILLIAMS: I know that you offer several different book contests at Anhinga Press, how do you approach the first round of reading when it comes to the slush pile? Do you have a “maybe” pile? What is an average number of submissions for any one of your book prize contests?

LYNNE KNIGHT: We receive around 500 entries for the Anhinga-Robert Dana Prize for Poetry. Jay Snodgrass, another Co-director, runs the contest and has a trusted reader to help him screen the entries.

I don’t work on the contest, but put my energies into the editing, design and production stages for the book. [Regarding general publication] we don’t have a slush pile, since we are now into 2020 with our production schedule. Waiting three years for a rejection seems rude. We read manuscripts from poets of previous Anhinga books or solicit from poets we are interested in. We try to publish four books a year.

The Philip Levine prize is run by the English deptartment at UC-Fresno. They screen the manuscripts, select the judge and the manuscripts that are sent to the judge. Anhinga Press takes over after the judge selects the winning book.

 

How do you handle or think about issues of diversity? Do you do anything to insure a diverse pool of authors?

We try to have a diverse group of poets and judges for the contest, but there is no written policy.

 

How and where do you solicit for submissions? What has been effective in getting quality submissions, rather than just volume?

Since we don’t have a slush pile— we do read from previous poets, which keeps the diversity intact. We have books in our catalog from poets with Armenian, Hmong, Cuban, Palestinian, Mexican, Mennonite, Jewish and African-American heritage and a range of diverse judges.

 

How do you approach a writer when you want them to make edits to their manuscript?

We do read a manuscript carefully for proofing and editorial suggestions. I always tell the poet that I am making suggestions and since the poem is theirs, they can say no to the suggestion. If I feel strongly about my suggestion, I will probably revisit the issue. But ultimately the content of the poem is theirs. I believe that poems rarely spill from the brain in perfect form…. A good editor can help a poet refine their vision.

 

How long (at Anhinga) does it take from acceptance, to print a book, at Anhinga?

The Anhinga-Robert Dana Prize winner is named in the fall and is usually published in late summer or early fall of the following year. For non-contest books—if a book is accepted, we let the poet know where it fits into our schedule, when we will start editing, when the galleys will be mailed, and the official release of the book. We try very hard to follow through on that. Since we are scheduled so far in advance, we may not start on a book accepted now for two years.

 

Where does your funding come from?

We have some income from grants and donations. The rest of our income is from book sales and contest entries

 

How do you choose your judging panel? Dees it revolve? Does it include past winners?

We don’t have a formal panel for the contest. The judges are chosen from poets we admire. As examples: I heard Richard Blanco read at the Miami Book Fair in 2011. I met him in the Author’s Lounge later and asked if he would be interested in judging for the 2012 Anhinga prize. I have admired Diane Wakoski’s work for a long time and met her at the AWP in Palm Springs and asked her to judge the next contest.

 

Do you have any major “do’s” or “don’ts” for submitting a manuscript?

Do follow the directions if you are entering the contest. Otherwise, submit a clean consistently formatted Word Doc.

 

And finally, a huge question, how did you start Anhinga? I know it was spawned from the Apalachee Poetry Center but how did you guys actually get it going? How might one start their own small press? What would your advice be?

Anhinga Press was started in 1974 by Van K. Brock, a professor at Florida State University. Van had a great talent for getting people to help him realize his vision. It started with some local anthologies, and a group of chapbooks. The book prize was started in 1983 by Don Caswell, the second director of the press.

I don’t have precise information about how Anhinga was formed, but I think it is easier for an editor or group of editors to get a book printed/published than it used to be. When I started working with Anhinga in the mid 90s, we committed to printing and paying for 1200-2000 books in the initial run. Now, a press can use a printer like Bookmobile (what we use) and print fewer copies initially. It’s easier to keep a book in print and and the sold copies of the book pay for the printing of more copies.

The hardest part is to assemble a group that is dedicated and doing it as a labor of love. Small press poetry is definitely not going to make anyone rich (unless your poet somehow lands on the front cover of the National Enquirer or runs for president—that might make $$).

 

Adele Williams is a poet at Virginia Tech. She is the poetry editor for the minnesota review.

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