Interview With Hub City Press

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Picture of Kari JacksonAuthor: Kari Jackson

What makes Hub City Press a unique part of the publishing community?

Hub City Press is unique because it does so much more than publish books. The press began in 1995 as the Hub City Writers Project, the idea born from a trio of Spartanburg writers with the mission to preserve a sense of place in their rapidly changing Southern city. What their community needed, they said, was a literary identity. Modeling their organization after the Depression-era Federal Writers Project, they chose the name Hub City because it invoked Spartanburg’s past as a 19th century railroad center and challenged them to make their hometown a center for literary arts. It started with just one book: Hub City Anthology, a collection of essays by Spartanburg writers about their hometown.

Seventeen years later, our nonprofit press has published more than 400 writers, renovated two historic downtown buildings, and given away more than $15,000 in scholarships to emerging writers. It has sold some 80,000 books, provided creative writing instruction to hundreds in the Carolinas and beyond, and hosted lively book launch events in unlikely locales, including an abandoned train station, a river bank, and a concert hall.

In 2010, Hub City opened a bookstore in downtown Spartanburg to create a gathering spot for writers and writers, and to provide a space for us to sell our own books alongside other regional and literary titles that you might not find at the Barnes and Noble a few miles away. The bookstore, also part of the nonprofit, helps fund our publishing.

By continually thinking of new ways to serve writers and readers, Hub City Press has made bold decisions (like opening a bookstore in the middle of a recession) and started initiatives like the South Carolina First Novel Prize (alongside the South Carolina Arts Commission) and, next spring, the New Southern Voices Poetry Prize. We only publish 4-6 books a year, but they are all by regional authors, and they all contribute to the literary identity of our town and the Southeast. We’re proud of all we have accomplished so far for Southern writers, and we plan on continuing to think widely and out-of-the-box in the changing publishing landscape.

On your website you mention you are looking for work with an emphasis on the Southern experience.  What is the Southern experience to you as an editor? 

The Southern experience has to do with place, with character, with voice. It all goes back to the original mission to preserve a sense of place—in Spartanburg and, largely, in the South. I think of Philip Gerard’s pain of loss and bewilderment from his home in Wilmington, NC, in his essay “What They Don’t Tell You About Hurricanes.” I think about Ron Rash’s poem “Three A.M. and the Stars Were Out” in Waking, the image of a vet driving lonely on country roads to an emergency call, to a calf that’s stuck mid-birth. I think of Hector and Lilia’s struggle to make a home on Edisto Island, SC, as undocumented immigrants in Michel Stone’s The Iguana Tree, and the humanity that they’re shown by the people of the South, as well as the betrayal. All of these books illuminate experiences tied to the South.

How do you seek out books of history for your press?  How do you know when a history book is a good fit for your press?

The history titles we publish usually come as our “lead title” for the year, which is the book we fundraise around. The lead title is regularly on a subject of wide appeal to Spartanburg residents, such as our local artists, the town’s history in images, or the soldiers who came to Spartanburg during both World Wars.

Sometimes the ideas for these history titles come out of our conversations in advisory committee meetings: What aspect of our history has yet to be written? What does the Spartanburg community want to learn about and preserve? Whose stories do we want to capture before it’s too late? Once we have an idea we will approach potential writers or editors for the project.

Others come in as unsolicited submissions, such as John Jeter’s memoir and history of The Handlebar in Greenville, SC, Rockin’ a Hard Place. This is a book we knew would have both immediate local appeal because of the music hall’s history, as well as a national appeal because of its discussion about the music business. On the other hand, we’re currently in production on a history of high school football in Spartanburg County, which will have a much more limited audience—but an audience we know will buy the book.

Either way, it’s making sure a history book falls under our mission to preserve a sense of place and that we have a strong idea of how to market the book.

What is the readership like for Hub City Press?  What do you imagine your typical reader is like?

Our readership depends on the book, since we publish everything from poetry to regional history. But we have a faithful following in Spartanburg of readers that will buy every book we publish. There are hundreds of people who have supported the press since the beginning, people who value literature, history, and community. We can keep doing all that we do because of these wonderful supporters, and we’re grateful for them every day.

We love getting orders from California and Canada, from college bookstores in Texas and book festivals in Virginia. I think, because our catalog is so diverse, that our reader could be an eighteen-year-old college freshman or a longtime Spartanburg resident. That’s valuable and continually exciting for us.

What is the next exciting thing happening at Hub City Press?

We are excited to launch our New Southern Voices Poetry Prize, judged by D.A. Powell, in Spring 2013, as well as publish the winner of the 2012 South Carolina First Novel Prize, In the Garden of Stone by Susan Tekulve.

We will also host our second Expecting Goodness Short Film Festival in March 2013, a project that pairs South Carolina filmmakers with recently-published or award-winning short stories by South Carolina writers to create 10 minute short films. No one else in the country is running a festival that connects writers, filmmakers, and the community in this way, so we are excited both for the fifteen 2013 films and the possibilities for the festival in the future.

There’s always something new in the works at Hub City!