Small Is Beautiful 

Small Press Distribution extravaganza celebrates little-known literature.

You've got your big fellas, your expected-to-be bestsellers whose corporate-giant publishers produce hundreds of thousands of copies. (According to The New York Times, Martha Stewart's 2005 how-to The Martha Rules: 10 Essentials for Achieving Success as You Start, Build, or Manage a Business had an initial print run of half a million copies.) Then you've got their diametric opposite: books from tiny independent presses that issue only a few hundred copies, or one hundred, or even fifty. Then again, those tiny presses have a far better chance of selling all those copies of their books than the major publishers do of selling theirs.

Founded in 1969, Berkeley's Small Press Distribution is the nation's only distributor devoted wholly to independently published literature. Some of the publishers it handles — Heyday, AK Press, City Lights — are well-known. Others — Book Thug, Tombouctou, Ithuriel's Spear — less so. SPD's All Star Reading Extravaganza and Poetry Trading Post on Sunday, December 14 at the SPD headquarters (1341 7th St., Berkeley) features an array of headliners including Rusty Morrison, Craig Perez, Stephanie Young, giovanni singleton, Michael Palmer, Lyn Hejinian, Dan Fisher, Jovon Johnson, Sean Labrador y Manzano, Brandon Ware, and Asia Taylor. Multi-award-winning poet Morrison (sample lines: "Concocted my meadow foxtail./Too quickly I pinnate each floating with the hyperbole of flight") helms the Richmond-based poetry and fabulist-fiction press Omnidawn with her husband, Ken Keegan. Because the pair is "interested in innovation," she says, explaining the company's name, "we want to publish work that brings a dawning, an opening of mind and heart. ... We want to offer readers fertile terrain to seed their insights." Nonetheless, she concedes: "Practically speaking, this ambition is difficult for a publisher to sustain, since the survival of the business depends upon sales that are constant. Yet risk-taking is necessary to sustain our vision of what we feel we should be publishing." For Omnidawn, sometimes those risks manifest in avant-garde new work such as Randall Silvis' In a Town Called Mundomuerto, whose heroine may or may not have mated with a half-man, half-dolphin.

But the company's latest risk entails old work: Selected Poems of Friedrich Hölderlin compiles the writings of the 18th-century German poet diagnosed (and largely dismissed) in his time as an incurable hypochondriac but now hailed as having influenced the likes of Rainer Maria Rilke and Hermann Hesse. "Even though this is considered classic work," Morrison explains, "it has been made new by the poet-translators Maxine Chernoff and Paul Hoover, who have brought a new clarity, lucidity, luminosity to this English translation. In this respect, a work from the past can be as mind-opening as newly written work." At the SPD Extravaganza, each attendee is welcome to trade a story or poem of his or her own for a free book. Noon-4 p.m.


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