Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Word Works—Truth, Lies and Gossip

In the life of a small press, some things cannot be said and certainly not as a blog post where truth, lies and gossip are often equal partners. This means some unspoken stories go to the grave with their tellers.

Perversely I correct people who say Karren Alenier is The Word Works or The Word Works belongs to Karren Alenier because it started with her.

Fact: Wandering on the Outside by Karren LaLonde Alenier was the first book published by The Word Works. The year was 1975. Deirdra Baldwin as founding director and chairperson of the board created The Word Works at the end of 1974 with her brother-in-law Paris Christopher Pacchione, a graphic artist. They made up the board of directors along with Yolanda Gerritsen, a Dutch citizen married to the American lawyer Roy Nierenberg who nailed down nonprofit status for Word Works.

When Deirdra showed up in 1975 at my house on Bradley Boulevard in Chevy Chase to ask for the manuscript that would become my first book, I hadn’t seen her in some months. The truth was I was fed up with her and the antics of a man named Jim Morrisette, the same man who claimed he was calling Ezra Pound in the middle of the night but Pound was always willing to talk to him. Perhaps I misheard but Pound had died in 1972. Morrisette was just looking for his next drink. Yolanda said Jim had fallen backwards out his chair at the Childe Harold during a planning meeting Deirdra had called.

Why did Deirdra pick me as the first author? She believed I knew more people than anyone else she had in mind and therefore would sell more books boosting the small seed grant from an anonymous donor (yes, here is one of those secrets). Her plan was that sale of my book with a foreword from her would fund the next book. It worked. Paul Revenko-Jones’ the end of the hand (1975) with a foreword from me came next. After that, Word Works got two National Endowment for the Arts grants and published In Praise of Secrecy (1977) by John Wellman, The Emerging Detail (1977) by Deirdra Baldwin, and The Unicorn and the Garden (1978) edited by Betty Parry.

Of course this is only a surface. Every book takes a pound of flesh out of the people involved in producing them. There are many stories that could be told, but not now and maybe never. But one thing to know—The Word Works is a literary organization, not just a publishing house. Our creating papers mandate that we provide an educational component and we do that through our public programs. Come to CafĂ© Muse at the Friendship Heights Village Center if you want to know more. I might whisper something in your ear.

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