|Publisher Dede Cummings Spreads a Message of Hope|
|by Michelle A.L. Singer|
Dede Cummings, book designer, author, poet, VPR commentator, and, most recently, publisher, started Green Writers Press just five years ago. Hurricane Irene—a clear warning to Vermonters of growing climate change—was an inspiration. Cummings, witnessing the devastation firsthand as she rode her bicycle through Vermont, wondered to herself, "What can one person do?"
"Well, I know how to make books," she remembers saying to herself. "I can bring works to life." She determined to start a press with an environmental focus and to provide a platform for a variety of voices—poets, scientists, activists. "As a publisher, I'm passionate about helping writers bring their words to the printed page and to a wider audience," she says.
The press, located in Brattleboro, Vermont, has grown quickly in the five years since it began, with book printings ranging from 500 to 6,000 copies. "We were swamped as soon as our press started to grow … Since January of 2017, our submission program, which is run by Submittable, has received almost 200 book submissions," says Cummings, noting that GWP is still a relatively small press, publishing around 10 to 15 titles per year.
GWP has an eye toward diversity, activism, the environment, women in science, and Vermont writers. It publishes fiction, nonfiction, short stories, children's and young adult books, and poetry, as well as a calendar called "We Are Vermont," focused on local activism.
Amazingly, GWP is not what Cummings considers her day job. She is a book designer and has run her own business, DCDesign, since 1996. She designs books for such houses as Alice James and Tupelo Press, among others.
Originally from Rhode Island, Cummings began her long career in publishing after graduating from Middlebury College when she became the first intern at Seal Press in Seattle, Washington. The feminist publishing company was run, at that time, out of editor Barbara Wilson's garage. Cummings got her feet wet with every kind of publishing skill—letter press, printing, and editing.
"After interning for the year, I returned to my native New England and attempted to pursue a job in publishing. I was an intern at David R. Godine in Boston, which gave me a foundation in the design and production side of the business," she says. "When I went for my interview at Little, Brown and Company, then in Boston and now headquartered in New York City, I wanted to work as an editor. But they had an opening in the design production area and asked if it would be OK if they started me over there. I took classes at night at Massachusetts College of Art, and I really fell in love with book design. Right away, I was involved in designing books by such authors as Mary Oliver, Thomas Pynchon, William Shirer, and Norman Mailer." Cummings is the lead designer for Green Writers Press.
Green Writers Press for her, at this point, is a labor of love. What money the press makes, after paying freelancers, royalties, and charities, generally goes back into the business. Cummings herself does not draw a salary, and employees are not yet full-time with benefits. She rolls her share of the proceeds back into building the business, sometimes by hosting a table at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) yearly conference or the Burlington Book Festival.
"Publishing is a lot of responsibility," she says. She sees her work as a publisher as "collecting voices to become a chorus heard from the state of Vermont. We make noise, speaking truth to power." When she began GWP, Howard Frank Mosher was her mentor and guide. His philosophy, that publishing is "critically important in the struggle to keep good and important literature and ideas alive and well," guides the work that GWP does. Her other heroes are Naomi Klein and Rebecca Solnit.
The press is fiercely environmentalist in the way it approaches printing, distribution, and running an office. They print in Vermont, at Springfield Printing Corporation, or Print-on-Demand through Lightning Source, in Tennessee, and other environmentally sustainable printers in the United States, who only use FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified paper.
"I love it because I can take action against climate change by working with employee-owned, women-owned , and sustainable printers," says Cummings. She brings an important commitment to walking the environmental walk that guides the press.
They print with soy-based inks on paper made from pulp that is from postconsumer waste paper in a chlorine-free process. They offer ebooks and audiobooks to reduce fossil fuel use. They use all recycled and upscaled materials at their office, and when Cummings works from home, her office is powered by solar panels. They partner with local and independent bookstores as much as possible, and their motto is "Review on Amazon, buy local."
Finally, GWP is dedicated to giving back and doing good. Their corporate structure, a low-profit limited liability company, or L3C, means that they are a for-profit company that has a charitable or educational cause. Theirs is "conservation, activism, and hope." They are required to use 5 percent of their average net assets for charitable purposes. Some authors request a specific charity like the Southern Poverty Law Foundation, Ruth Stone Foundation, or ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain. GWP regularly donates to 350.org, an environmental activist group, and other Vermont-based organizations like the Vermont Land Trust.
"We are set to publish the work of some notable Vermont women authors in addition to Kunin, such as the 2016 Vermont Writers' Prize winner Nancy Hayes Kilgore, fiction writer Teresa Stores of Putney, Vermont, and up-and-coming Vermont poet Megan Buchanan from Guilford, Vermont," says Cummings.
Green Writers Press is committed to publishing and supporting women in science. M. Jackson, author of While Glaciers Slept, published by GWP in 2015, is a two-time US Fulbright Fellow and National Geographic Arctic Expert researching glaciers and climate change in the Arctic. Jackson lived in Hofn, Iceland, where she researched glaciers and society through a US Fulbright–National Science Foundation Arctic Research Grant.
While Glaciers Slept is about understanding climatic changes through humanistic lenses. It weaves together the parallel stories of what happens when the climates of family and planet change. Jackson tells the story of her parents' struggles with cancer while describing in detail the planetary changes she's witnessed. Climate change, she convinces us, is not just about science—it is also about the audacity of human courage and imagination. "It's a really beautiful story of grief and love and the sort of great science writing that makes you enthusiastically detail fish facts to everyone around you," says Alexandre-Leach.
Another GWP author is Cardy Raper, the 95-year-old author of Love, Sex & Mushrooms. Originally published by Hatherleigh Press and distributed by Random House in 2005, it was recently picked up by GWP. Raper is an inspiration and perfect example of a woman, like Cummings, who has worked tirelessly to advance herself and other women. A woman of science, she earned her PhD from Harvard after the death of her husband and mentor, who she worked with in his laboratory. Eventually, she learned to be a molecular biologist, won independent research funding, and set up her own laboratory at the University of Vermont.
Raper's second book, An American Harvest: How One Family Moved from Dirt-Poor Farming to a Better Life in the Early 1900s, was published by GWP in 2016. An American Harvest is the real-life tale of seven brothers and one sister who grew up poor on a worn-out tobacco farm in North Carolina.
In spring 2018, GWP will publish Montpelier author Katy Farber's new book Salamander Sky, in time for the spotted salamander crossing that is the subject of the book. Farber is a professional development coordinator, author, and blogger who writes about education, parenting, the environment, and sustainability for various websites and publications. Her middle-school novel The Order of the Trees, published by GWP in 2015, was an Honor Book in the Nature Generation's Green Earth Book Awards.
Not shy about challenging the status quo, GWP will publish The Full Vermonty, a very Vermont response to the Trump presidency, this fall. Bill Mares and Jeff Danziger contributed to and collected "a chorus of intelligence, wit, and passion" and "all things necessary to flesh out a thump to The Trump!" The authors proclaim, "We'll be damned if we're going to let a man who dyes his hair, cheats workers and has his products made in China, dictate to us how life should be." Mares, based in Burlington, is the author or coauthor of 15 books, including the best-seller Real Vermonters Don't Milk Goats. Danziger divides his time between New York City and Dummerston, Vermont, and has published 11 books of cartoons and one novel.
When Cummings agreed to publish The Full Vermonty, she gave it a critical eye and immediately said, "We need more women. It's too male." She invited Sally Pollack, Julia Alvarez, and Madeleine Kunin to contribute, and they agreed. Cummings's sensibility, as a woman publisher, speaks to why it's so important to have women, and all kinds of diversity, in decision-making roles.
Cummings is a writer herself. Her full-length poetry book entitled To Look Out From was published in April 2017 by Homebound Publications and won their 4th Annual Homebound Publications Poetry Prize. The collection is drawn from poems that span 30 years in a narrative of place explored through craft and form, from growing up with four sisters, leaving home, and a mother's grief to poems that take the reader deep into forests and unexpected treasures found in nature. She says about the collection, "It was a dream of mine to have a book of poetry published. I had just turned 60 last year and was able to attend the Vermont Studio Center on a partial fellowship where I had the chance to finish the manuscript there."
Her second book of poetry is coming out in 2019 with the premier literary publisher of Ireland, Salmon Poetry. The title of this upcoming book is The Meeting Place and is a collection of narrative poems exploring themes of family and place. She is the author of several books, among them The Colitis & Crohn's Cookbook, written from her personal experience with managing Crohn's disease. Self-care continues to be an important part of her equation, as Cummings hikes the Long Trail and bikes to important events like the Climate March in Montpelier. "I'm going to be like Cardy Raper," she says. "I'm never going to retire."
From her internship at Seal Press to owning her own press, Cummings has been able to live by the principles of "for women, by women" and environmental responsibility while collaborating with a small army of people doing the same. Green Writers Press is a Vermont-based, global publisher whose mission is to spread a message of hope and renewal. Read more at www.greenwriterspress.com.
Michelle A.L. Singer lives in East Montpelier. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org