Interview with S. Andrea Allen, Founder and Publisher
How did BLF Press start?
I started BLF Press when I was still in graduate school working on my dissertation. I had been researching Black lesbian writers for a few years, and I came to realize that the challenges that the women faced in regards to publishing still existed (lack of diversity in publishing; the [false] notion that lesbian literature was now “mainstream;” lack of access to agents, editors, and other publishing professionals; and more than anything, the notion that our stories were somehow unworthy or had no literary merit). I decided right then that I could do something about that.
Tell us a bit about BLF Press. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
BLF Press is an author-centered, Black feminist press dedicated to amplifying the work of women of color.
Our mission is to continue the tradition of small feminist presses that gave rise to such publications as This Bridge Across My Back: Writings of Radical Women of Color, Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology, Don’t Explain, Loving Her, and Sister Outsider: Essays. Kitchen Table, Women of Color Press, The Naiad Press, Persephone Press, Aunt Lute, and Redbone Press are my main influences. They were committed to publishing the work of marginalized women and LGBT persons and greatly influenced my scholarly work as well my prose. Without them, I wouldn’t have survived grad school. So, in a way, starting BLF Press was a way to pay homage to the women who made it possible for me to do my own work. I would have to say that our aesthetic is primarily literary fiction by talented women of color. I love short stories, so I’m very interested in publishing anthologies and single author collections of short fiction.
Can you give us a preview of what’s current and/or forthcoming from your catalog, as well as what you’re hoping to publish in the future?
We released our first title, Lez Talk: A Collection of Black Lesbian Short Fiction in early 2016, and we’re releasing two titles in January 2017. One is a collection of short stories, A Failure to Communicate by S. Andrea Allen, and the other an anthology of prose and poetry, Solace: Writing, Refuge, and LGBTQ Women of Color. Our upcoming titles include Two Moons, an amazing collection of speculative fiction by talented author Krystal A. Smith, and a collection of stories by Claudia Moss. In 2018, we’ll be publishing a collection of essays by a young Black woman battling endometriosis. Finally, we are starting an imprint that will focus on children’s books, and we hope to have that up and running in the next year or so.
We used to ask, “What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?” We’re still interested in the answer to that, but we’re even more interested to know what you think needs to change.
I’m in love with the idea that as publishers, we can publish the work that speaks to us, regardless of what is trending at the time. I love that more women and minorities have the ability to start a publishing house, and that we can collaborate with other presses and non-profits on projects that enrich the literary community.
How do you cope? There’s been a lot of conversation lately about charging reading fees, printing costs, rising book costs, who should pay for what, etc. Do you have any opinions on this, and would you be willing to share any insights about the numbers at BLF Press?
We do what we must. BLF Press doesn’t charge reading fees, and we don’t plan to. We are committed to some aspects of traditional publishing, and that means that we bear the cost of production, and we work with authors on a marketing plan. Because we are so tiny, we don’t offer advances, but we do have a generous royalty rate. Our goal is to publish two or three titles a year, so we have to get them in front of as many people as possible. Book festivals, conferences, and other events are great places to meet folks and get our books in their hands. We plan to do much more of this in the coming years.