This is the thirteenth in Entropy’s small press interview series, where we ask editors about their origins, their mission, and what it’s like to run a press. Find the other interviews from this series in our Small Press Database here and under the Resources tab at the top of the page.
Interview with Stacey Lewis, VP, Director of Publicity, Marketing & Sales
How did City Lights Books start?
City Lights was founded in 1953, the first all-paperback bookstore in the U.S., stocking classics of modern literature and progressive politics. Lawrence Ferlinghetti started the publishing program in 1955. In 1956, City Lights published Allen Ginsberg’s seminal poem “Howl” and became the lightning rod for a new generation of untamed poets. This rare combination of bookstore and publishing house battles on as one of the increasingly rare, un-chained independent book enterprises in America. Expert bookworms stock a comprehensive selection of the best books in every field…City Lights has been the head, heart, and undersoul of literary San Francisco for over 60 years and—as the Gotham Book Mart in Manhattan long ago proclaimed about itself—“Wise Men Fish Here.” We’d add to the “men” part, of course, women, children, humans, animals, and all forms of life seeking a literary soulmate.
Tell us a bit about City Lights Books. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
City Lights publishes not only poetry and fiction—including much work in translation—but also books on social and political issues. There are over 200 books in print, and at least a dozen new titles published every year. The press, like the store, is known for its deep commitment to radical democracy and progressive politics. As former bookstore manager Richard Berman pointed out, “Without the publishing company the store would have been just another bookstore, but working together we have made an impact on American culture.”
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?
2015 marks the 60th anniversary of City Lights Publishers! We’re excited to be publishing our first kid’s book, Rad American Women A to Z in March, and have new books from Mumia Abu-Jamal, Charles Bukowski, Ben Hedin, Noam Chomsky, Michelle Tea, Johanna Fernandez and Carey Perloff among others on the horizon.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
What’s always excited me, personally, about small and independent publishing, is the ability to be hands on in so many different aspects of the business. The size of the place allows for real collaboration and input on so many aspects of the publishing process from acquisitions, to design, and marketing and publicity.
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 City Lights?
Book publishing and bookselling, like many artistic endeavors, tend to be one of a labor of love. Many people on staff here, both in the bookstore and the publishing company, have worked here for years, and bring much experience and enthusiasm to their jobs. There are always challenges, and we try to rise to the occasion while keeping a very careful eye on our budgeting. We do dedicate much staff time and labor to publicity and marketing, making sure to utilize all the tools available, such as our web site and social media accounts. In the bookstore, our staff rigorously keeps an eye on stock making sure to maintain titles that are the best fit for our store.
Recent City Lights Books releases:
City Lights Books on Entropy:
Review of Deep Code by John Coletti and Lunch Poems: 50th Anniversary Edition by Frank O’Hara
Review of Yokohama Threeway by Beth Lisick
Review of Women in Public by Elaine Kahn
Review of The Bell Tolls for No One: Stories by Charles Bukowski