Discover A Public Space
Independent publishers are key to making a bookstore feel curated and unique. There are hundreds of small publishers producing amazing books that don’t get the attention or support of the chain stores. Finding publishers whose work is a good match for your store can be a revelation, leading to strong partnerships and increased sales.
A Public Space is an independent nonprofit publisher of an eponymous award-winning literary, arts, and culture magazine, and A Public Space Books. Under the direction of founding editor Brigid Hughes since 2006, it has been their mission to seek out overlooked and unclassifiable work, and to publish writing from beyond established confines.
We asked Brigid Hughes to tell us more about the press:
Give a brief history of your press.
We started A Public Space Books last year, having published the literary and arts magazine A Public Space for over a decade. Our first foray into books was through a partnership with Graywolf Press to publish writers from A Public Space—Dorthe Nors, Jamel Brinkley, Sara Majka, and John Haskell. A Public Space Books is an independent venture. Our interest is eclectic, and about the singular talent: the rediscovery of an overlooked writer, an iconic painter’s poems, a photo essay about shuttered New York City stores, a debut story collection by an Irish author.
What’s a recent favorite book that you’ve published? Why is it a favorite?
A few summers back, I opened a book at random, from the $1 cart at a used bookstore, and read this passage: “For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin—real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way. Something to be got through first, some unfinished business; time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life could begin. At last it had dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.” That was the first time I encountered Bette Howland’s work. Last year, we published Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, stories that take us through her life, through Chicago in the 1970s, as the first title from A Public Space Books. In January, we will publish her memoir, W-3. Two of my favorite books in recent memory.
What makes you different from the big 5 publishers?
The pressures of commercial publishing seem to create imperatives for consensus, a feeling of similar voices on repeat, that keep attention away from singular work. At our more intimate scale, editing and publishing is about finding the distinct. The book that stands out from its environment and doesn’t sound similar to everything else. As a reader, I want both types of books—the known quantity and the unexpected delight.
Who do you think your ideal reader is? What does your ideal reader look like?
The reader who earmarks pages, underlines passages, keeps the book after it’s been read although space in the apartment is tight, the one who becomes a champion of good work to others.
What kind of programs do you have in place or want to do with stores across the country?
This spring, during the pandemic and social isolation, we launched Tolstoy Together. It was an experiment that gathered people on Twitter to read War and Peace with Yiyun Li, one of our contributing editors. Independent bookstores were indispensable partners. They worked wonders this spring to get the novel into readers’ hands so that more than 3,000 strangers, dispersed across six continents, could read a book together. We were able to highlight bookstores in a weekly newsletter—so our readers, wherever they were, could connect to the virtual shelves of a Montana bookstore; order a Colorado bookseller’s staff pick; learn of a bookstore for a trip to New Mexico.
APStogether is a new series of virtual book clubs, starting in July with Garth Greenwell, Elizabeth McCracken, Ilya Kaminsky, Ed Park, and Carl Phillips, all writers who are part of the A Public Space community. We’ll read back-list classics, overlooked favorites, even some poetry. And in the new year, Bette Howland’s memoir, W-3. We’d love to partner with stores more closely on this, perhaps via virtual events or other programs.