As we approach and pass the one-year mark since the COVID-19 pandemic caused nationwide lockdowns, South Arts is reflecting on our constituents who have worked tirelessly to overcome new challenges and reimagine their work. Throughout March 2021, South Arts will be running a series of articles penned by our program participants and grant recipients exploring how their work has changed in response to the pandemic.
Hub City Press is a recipient of a South Arts Resilience Fund grant supporting their ability to pivot in the face of the pandemic, and emerge more resilient than before. With grants ranging from $30,000 to $100,000, the South Arts Resilience Fund awarded 34 small- and mid-sized arts organizations across the region a total of $1.674 million to build their resilience through and beyond the pandemic.
The following article was written by Meg Reid, Director of Press and Programs with Hub City Press.
We applied for a South Arts Resilience grant, knowing if awarded, the funding would be vital bridge funding to allow us to develop new outside contractors and new funding sources. We saw an opportunity to have dedicated editors who could work to lock in our future publications for 24 months or longer, providing us time to develop funding sources to continue this important work.
Hub City Press: A Platform for Southern Voices
Founded in Spartanburg, South Carolina in 1995, Hub City Press has emerged as the South's premier independent literary press. Focused on finding and spotlighting extraordinary and unsung writers from the American South, the press has published over ninety high-caliber literary works, including novels, short stories, poetry, memoir, and books emphasizing the region's culture and history. Hub City is interested in books with a strong sense of place and is committed to introducing a diverse roster of lesser-heard Southern voices.
As a literary press, we publish books not for their commercial value, but for their artistic value. Our team is very small--two full-time staff members handling author relations, networking, design, production, publicity, and marketing. Even at this size, in the past decade we have grown to have a formidable national and international presence. Hub City's books have been reviewed in outlets like NPR, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times, as well as in magazines like Entertainment Weekly, O, The Oprah Magazine, and many others. Our books have been translated into many languages, including Korean, Czech, Italian, German, and Vietnamese.
One thing that makes Hub City Press unique in our landscape is our willingness to read unagented manuscripts received directly from writers. Many of our authors have careers outside of writing or academia and we feel the more open submission process reduces barriers to publication for a wider range of writers, especially those writing from marginalized spaces. But that also means our two-person staff had to sort through potentially hundreds and hundreds of queries each season. So, even with all this success, Hub City Press lacked one critical element—sufficient manpower to quickly select, edit, and proofread extraordinary manuscripts.
We’d tried many things to stay on top of this workload, including volunteer boards and editors, but unfortunately, the deadline driven nature necessary for a press that must remain on a tight publication schedule is often difficult for unpaid volunteers with busy careers. Plus, expecting them to perform this labor for free was too much of an ask. While these writers have been instrumental to processing the volume of queries we receive, our slush pile was still getting larger each year, especially as our renown increases.
We applied for a South Arts Resilience grant, knowing if awarded, the funding would be vital bridge funding to allow us to develop new outside contractors and new funding sources. We saw an opportunity to have dedicated editors who could work to lock in our future publications for 24 months or longer, providing us time to develop funding sources to continue this important work. The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us that these contractors do not need to work in our office, nor even live in the Upstate of South Carolina. We knew that the country was full of talented editors who prefer to work remotely and would be grateful to be a part of an emerging, respected independent publisher such as Hub City Press.
Once we were awarded funding, we put up the job ads and received over eighty incredibly qualified applicants. From those, we selected Katherine Webb-Hehn and Larissa Melo Pienkowski to serve as our Contract Editors.
Katherine Webb-Hehn is an award-winning multi-media journalist, editor and writer. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, the Bitter Southerner, the Atlantic, Longreads, Southerly, and elsewhere. Currently, she’s the State Politics editor at Scalawag, a Black-led and woman-run nonprofit media organization disrupting narratives in the South. Since the pandemic began, she’s a pre-K teacher in her backyard in Birmingham, Alabama where she lives with her spouse and two kids. "I’m grateful to be joining the editorial crew at Hub City and collaborate with writers telling the untold stories of the South," says Katherine. "As a seventh-generation Alabamian who loves this region and its people while wrestling with what makes it hellish, I’m interested in personal stories that allow narrative, reporting, and critique to offer a unique way of seeing a place so often misrepresented or maligned by folks who don’t have a stake in equity here."
Larissa Melo Pienkowski is an editor, a literary agent at Jill Grinberg Literary Management, and the assistant publisher of Dottir Press. She holds a Master's in Publishing and Writing from Emerson College and a Bachelor's in Social Work and Sociology from Simmons College, and as a recent Boston-to-Philly transplant, she spends her free time exploring her new city with her fiancée and making pottery in their ceramics studio. "I'm so thrilled to join the team at Hub City Press and do my part to support them in shedding a literary light on unheard voices of the South," Larissa says. "As a queer, first-generation Latinx, it's my goal and passion to uplift #OwnVoices authors and experiences in publishing, and I'm excited to offer that same energy to my work with Hub City."
The Covid-19 era continues to be immensely challenging but we are dedicated to making ourselves even more visible to a national audience via social media. We have increased our Instagram followers by more than 25 percent this year by sharing more video and more authentic native content. This includes Happy Hour live chats with our staff, Zoom events with our authors, video tours of our office, online writing workshops, and behind the scenes peeks into the world of small press publishing.
While the past year has been hard for everyone, having these two editors join the Hub City Press team has been an incredible bright spot in these times. Both Katherine and Larissa immediately jumped into reading, editing, and acquiring new work. In addition to helping us read and process the wealth of queries and promising projects in our slush pile, our new contract editors have helped us refine our mission and introduced us to writers we’re excited about, who in turn love what we do at Hub City. In just a few short months, thanks to our grant from the South Arts Resiliency Fund, our editorial process has transformed from an uphill battle against a neverending reading pile to an engaging, collaborative team effort, helmed by two women who are incredible at what they do.
We remain the only nonprofit literary press that is committed to publishing and supporting lesser-heard Southern voices, including Black and Indigenous people, queer and trans people, immigrants, people with disabilities, as well as people from ethnic, cultural, and religious groups who have been historically oppressed and underrepresented by the publishing industry. These new team members have already been vital in our search for underrepresented regional voices – voices that might not otherwise be heard. By offering these voices a national platform, we work to transform and expand the national perception of the American South in literature and beyond. We’re immensely grateful to South Arts for helping us with this mission.