The independent publisher Melville House was founded in 2001, in Hoboken, New Jersey, by Dennis Loy Johnson, a fiction writer and journalist, and his partner Valerie Merians, a sculptor and photographer. Their first two books were an anthology, Poetry After 9/11, and a work of criticism, B.R. Myers’ A Reader’s Manifesto, neither of which were expected to sell well. Shortly before these volumes hit the shelves, The New York Times called the couple’s endeavor “a disaster in the making.”
Fast forward 13 years, and Melville House (now based in Brooklyn) is one of the most celebrated indie publishers in the country, with a catalog encompassing iconoclastic new authors like Tao Lin and Lars Iyer, Nobel-Prize winners like Imre Kertesz and Heinrich Boll, political journalism exposing the Bush administration’s crimes and hypocrisy, novellas by countless canonical writers including Joyce, Kleist, and George Eliot, and underappreciated masterpieces by Mary MacLane, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and Jean Cocteau.
This unlikely transformation can be attributed, in part, to the editors’ good taste, their savviness in fashioning a distinct personal brand, and their ability to stay abreast of changes in the market (they’ve recently begun accompanying certain print books with e-book supplements). At the Melville House AWP booth last Friday I sat down with Mr. Johnson to talk about the importance of literature in the information age, the damage Amazon.com is doing to publishing, and the ways blogging, literature, and journalism inform one another. » Read the rest of this entry «