ASU faculty, student expertise help a small press thrive
Many in today’s publishing industry question the future of the printed book – can it survive and adapt in the electronic age? However, one traditional press seems to be weathering the economic and technological storms with little apparent anxiety.
New York City-based Four Way Books – whose associate director is poet Sally Ball, an assistant professor of English at Arizona State University – celebrates its 20th anniversary on April 19 in Scottsdale, Ariz.
While actual books are still being published, 13 each year, the press has also embraced engagement of its audience through 21st-century virtual means. According to the website: “our authors, readers, and friends (including our blog, Twitter and Facebook fans) tell us over and over that they need us, absolutely, to be here for years to come” and the press will “continue to bring fine poetry and fiction into libraries, stores, and your home (or onto your e-reader).”
The directorship of Four Way Books is not the press’s only connection to ASU. Since 2007, more than two-dozen ASU students have earned course credit for work at the press. This internship is mutually beneficial, opening doors for students, while also supporting the press.
Each semester, Ball brings in two to five graduate students to gain an insider’s perspective on the publishing business. Interns learn copyediting skills and conduct one or more author interviews, which Ball encourages students to publish on reviewer’s websites and in national magazines. Most recently, intern projects have appeared in the literary journals Hayden’s Ferry Review and Rain Taxi.
Interns also read the books Ball considers for publication.
“They don’t have a vote,” Ball explains, “but they have a voice. Conversations with interns have helped me clarify my own thinking and also helped me make sure that I am seeing a book as fully as possible.”
Those interns with an interest in publicity can also take on assignments geared toward cultivating skills and contacts for that side of the industry; while others assist Ball with her ongoing grant-writing.
Christopher Miller, a poet in the Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) program, completed two interviews for the press. The first was with poet Collier Nogues, and the second – which was published on the Four Way Books Tumblr site in March – was with poet, Alex Dimitrov. Miller also helped edit several manuscripts.
“It was beneficial to learn about the workings of a publishing company, and how the submissions, editing, and publishing process occur,” he states. “The interviews were a lot of fun. Both poets provided in depth and intriguing responses.” Miller felt he gained a lot through his internship: “I felt like I was accomplishing something tangible.”
As for working with Ball: “She's a great reader. She helped me to understand what I do in my poems. She told me that I ‘believe in the power of implication’ which was extremely helpful to realize in words. I do see her as a role model. I would definitely like to emulate her as a teacher.”
Sara Sams is another ASU student who benefited from her work with Ball: “Working with Four Way was an amazing experience. Sally talked very openly about the projects she was excited about and why they were taken on. This meant that I had somewhat of an insider perspective [on] the workings of the press – something interns aren't always privy to. I was also given the opportunity to interview poets I admire, which was a fantastic professional experience for me as I'm finishing up my MFA and working on my own manuscript.”
Being a “Four Way mentor” has meant balancing her roles as poet, assistant professor, editor, and, as Ball puts it, “cruise director for a family of five.” However, she insists that her work with the growing press complements her teaching: she knows the field and the process of independent press publication inside and out, and can pass on this information to her graduate students.
The Four Way Books 20th Anniversary Celebration in Arizona is Friday, April 19 at 7 p.m. at a private residence in Scottsdale, Ariz. It will feature Four Way Books’ Arizona authors Karen Brennan and Joni Wallace, a silent auction of art by Arizona artists, and door prizes from the last 20 years of Four Way Books’ titles. For more information, please contact Sally Ball: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Department of English is an academic unit in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Written by Jan Kelly and Kristen LaRue
Kristen LaRue, Kristen.LaRue@asu.edu
Department of English, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences