20 Small Press Books You Might Have Missed
We've curated a list of indie titles from 2019 to add to your TBR
The small indie press boom is among us. In both 2017 and 2018, a whopping 40% or more of the National Book Awards longlists included titles from university and independent presses. It’s an exciting time for small presses— never before have there been so many diverse books in the mainstream reading radar. Think about it: could something like Citizen by Claudia Rankine or When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen have been published if indie presses weren’t around?
We’ve curated twenty books published in 2019 from twenty small presses to add to your to-be-read pile.
A Tall History of Sugar by Curdella Forbes
This Brooklyn-based indie press prides itself on taking risks. Akashic Books is devoted to publishing urban literary fiction from around the world and nonfiction with a political focus.
Curdella Forbes seamlessly weaves Jamaican English and the Queen’s English in this captivating novel. Four years before Jamaica’s independence, a woman adopts an unusual-looking baby that she discovered abandoned in a wicker basket. The novel follows Moshe Fisher, the man who was “born without skin,” as he comes of age as an outsider in Jamaica and moves to England in search for his birth father. Part love story and part historical fiction, Tall History of Sugar is a refreshing take on race and colonialism that moves between Jamaica and England.
Coffee House Press
The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zerán, translated by Sophie Hughes
Founded in 1972, Minneapolis-based Coffee House Press “aims to better reflect the wide range of voices that exists in the literature of the Americas.” Their community-based Books in Action program features writers, artists, and activists leading workshops, readings, residencies, screenings, and more.
The Remainder is a multi-generational story about the effects of living under a military dictatorship in Santiago, Chile. Under Pinochet’s regime, over 3,000 Chileans died or disappeared. In the novel, three friends try to find closure for themselves and for their families. The Remainder is Alia Trabucco Zerán’s answer to how we can reconcile violent history and kinship. Her deft and lyrical story on intergenerational trauma was shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize.
Deep Vellum Publishing
“Muslim”: A Novel by Zahia Rahmani, translated by Matt Reeck
Deep Vellum Publishing has been publishing works in translation by underrepresented and marginalized writers for American readers since 2013. Named after the fine parchment paper made from calf or lambskin, Vellum “is a place where tongues of men freed after war turned Elm into Ellum.” The small publisher’s original translations can be also found at their brick-and-mortar bookstore, Deep Vellum Books in Dallas, Texas.
“Muslim”: A Novel follows a narrator born at the end of the Algerian War of Independence to her family’s relocation to the French countryside. Zahia Rahmani, one of France’s leading writers, inserts us into her isolating world of survival through this masterful hybrid work of fiction and lyric essay.
The Hanky of Pippin’s Daughter by Rosmarie Waldrop
Founded by Martin Riker and Danielle Dutton, Dorothy is a publishing project that “is dedicated to works of fiction or near fiction or about fiction, mostly by women.”
A re-issue of the 1986 epistolary novel, The Hanky of Pippin’s Daughter is a reminder that Rosmarie Waldrop is a master of prose fiction and poetry. A young woman in America writes to her sister in Germany as she tries to piece together the lives of her parents, “just those ‘ordinary people’ who helped Hitler rise.” Reading about a country and a family that is falling apart helped me to realize how much memories haunt our everyday lives.
A Girl Goes Into the Forest by Peg Alford Pursell
Since 2006, Dzanc Books has been publishing indie titles, offering creative writing workshops and curating readings. Originally operating from the suburbs of Detroit, former lawyer Steven Gillis and book reviewer Dan Wickett settled on the name “Dzanc” by combining the first initials of their children’s names.
Not to be confused as an opening to a bad joke, A Girl Goes Into the Forest consists of 78 hybrid stories and fables based on epigraphs from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, “The Snow Queen.” In nine sections, Pursell captures intimate moments in short, sometimes single-paragraph, stories of mothers and daughters exploring their sometimes illuminating, sometimes dangerous, sometimes contradictory worlds.
A Girl Returned by Donatella Di Pietrantonio, translated by Ann Goldstein
Europa Editions was founded in 2015 by Italian publishers Sandro Ferri and Sandra Ozzola Ferri. The couple own Rome-based press, Edizioni E/O, which served as inspiration for Europa, as they wanted to bring eclectic and expansive titles from abroad over to American and British readers. Most notable for publishing Elena Ferrante’s the Neapolitan Quartet, Europa Editions aims to deliver high-quality literary fiction.
In A Girl Returned, an unnamed 13-year-old girl finds out that her mother is actually a distant aunt. She’s taken away from the only home she has ever known in the city and “returned” to her birth family—who she has never met—in the impoverished outskirts. Throughout the novel, familial relationships are questioned, torn apart, and brought back together. A Girl Returned is a meditation on belonging, poverty, and inequality seen through the eyes of a teenage girl.
Living on the Borderlines by Melissa Michal
Feminist Press publishes a diverse catalog of women writers with an activist spirit who promote equality. Founded in 1970s during the peak of the second-wave feminist movement, Feminist Press seeks “to advance women’s rights and amplify feminist perspectives.” Since then, the non-profit press has published and reissued the works of trail-blazing authors like Grace Paley, Michelle Tea, and Zora Neale Hurston.
Native American professor Melissa Michal’s debut collection, Living on the Borderlines, centers around the Seneca people living on and off the reservation in upstate New York. In this complex and ruminating short stories, the characters find themselves at a crossroads with preserving history, navigating identity, and fostering connection.
The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Wang
Graywolf started as a chapbook-making coalition (hand-sewn!) that has now transformed into one of the biggest small presses in America. Graywolf publishes 30-35 books a year from their headquarters in Minneapolis. From non-fiction to fiction to poetry, their diverse line-up of books aim to “foster new thinking about what it means to live in the world today.”
Very rarely are books about mental and chronic illnesses written by someone who has actually lived with them. Esmé Wang is changing that with The Collected Schizophrenias, a detailed, ravenous essay collection about living with schizophrenia. Along with the intimate details of being committed in a psychiatric institution and managing her illness while attending an ivy league college, Wang incorporates historical research to shed light on how society discriminates against people with disabilities.
Hub City Press
A Wild Eden by Scott Sharpe
Since 1995, Hub City Press, based in Spartanburg, South Carolina, publishes critical and diverse Southern voices.
Scott Sharpe’s writing is influenced by nature and his home region of the South. In A Wild Eden, he writes about a son who uncovers a hidden past, and witnesses the effects of the opioid epidemic while mourning the death of his father.
Last of Her Name by Mimi Lok
Kaya Press was founded in 1994 in New York as an outlet for creative, provocative, and enticing literary works by Asian and Pacific Island writers diasporic writers. The press is now housed in the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. Kaya brings to light “works that have been unfairly overlooked or forgotten, whether because they were ahead of their times or because no one recognized their worth.”
Comprised of eight short stories, Last of Her Name, spans time and place: from the British suburbs in the 80s to Hong Kong during WWII to California in the present day. In this eclectic and humorous debut collection, Lok intimately explores the lives of her Chinese diasporic characters as they wander through a lonely world, searching for emotional connection.
The Hundred Wells of Salaga by Ayesha Hurruna Attah
In 1998, Other Press published academic and psychoanalytic titles. Now, this small press publishes both prose and poetry. Other Press is “guided by a passion to discover the limits of knowledge and imagination.”
Salaga is a small town in northern Ghana notorious for its 100 wells that were built to support the slave trade. The Hundred Wells of Salaga follows Aminah and Wurche, who live converging lives in precolonial 19th century Ghana. Rich with detail and history, the novel examines the fate of these two women—one who is sold as a slave and the other whose father is a slave-trader.
All City by Alex DiFrancesco
Founded by Dan Simon, Seven Stories began as a venture to obtain the rights for Nelson Algren’s out-of-print books. Seven Stories publishes “uncompromising political books, fiction, and poetry” including the works of Noam Chomsky, Kurt Vonnegut, and Octavia E. Butler.
All City is a speculative fiction novel about squatters, climate change, and gentrification. Set in a near future New York City, a convenience store worker and a teenage, genderqueer anarchist are the leftovers who find refuge in an abandoned luxury building after a superstorm leaves the city in ruins.
Soft Skull Press
Oval by Elvia Wilk
An unsupervised night shift at Kinko’s enabled Sander Hicks to found Soft Skull Press when he started surreptitiously printing and binding his own books on the job in 1992. Since its Kinko days, Soft Skull Press has published hundreds of books—including titles by Eileen Myles, Maggie Nelson, and Lydia Millet—that “offer a refuge from, and an alternative to, and an argument against mainstream culture and mainstream thinking.”
A writer covering art, architecture, and technology, Elvia Wilk is based in New York and Berlin. Her debut, Oval, is a satire about artists living in a (seemingly not so distant) future Berlin where success equals selling out and working in a corporation. The setting of Berlin also doesn’t seem like too far of a stretch, as the city is now running on a tight, eco-friendly agenda, only to make the cost of living in the city skyrocket. Oval is a dark and riveting critique of gentrification and the art world.
The Devils’ Dance by Hamid Ismailov, translated by Donald Rayfield
Tilted Axis is THE press for contemporary literature in translation. Their mission is right in their name: the press works to shift focus from the center towards the margins with their innovative approaches toward publishing and translation. Based in London, Seoul, Toronto, and Vienna, Tilted Axis aims to publish “books that might not otherwise make it into English.”
Originally published as a series on author Hamid Ismailov’s Facebook page, The Devils’ Dance is a poetic, brutal, and mesmerizing novel about a 19th-century Central Asian slave girl.
A Fortune for Your Disaster by Hanif Abdurraqib
The legacy of acclaimed literary magazine Tin House lives on through its publishing press. Based in Portland, Oregon, Tin House Books publishes established writers as well as up-and-coming writers.
Hanif Abdurraqib is one of the leading American voices in cultural criticism and poetry. With a cover alluding to his first collection of poems, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, A Fortune for Your Disaster is a poetry collection that centers around heartbreak, pop culture, and racism.
Saudade by Suneeta Peres da Costa
In 2015, two Columbia MFA graduates were dissatisfied with the New York publishing industry and decided to start their own press. After Adam and Ashley Nelson Levy moved to Oakland, California, Transit Books was formed out of their apartment. Transit Books is dedicated “to the discovery and promotion of enduring works that carry readers across borders and communities.”
Goan Australian writer Suneeta Peres da Costa’s novella follows a young girl and her affluent Goan parents who live in colonial Angola. A coming of age tale set amidst the end of the Portuguese Empire, Saudade explores what it means for colonial subjects to be complicit in oppression and racism. The title, Saudade, comes from a Portuguese word meaning “a lostness, a feeling of not having a place in the world.”
Two Dollar Radio
The Book of X by Sarah Rose Etter
Two Dollar Radio has been operating as a family-run indie press, film production, AND bookstore cafe since 2005. Founders Eric Obenauf and Eliza Wood-Obenauf originally operated out of their living room before moving their headquarters to the south side of Columbus, Ohio.
The narrator of The Book of X is descended from a lineage of women born with a knot in their stomachs. This surrealist debut is an exploration of loneliness, toxic masculinity, and the unrealistic expectations placed on women’s bodies.
The Body Myth by Rheea Mukherjee
Based in L.A., Unnamed Press publishes books from around the world. Their books feature “unlikely protagonists, undiscovered territories and courageous voices.”
The Body Myth takes place in the vibrant fictional city of Suryam in India, the only place in the world where the Rasagura fruit is grown. Recently widowed Mira becomes enamored with a mysterious woman who has a seizure in a park. What follows is an exploration of indefinable illness, complicated relationships, and an unlikely ménage à trois.
Kitchen Curse by Eka Kurniawan, translated by Benedict Anderson, Maggie Tiojakin, Tiffany Tsao, and Annie Tucker
Verso Books is the largest indie radical publisher in the English-speaking world.
Celebrated Indonesian novelist Eka Kurniawan’s short story collection is twisted and grossly humorous. Not for the squeamish or the faint-hearted, Kitchen Curse includes scatological stories and violent tales of revenge.
Portrait of Sebastian Khan by Aatif Rashid
7.13 is more than what their Twitter bio, “Just another Brooklyn indie publisher,” suggests. A haven for new authors, 7.13 exclusively publishes debuts. What’s better than a press that roots for the underdog?
Aatif Rashid’s debut follows Muslim American art history student, Sebastian Khan. A couple hundred days away from graduating, Sebastian joins the Model UN at his college—not because he’s interested in world affairs, but “for the glamor of international diplomacy without any of the responsibility”— and spends his time attending conferences at different colleges across the country where he starts fretting over his future. In this witty, semi-satirical coming-of-age story, Sebastian navigates the anxiety of graduating and leaving the safe bubble of college for the uncertainty of adult world.