An Interview with Kate Gale: Is there quality writing, poetry and publishing Out There?

Aug 15, 2011 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

1) Kate, you are the Editor of Red Hen Press. How did that come about?

I am the co-founder of Red Hen Press. Two of us, Mark E. Cull and myself started the press in 1994. He took on the role of publisher and I as editor.

2) Let’s talk about the specific types of books that you publish- could you characterized them as perhaps avant garde? Or new age? Or do you eschew labels?

We are looking for writers who want to be a permanent part of the press, who want to find a home with us, who are writing at a level of mastery and excellence with their work. We publish all kinds of excellent poetry from formalist to lyric to spoken word as long as it is work that is excellent.

We publish prose that is in the categories of fiction, creative non fiction and experimental. We’ve done a number of memoirs; we have two books of flash fiction coming out, and we certainly publish both novels and short story collections. Again, I want literary work that is really work at a high level. I want work that feels disturbing, dark, dangerous, work that has something glittery beneath the surface, work that neither soothes nor comforts, work that awakens.

3) Now, the field of writing, and literature- how hard is it for a good author, with perhaps some divergent ideas to get published?

Very hard. The big publishers are looking for work that appeals to the common denominator. They want products that they can place, authors who have platforms.

There’s not a lot of room for making shifts in collective vision in terms of thought or literary form.

On the other hand, I urge writers to be persistent. You don’t have to play “po-biz” but it doesn’t hurt to get to know some writers who might be able to bring you to the attention of their editor or agent who might love your work, but might me do overwhelmed by the deadly slush pile to find it on his or her own.

4) Red Hen seems to have invested in poetry- conscious decision? Or serendipity?

We started off as a poetry press. In 1997, we published our first fiction collection, Anyone is Possible which sold out in three months. At that point we began to move in the direction of prose and currently we publish 10 poetry collections a year and ten prose titles although this varies slightly year to year.

5) Your books run the gamut from stickball on 88th street in New York City ( where I used to live ) to gay, lesbian, bi issues. Are you intentionally trying for a panorama or cornucopia?

We look for good writing. Willis Barnstone and Doug Kearney’s Fear Some and Kate Coles Fault might seem to have nothing in common, but they do, they are all excellent writing. As a reader, I read widely and as an editor, what I want to do is publish great lyric poetry, great language poetry, great narrative poetry and we’ve done several novels in poetry, Ludlow being the most successful.

6) Real emotion, real feelings, real sensitivities to the human condition- would you say this characterizes Red Hen? How would you characterize Red Hen?

I would say that what characterizes Red Hen is a commitment to building literary community through our reading series, our writing in the schools program, our awards, literary magazine and publications. A belief that excellence should be published and an absolute belief in sharing the gifts that we are giving rather than hoarding.

7) A man falls in love with a teller in his bank. She is consistently caring and compassionate, and they run off to Gibraltar then the Canary Islands- good plot for a novel? Or what do YOU look for?

Again, I look for good writing. If you think about Gilead, the plot doesn’t sound like much. Old minister marries younger not-bright woman, has son. But the writing enthralls you to the point of utter passion. I never take a book based on a pitch, I don’t believe in pitches. I have to see the writing and be moved.

8) Your inside scoop- are there authors that you have published that are just about to break the big time out there in California?

Well, Camille Dungy, Doug Kearney, Brendan Constantine are all about to become household names in the poetry world. Rex Wilder, Lisa Krueger as well. Eloise Klein Healy already has a national reputation.

9) Kate- please- tell some of our readers who are playwrights—does anyone publish plays anymore? Why the hell not?

It’s sad, I love reading plays. I read Long Day’s Journey into Night , but besides Samuel French, nobody seems to publish plays any more.

I wish they did, I publish plays too, I guess the question is would people buy them?

10) How does Red Hen contribute to appreciation of an art form? Or are profits just the bottom line?

We have 25 readings a year so that’s a lot of space for people to appreciate literature and we lose money on those readings, so I’d say profits are not the bottom line, but getting our writers out there.

11) If readers want to scan an interesting catalog, where can they go-? Give us the low down on your web site- but from behind a detective’s desk- he has just finished his coffee and donuts.

We are right now redoing our website so it is a lot more friendly, you can choose to look at just poetry, or just prose, or look for a particular author, you can access information on our readings and on reviews, awards and other press news.

Red Hen is grateful for all our supporters and to all our writers whose work has helped us become a national press with international writers as well. We love the field of literature and the people we’ve had the opportunity to work with.


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