Alice James Books in Farmington applies to the National Endowment of the Arts every year for grant funding to support the publication of poetry books such as Rosebud Ben-Oni’s “If This Is the Age We End Discovery” which will be released in March. Photo Courtesy of Alice James Books

FARMINGTON — The independent publisher Alice James Books, based in Farmington, has been awarded $30,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts to support the publication of upcoming books of poetry.

“It’s a foundational source of income for us. I think without the NEA’s support, Alice James would not be where it is today. It’s a really big deal for us,” Executive Editor and Director Carey Salerno said in a phone interview.

Alice James, originally established in Boston, was founded in 1973 as a feminist press focused on publishing poetry. In 1994 the press moved to Farmington, settling in to a cozy house along the edge of Abbott Park on Prescott Street and formed a partnership with the University of Maine at Farmington.

The partnership which Salerno referred to as a wonderful and symbiotic relationship, provides the space for collaborative workshops with published writers and internship opportunities for students interested in the publishing industry.

While Alice James has increasingly expanded its operation since its inception, the press still relies on public and private donations to fund the publication of its titles. Salerno applies for NEA funding every year, listing specific titles and authors the grant would support.

“What we typically do, and every organization can do it a little bit differently, but the way we do it is we look at the list of forthcoming books and we request funding support for the forthcoming publication of those books,” Salerno said. 

NEA grant money will support the upcoming book of poetry “Broken Spectre,” available in the fall, by Maine writer Jacques Rancourt, a UMF graduate and former Alice James intern. The poems traverse themes of love, desire and the AIDS epidemic.

The publication of “No Ruined Stone,” by Shara McCallum will be partly funded by Alice James Books’ recent grant award by the National Endowment of the Arts. The Farmington-based publisher aims to feature writers who may have a difficult time being published because of the stories they are telling or for their writing style. Photo Courtesy of Alice James Books

Another title that the NEA  grant will support is “No Ruined Stone” by Shara McCallum, available in August. The narrative-style poems address colonialism through researched accounts of Scottish people’s history with slavery in the Caribbean.

“We really are looking to publish a broad range of styles and voices and partnering with writers who might otherwise go unheard and helping those people tell their stories,” Salerno said. “Often times there are writers that can’t get published because of the story that they’re telling or the way in which they are telling it, and so we provide a place where they can connect with the public and engage with their audiences through what we say, ‘books that matter’ and trying to help these individual stories be heard.” 

Salerno said that over the years the press has grown and increased its income by gaining more readers and publishing writers who put substantial effort into engaging their audiences. Still, grant money from the NEA remains a pivotal component to Alice James’ yearly operations.

The NEA was established by Congress through the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act of 1965 to support projects, artists and organizations.

The 1965 Act outlines the reasons for the federal government to provide funding for the arts and humanities with Section 2 (3) stating:

“An advanced civilization must not limit its efforts to science and technology alone, but must give full value and support to the other great branches of scholarly and cultural activity in order to achieve a better understanding of the past, a better analysis of the present, and a better view of the future.”

Over the years, Salerno has advocated to ensure the continuation of the NEA as the federal agency has historically faced abolishment depending on the presidential administration. Donald Trump’s proposed budgets often included the elimination of the NEA.

“The last four years in particular were a little trepidatious in terms of what the funding would look like, or could look like, or if it would be eliminated entirely,” Salerno said. 

After four years of uncertainty, Alice James faced yet another unpredictable year with the coronavirus pandemic. With lfewer people visiting book stores and book distributors facing long delays for shipments, Salerno estimated that the press is behind 35%-40% in books sales.

Of course the pandemic has also created a couple of opportunities for us to try to receive some emergency funding and we’ve applied for everything we possibly could be eligible for,” she said. “We were very, very fortunate to receive funding in the first round of the PPP (paycheck protection program) application and that really helped us over the summer.”

Now the publisher is looking to virtual fundraising to supplement NEA funding to put out their yearly goal of eight books. In March, the Alice James website will release information for a virtual auction where participants can bid on items such as custom sweaters, a virtual whiskey tasting, cooking classes and of course, Alice James books.

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