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Shawnee-based press publishes writing of the New South

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Amy Wilson is publisher and a cofounder of Red Dirt Press. | Photo Red Dirt Press / provided
  • Amy Wilson is publisher and a cofounder of Red Dirt Press. | Photo Red Dirt Press / provided

Two things that best define a region are its soil and its literature. One physically roots the land; the other marks qualities slightly harder to describe.

Red Dirt Press, a Shawnee-based independent publishing house, recognizes the stories inherent in geography as well as the geography in stories.

In 2013, Amy Wilson and Yasser El-Sayad, friends and University of Oklahoma graduates, had a discussion about Red Dirt music, which eventually turned to Red Dirt literature.

As a result, Wilson and El-Sayad launched an online journal called Red Truck Review, now Red Dirt Forum.

Although El-Sayad lives in California and works at Stanford as a physician and professor, Wilson said technology allows him to be the development editor and copy editor at Red Dirt Press.

After receiving what Wilson described as “flurries of submissions,” Red Truck Review grew into something bigger.

“We decided we would take the same concepts for a magazine and start a publishing press,” said Wilson, who founded Red Dirt Press, LLC in 2015 and serves as its publisher. “We’re looking at a New South that’s not a caricature or stereotype.”

The voices of the New South represent ones that were not necessarily heard or amplified in a pre-segregation society.

Wilson said she often publishes books that embrace the complexities of the contemporary American South. Red Dirt Press features writers such as William Bernhardt, Clay Cantrell, Steven L. Parker and Terry Barr.

Wilson said today’s industry climate could make it difficult for writers to publish their work. Independent presses provide another channel for writers whose stories are regionally specific and perhaps outside the mainstream in terms of theme or content.

“I think the writing community in Oklahoma is eclectic, very broad and extraordinarily friendly,” Wilson said. “This is a very supportive and great place to be a writer.”

Red Dirt Press published William Bernhardt’s second poetry collection, The Ocean’s Edge, in July. | Photo Red Dirt Press / provided
  • Red Dirt Press published William Bernhardt’s second poetry collection, The Ocean’s Edge, in July. | Photo Red Dirt Press / provided

Collaborative effort

As an independent publisher, Red Dirt Press pays attention to its authors. Wilson said the company works with one author on one book at a time.

The small press publishes four to six books per year and determines best publication format, whether softcover, hardback or e-book, on a case-by-case basis.

“We work together as a collaborative team,” Wilson said.

She said that close collaboration reflects a larger trend within alternative publishing.

“You’re a team together with the author; it’s not a top-down management paradigm at all,” she said.

While small publishing houses can provide high-quality, region-focused literature by talented writers, it must also pay careful attention to long-term business models.

“We are running a business as much as we are dealing with art,” Wilson said.

She said Red Dirt Press faced challenges in finding the intersection between its goals, its mission and sustainable viability.

“But I think we’ve met that goal and we are able to publish good-quality books,” she said.

Red Dirt Press’ long-term goals are to continue finding great work by independent authors and to take it public.

“I don’t have words to describe how gratifying it is that someone’s work has gone from a computer .zip file to a book,” Wilson said. “That transformation is very rewarding, and that’s why we do it.”

Learn more at reddirtpress.net.

print headline: Southern sagas, Red Dirt Press helps writers tell stories about the New South.

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