When Dede Cummings founded Green Writers Press (GWP) in April 2014, she sought to use her twenty-five plus years of publishing experience to do something about the growing climate crisis. Four and a half years later, the press has grown rapidly in its size and in its mission, publishing books from glaciologists and governors alike and vocally supporting human rights movements in conjunction with nature rights movements.
The core of this expanding mission lies in feminism. “We are a woman-owned publishing company and we are actively seeking diversity in terms of our authors and characters,” Cummings says. “We have writers and staff who are bisexual, gay, straight, trans, Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, immigrants—we want to create a safe place for freedom of speech and we want to raise a chorus of voices of writers, readers, and artists who care about the fate of the earth and want to do something about it.”
GWP’s fall releases explore issues of mental health, family dynamics, lost and found spirituality, and comings-of-age in fiction, nonfiction, memoir, and poetry. Five GWP authors from teen poet Megan Alice to octogenarian icon Governor Madeleine Kunin met over email to discuss discovering this indie press, working with, and beside, other women, and the role literature written by diverse voices can play in growing empathy as a society.
Emma Irving (Rail): How did you find Green Writers Press? I know a few of you are first-time authors; what was it about GWP that told you this was the place to trust with your debut work?
Terry Watkins, Darling Girl: I entered a contest sponsored by the When Words Count Retreat (WWC) and found myself a finalist. Green Writers Press was the publisher associated with the contest. Dede and her team not only helped me polish the book, they’ve also been helping me learn about publishing. As a first-time author, it is really important to have someone you trust shepherding you through this very complicated process.
Christine Eberle, Finding God in Ordinary Time: My story is the same as Terry’s! During Meet the Judges at WWC, I told Dede that I was planning on ending my book with a poem by Mary Oliver from her book Thirst: Poems. Guess who the book designer for Thirst: Poems was? You got it . . . Dede herself! That was my first sign that our partnership was meant to be!
Jen Epstein, Don’t Get Too Excited: It’s Just About a Pair of Shoes and Other Laments From My Life: I was a winner of WWC’s Pitch Week! Dede was one of the judges on an esteemed panel of industry professionals. Pitch Week—picture the TV show Shark Tank, only for writers—though grueling, is a beneficial exercise in learning the in’s and outs of the publishing world, especially if you are a first time author. Winners of Pitch Week receive a publishing contract, and Green Writers Press is the publisher.
Since signing with Green Writers Press, I have had the incredible honor of working with Dede and Ben Tanzer, benefiting from their expertise, access to resources, and excitement for me and for my book when I resisted doing so! (Spoiler alert, if you read my book this will make more sense.)
Madeleine Kunin, Coming of Age: I found the press in Seven Days which is a free, independent newspaper based in Burlington. I was reading some book reviews when I noticed the publisher was Green Writers Press. My agent reached out to GWP shortly after that, and as Jen noted with her book, Dede was enthusiastic right away. That enthusiasm just struck me right off; she was very excited about my book, and even though we live at opposite ends of the state, she makes sure we work very closely together.
Megan Alice, A Bouquet of Daisies:I found Green Writers Press through my literary agent. When she told me of a small Vermont-based publishing company that uses the gateless method, was run by a woman, and is very female-centric, I was 100% for it. As a 17-year-old, I did not expect to be picked up by the publishing company but when Laura did phone me and told me that Green Writers Press wanted to publish my work, I was ecstatic! I was in tears over how happy I was.
I love the press because it is environmentally friendly. They work with recycled paper and they try to be as sustainable as possible, which I respect. We definitely need to protect our Earth because it’s the only planet we have.
I also really admired the things Dede had to say. She liked my work and listened to me even though I’m young, and that was empowering. I encountered a few publishing companies that did dismiss me because of my age. I didn't take that as a loss because I wouldn't want to be with a publishing company that didn't take me seriously. I felt so passionate and serious about my work; I didn't want someone representing me that didn’t completely believe in my words and my ability to affect the lives of other people.
Rail: Megan, I know it was critical to you to work with women as your poetry touches on some difficult subjects of mental illness and sexual assault. As female authors, how do you think working with the female leadership of the press and beside other female authors through this whole process has impacted your journey to authorship?
Alice: Working beside other women has impacted me in the sense that I would not have written about the injustices of being a woman had I not been around and seen all of these injustices that other women face. Some of the stories in my book are not just from my personal experience, but also from my sister’s and my mom’s. Women, as a collective, have similar stories that are being told in the #MeToo Movement. These are stories that we universally connect with and feel the need to share because they are important. These are stories that must be told.
I would not have wanted to publish my book through anything other than a female-centered company. It would not have felt right to me any other way because so much of my book is based on the experiences of women. I am a woman and half of my donations are going to Planned Parenthood, so of course I want to work with women through this whole process. My literary agent is a fantastic woman, and so is Dede, and my editor. I think women empowering other women is one of the things that this world really needs right now.
Epstein: Working with a female editor at a women-owned press definitely impacted my writing process. In one of the chapters in my book, I discuss body-image and what it was like living with my father as an adolescent and teenager, as well as not having my mother present in my life to guide me through those challenging years.
I think working with a female editor made it easier for me to come out of my comfort zone and write more explicitly and honestly about some very painful subjects that still affect me as an adult. I'm not sure I would have felt as comfortable working with a male editor. This is not to say that I think men lack the capacity or empathy to discuss these issues openly and honestly, or that men are not affected by body image issues—of course they are! However, I do think perhaps, that it is a more relatable subject for women then for men.
Kunin: Well I don’t think gender always plays a huge role [in the editorial relationship], but in the case of my book, it made a difference that Dede understood what I was getting at. I think some men could capture that too; I don’t think you have to be a female person, but it helps.
Watkins: I always find working with women such an enriching experience. I developed close relationships with Christine Eberle and two other women who haven’t published yet. We bounced ideas off each other, supported each other when we thought we couldn’t do this anymore, and have continued to support each other as we move through this process. At home, my writing group is primarily female and we support each other not just in our writing but in the real world as well. Women are just there for each other in ways that men are not.
Rail: Terry, this is a good point because it feels to me that a whole new wave not only of female voices, but of underrepresented voices from many reaches, have blazed forward in the past few years, demanding to be heard. I want to know your thoughts on the importance of literature—especially, but not exclusively, by women—in this current political climate. We’ll start with Madeleine on this one, noting that she was Vermont’s first (and at this point, only) female governor and stands as a feminist icon in myriad ways.
Kunin: The Donald Trump election has unleashed a great amount of activism, and women feel they have to use their voices now—their public voices, not just private. As some of that is funneled through writing, as women are running for public office in record numbers, I think we’ll see more writing on this new phase of the revolution. People want to write about their new feelings and new experiences but also about their pasts. I think some good writers will emerge from [this time] who we wouldn’t have heard from in the past. This is a real push for self-expression and for dialogue. For many women this is uncharted territory, so I think it’s an exciting time for creativity.
Dede Cummings:With the #MeToo Movement, we were thrilled to publish Madeleine Kunin's memoir! With the dangerous Trump campaign against immigrants, we have signed the book The Coffeehouse Resistance: Brewing Hope in Desperate Times by Sarina Prabasi who is Nepali and became a New American just before Trump got elected and is now "brewing" an activist movement throughout the country. We’re welcoming activists of all sorts even more now during the Trump presidency.
Epstein: When I was an undergrad, I took a course in Feminist Science Fiction where I was introduced to the compelling literary voices of Marge Piercy and Octavia Butler, among others. At the time, haunting images of a planet ravaged by climate change and vast economic inequality didn’t sound plausible to me. Humans would never come to be this reckless and apathetic towards our most precious resources—right?
Sadly, in today’s world, this prophetic genre of literature reads more like dystopian ‘reality’ lit, than science fiction. It has become our manifesto, daily reminder, and call to action to reverse the dangerous path we’re on.
It isn’t surprising that many women writers have a deep appreciation and innate understanding of the importance of telling stories of intersectionality and the “other.” For centuries, so many women have been marginalized and labeled as the “other.”
We are at a pivotal moment in history, where writers of all genders have a unique opportunity to engage in activism by telling more stories of populations directly impacted by multiple forms of racial, economic, and gender inequality.
Eberle: You may remember the study a few years ago which revealed that readers of literary fiction show more empathy and understanding of others’ emotions. Is that not what is needed now more than ever? Literature—especially by women—allows the reader to enter into the unique experience and feeling-world of people in vastly different life circumstances. At a time when so many people are voluntarily trapped an echo chamber of heterogeneous voices, I agree with Jen that anything that can build compassion for “the other” is of utmost value.
Watkins: Literature is the space where we are able to explore our fears and our beliefs. It can be a mirror held up to a society to show its strengths and weaknesses. In the case of fantasy and science fiction, it often serves to allow us to understand other options, other solutions for the problems we face today. Finally, it can serve as an escape from the pressures of living in a society in which we feel hopeless.
Emma Irving is a contributor to the Brooklyn Rail.