Keaton Maddox and the
Red Hen Saga
By Donna Letterese
Southern California based publisher Red Hen Press has been one of the only literary presses in the Los Angeles area since its foundation. While initially focused on poetry, Red Hen now also concentrates on fiction, nonfiction, and some experimental genres.
Keaton Maddox, Red Hen's Associate Editor and Publicist, has himself long been a lover and creator of traditional and experimental uses of the written word. Maddox wrote poetry in middle and high school, but it wasn't until college that he began to take himself seriously as a writer.
He was particularly inspired after getting involved with an activity called Forensics: essentially, competitive public speaking with performative literature events. "I fell in love with the writers that these kids were using as their inspiration," Maddox reflects. "I started following a lot of different poets and fiction writers, and figured out what ways I could create my own works."
Poetry was the initial genre Maddox was drawn to, with performance poetry being what he enjoyed most. "Write Bloody Publishing, which almost exclusively published performance poets, was my childhood love," Maddox muses. "They had a very different model than Red Hen, but were fantastic. Their writers gave Ted Talks and created YouTube videos, and included such talents as Sarah Kay and Clint Smith."
Maddox also emphasizes his appreciation for Maggie Nelson and Ann Carson, well-known creative-nonfiction authors. "I love when writers can balance that line between research-based nonfiction and the lyric essay," Maddox notes. "You can make really interesting approaches to something that is fact driven, while simultaneously mastering language."
Luckily, a small press publisher such as Red Hen is perfectly set up to showcase writers in more unusual genres. Maddox explains that while the big five publishers have more financial backing to do elaborate marketing and PR, smaller publishers have the advantage of being far more intimate - both with their authors and audience.
Red Hen Press has always been a press that wanted its authors to be very involved. "The success of a book depends on how much of a champion for their own book the author is going to be. "Another of its goals has always been to give voice to underrepresented individuals, while promoting diversity in literature.
In 1994, it began primarily as a poetry press. Mark Cull, the company Publisher, and Kate Gale, the Managing Editor, are the founders. Cull writes fiction, while Gale is a poet who has also written novels and librettos.
Over the past few years, things have slightly changed - yet, the mission statement has remained the same. "Since we slightly modified our model, we've been publishing more and more prose titles," Maddox clarifies. "We're really excited about the new works we have on the horizon."
Some samples of the new titles include Another Fine Mess: Life on Tomorrow's Moon, an essay collection by Pope Brock, based on research and facts, exploring what might happen if we were to colonize the moon, and Circadian, a lyric essay collection by Chelsey Clammer.
While publishing has been greatly affected by the many technological changes the world is undergoing, Red Hen Press and Maddox have embraced such changes as new opportunities. For one forthcoming Red Hen title, the author is going to do a blog tour. This is a way to have her never leave her home, and still feature her voice as it tours across various blogs.
In addition, the Los Angeles Review has been biannually published in print by Red Hen since 2003. This summer it converted to an online format. Now, it will publish a "Best of" annual issue, while publishing weekly web content. Maddox and Red Hen realized that putting things online creates exposure, ultimately drawing hardcore literature fans towards purchasing the physical books.
As to the creation of the books, Red Hen takes great pride in its production value, doing everything in house and using a variety of printers. "We love creating a great final product that feels good in the hands," Maddox beams. "It's wonderful to still be able to interact with a book, turn its pages, and mark it up."
As Red Hen is distributed by Ingram Content Group, Lightning Source largely takes care of the printing, using printers all over the country. This is along with offset printers, like Versa Press, for very large print runs. Red Hen was also recently gifted Pig Hog Press, based in the UK, and runs the imprint Story Line Press, which focuses on formalist poetry.
Red Hen is specifically based in Pasadena. In addition to its publishing work, the press also works directly with Los Angeles and Pasadena based elementary, middle, and high schools, sending published writers into schools to work with students. The goal is to not only be a major literary publisher, but a major Los Angeles area nonprofit as well.
Red Hen also recently acquired a new building in Pasadena, where a groundbreaking ceremony will be being held on September 10th. Maddox is excited for this beautiful new space, to introduce Red Hen to the community, and for the opportunity to have a great place that will house Red Hen's literary center.
While Maddox does strongly believe in the clout behind professional publishing (not to mention the fact that production quality, editing, and the advantage of professional distribution come with going through a publishing house), he also encourages self-publishing for writers when it's right.
More important than a degree, life experience, or your publisher - Maddox encourages aspiring writers to keep creating and to keep getting their work out there. The main thing that Maddox emphasizes is that above all, a writer has to be his own champion. "You have to really believe in what you are doing, and you have to work for it yourself," he smiles. "People will latch onto that, and become your champion - but believe in yourself first. Do whatever it takes to get your book into the world."
Interested bookworms and writers can learn more about Red Hen Press by visiting their website at RedHen.org.
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