Trying something new this week. Instead of interviewing a poet, I've interviewed the founders of Penny Candy Books, which publishes children's books, including poetry. Specifically, this interview features Alexis Orgera and Chad Reynolds.
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Revision doesn’t have to be a chore–something that should be done after the excitement of composing the first draft. Rather, it’s an extension of the creation process!
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What are you currently up to?
Alexis Orgera: Well, today I've been making a production schedule for upcoming books. We have three or four coming out in the fall and four more next spring. There's a lot of calendar action over here today.
Chad Reynolds: We are working on securing illustrators for an exciting book we're doing with Tony Medina in Spring 2018. We're always reading submissions that have come in. We are preparing for BookExpo America in NYC at the end of May and ALA Conference in Chicago in June. We're thinking about how we can grow aggressively but sustainably.
How is Penny Candy Books unique compared to other publishers?
AO: I'd say that, first and foremost, Chad and I each have a poet's aesthetic. This translates into unexpected books for children, both language-wise and illustration-wise. We like stories that tell it slant, and that seems to be how our list is coming into the world. Not all of our books are poem based…but many are. Next year alone, we have haiku, tanka, couplets, and free verse books coming out.
In addition, we set out to make sure our authors, illustrators, collaborators, and audience are a diverse group of people and that we put diverse stories into the world. We're definitely not unique here, but we're proud to be actually making it happen.
A Gift from Greensboro, a poem by Quraysh Ali Lansana, was your first title. How did that book come about?
CR: I've admired Q's work since we had poems come out in the same issue of a local lit mag in 2010, but I didn't meet him in person until a few years later, when he was an instructor at Oklahoma City University's low-residency MFA program, and I attended a reading where he brought the house down. At that point, I had started Short Order Poems with another local poet, so we invited Q to join us for an event. This was the fall of 2014. A year later, when Alexis and I started Penny Candy, I knew Q would be someone we'd want to solicit for a manuscript. He responded by sending us his "Woolworth's Poem," which became A Gift from Greensboro.
What are you looking for in submissions from poets and other writers?
AO:We're looking for stories that pay attention to language, aren't full of stage direction, say something true and authentic rather than simply trying to teach a lesson.
You and Chad are poets yourselves. Does this make you more open to poetry submissions?
AO: I think so. We get pretty jazzed when we see a good poetry submission. Even more jazzed when a poet we admire expresses interest in what we're doing. In essence, all good kids' books are poems, even when they're written in prose, so there's that.
If you could pass on only one tip for other poets, what would it be?
AO: Language matters. Poetry is an antidote to carelessness and mindlessness. Poetry, like mindfulness, when practiced diligently centers both writer and reader. Also, make sure you derive joy from writing poems. The act itself. Otherwise, you'll burn out and get discouraged.
Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He loves hearing from poets, publishers, and others interested in poetry.
Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.