Welcome back to this series in which I spotlight some of my favorite indie publishers! This week I’m talking about Counterpoint/Catapult/Soft Skull, which are a group of rad people who work together to release some of the best books out there.
Full disclosure: these posts are not paid, but I have received several ARCs and review copies from these publishers. Not all of the individual titles I’ll talk about were given to me, some per purchased. But just a heads up, I do get free books from these lovely folks. However, I do really love the work they put out and would (and do!) happily buy books from them regardless.
Ok, let’s get into it.
Vera Violet by Melissa Anne Peterson (Counterpoint)
This one piqued my interest because it takes place (at least partly) in the PNW, and is written by a PNW author. As a transplant to this place, my experience of it is limited compared to people who were raised here, and because I’ve never lived in rural PNW, I don’t really know what it’s like. I imagine it’s a little like rural Maine, which is where I’m from, but I’m excited to read this one and get a sense of this author’s perspective on her character’s life. Plus, it just sounds like a really good story:
“Vera Violet recounts the dark story of a rough group of teenagers growing up in a twisted rural logging town. There are no jobs. There is no sense of safety. But there is a small group of loyal friends, a truck waiting with the engine running, a pair of boots covered in blood, and a hot 1911 with a pearl pistol grip.
Vera Violet O’Neely’s home is in the Pacific Northwest—not the glamorous scene of coffee bars and craft beers, but the hardscrabble region of busted pickups and broken dreams. Vera’s mother has left, her father is unstable, and her brother is deeply troubled. Against this gritty background, Vera struggles to establish a life of her own, a life fortified by her friends and her hard-won love. But the relentless poverty coupled with the twin lures of crystal meth and easy money soon shatter fragile alliances.”
Spirit Run by Noé Álvarez (Catapult)
The description of this book sounds like a PERFECT intersection of my interests, and it’s from another PNW author. I’ll let it speak for itself:
“Growing up in Yakima, Washington, Noé Álvarez worked at an apple-packing plant alongside his mother, who “slouched over a conveyor belt of fruit, shoulder to shoulder with mothers conditioned to believe this was all they could do with their lives.” A university scholarship offered escape, but as a first-generation Latino college-goer, Álvarez struggled to fit in.
At nineteen, he learned about a Native American/First Nations movement called the Peace and Dignity Journeys, epic marathons meant to renew cultural connections across North America. He dropped out of school and joined a group of Dené, Secwépemc, Gitxsan, Dakelh, Apache, Tohono O’odham, Seri, Purépecha, and Maya runners, all fleeing difficult beginnings. Telling their stories alongside his own, Álvarez writes about a four-month-long journey from Canada to Guatemala that pushed him to his limits. He writes not only of overcoming hunger, thirst, and fear—dangers included stone-throwing motorists and a mountain lion—but also of asserting Indigenous and working-class humanity in a capitalist society where oil extraction, deforestation, and substance abuse wreck communities.
Running through mountains, deserts, and cities, and through the Mexican territory his parents left behind, Álvarez forges a new relationship with the land, and with the act of running, carrying with him the knowledge of his parents’ migration, and—against all odds in a society that exploits his body and rejects his spirit—the dream of a liberated future.”
Definitely one of my most anticipated reads of 2020.
A Map Is Only One Story, edited by Nicole Chung and Mensah Demary (Catapult)
Nicole Chung’s 2018 memoir All You Could Ever Know, about her adoption as a Korean American to white parents, was one of the best books of the year in my opinion. Here, she and Demary have crafted the first anthology of writing from Catapult magazine, with pieces from 20 writers, including Cinelle Barnes (author of the wildly engrossing memoir Monsoon Mansion) and Porochista Khakpour (author of the memoir Sick).
The other book forthcoming in 2020 that I can’t get out of my head is Chelsea Bieker’s GODSHOT, from Catapult. I read a PDF of this a couple months ago and lost my mind. Full disclosure, Chelsea was my teacher for a fiction class I took, and she was fantastic, so I’m kind of biased, but get at this book. That is all.
PEN America Best Debut Short Stories (Catapult)
This collection was edited by Danielle Evans, Alice Sola Kim, and Carmen Maria Machado, and honestly what more do you want? It collects stories by winners of the PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers, which recognizes twelve writers who have made outstanding debuts in literary magazines in the previous year.
The Beadworkers by Beth Piatote (Counterpoint)
This debut collection of short stories, poetry and even a play by Nez Perce writer and scholar Beth Piatote is full of incredible characters and settings. Some are historical fiction, some contemporary, and that play is a reimagining of Antigone. It’s a gorgeous read.
The Revisioners by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton (Counterpoint)
Margaret Wilkerson Sexton’s follow-up novel to her debut A Kind of Freedom (which was nominated for the National Book Award) is hotly anticipated (it comes out 11/5), and for good reason. Her writing is electric. Here’ the synopsis:
“In 1924, Josephine is the proud owner of a thriving farm. As a child, she channeled otherworldly power to free herself from slavery. Now her new neighbor, a white woman named Charlotte, seeks her company, and an uneasy friendship grows between them. But Charlotte has also sought solace in the Ku Klux Klan, a relationship that jeopardizes Josephine’s family.
Nearly one hundred years later, Josephine’s descendant, Ava, is a single mother who has just lost her job. She moves in with her white grandmother, Martha, a wealthy but lonely woman who pays Ava to be her companion. But Martha’s behavior soon becomes erratic, then threatening, and Ava must escape before her story and Josephine’s converge.
The Revisioners explores the depths of women’s relationships—powerful women and marginalized women, healers and survivors. It is a novel about the bonds between mothers and their children, the dangers that upend those bonds. At its core, The Revisioners ponders generational legacies, the endurance of hope, and the undying promise of freedom.”
Insomnia by Marina Benjamin (Catapult)
“Insomnia is on the rise. Villainous and unforgiving, it’s the enemy of energy and focus, the thief of our repose. But can insomnia be an ally, too, a validator of the present moment, of edginess and creativity? Marina Benjamin takes on her personal experience of the condition—her struggles with it, her insomniac highs, and her dawning awareness that states of sleeplessness grant us valuable insights into the workings of our unconscious minds. Although insomnia is rarely entirely welcome, Benjamin treats it less as an affliction than as an encounter that she engages with and plumbs. She adds new dimensions to both our understanding of sleep (and going without it) and of night, and how we perceive darkness.
Along the way, Insomnia trips through illuminating material from literature, art, philosophy, psychology, pop culture, and more. Benjamin pays particular attention to the relationship between women and sleep—Penelope up all night, unraveling her day’s weaving for Odysseus; the Pre-Raphaelite artists’ depictions of deeply sleeping women; and the worries that keep contemporary females awake. Insomnia is an intense, lyrical, witty, and humane exploration of a state we too often consider only superficially. “This is the song of insomnia, and I shall sing it,” Marina Benjamin declares.”
Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot (Counterpoint)
This tiny, dense explosion of a memoir took the writing/reading/general world by storm last year. Mailhot, a First Nation writer, journalist, and teacher, writes so honestly about such dark chapters of her life, in such incredibly crafted sentences, it’s both difficult to read and impossible to put down.
Vanishing Twins: A Marriage by Leah Dieterich (Soft Skull)
This book of autofiction about a woman, the other woman she loves, the coworker she loves, and her husband is so twisty, folding back on itself in perfect croissant-level layers, that I read it in a day last year. It’s also super queer! Which of course I love.
Cool For You by Eileen Myles (Soft Skull)
This novel from celebrated queer poet Eileen Myles “follows a queer female growing up in working-class Boston, straining against the institutions that hold her: family, Catholic school, jobs at a camp, at a nursing home, at a school for developmentally disabled adult males.” It’s classic Myles, but in novel(ish) form! (If you’ve ever read them, they do not adhere to rules.)
Mitz: The Marmoset of Bloomsbury by Sigrid Nunez (Soft Skull)
Remember how Bloomsbury Publishing was founded by Virginia and Leonard Woolf, and how they were quirky af writers, and how Virginia was queer af? Well, they had a pet marmoset, and who better but Sigrid Nunez, Animal Whisperer (she won the National Book Award for 2018’s The Friend) to write that story? Yes please.
Something Bright, Then Holes by Maggie Nelson (Soft Skull)
Maggie Nelson is another icon of genre-bending queer lit, and in this poetry collection, she “refers here to a polluted urban waterway, the Gowanus Canal, these words could just as easily describe Nelson’s incisive approach to desire, heartbreak, and emotional excavation in Something Bright, Then Holes. Whether writing from the debris-strewn shores of a contaminated canal or from the hospital room of a friend, Nelson charts each emotional landscape she encounters with unparalleled precision and empathy. Since its publication in 2007, the collection has proven itself to be both a record of a singular vision in the making as well as a timeless meditation on love, loss, and—perhaps most frightening of all—freedom.”
That’s it for this edition of Small Press Spotlights, friends! Thanks for reading, and come back next week for another favorite, Tin House.