Beginning in fall 2023, UNCW’s MFA program is offering students a complementary post-baccalaureate certificate in literary publishing. The 15-hour degree prepares graduates to work in publishing, editing, publicity, marketing, grant writing, and book and magazine design and production, among other areas. Students also learn skills beneficial in a variety of adjacent fields—from public relations to arts management. At the heart of the program are apprenticeships with the department’s award-winning literary entities: imprint Lookout Books and magazines Ecotone and Chautauqua.
As Lookout’s graduate publishing assistant, I’ve found hands-on experiences with the imprint to be invaluable. I chose UNCW’s MFA program because I wanted to explore professional options as I gained practical, real-world experience. I was uncertain about the exact career I wanted to pursue after graduation. Working at Lookout over the past two semesters has helped me fine-tune my goals and discover new skills.
Lookout Practicum staff members Morissa Young, Tierra Ripley, and Felicia Rosemary Urso at the book launch
“It’s impossible not to learn from Emily Smith as she explains in real time why we’re taking each step in the publishing process. Instead of focusing on one area, students get to explore as many as we’d like. . . . I’m actively developing new perspectives that will be crucial to my success post-MFA, in publishing and well beyond it.”
In celebration of Black History Month, we asked contributors to Bigger Than Bravery: Black Resilience and Reclamation in a Time of Pandemic to recommend their favorite Black-owned bookstores. Shopping at an indie store means investing in intentional programming, including readings and discussion groups, and fostering community spaces. Read on to learn how you can support the missions of these stores, as well as the larger literary ecosystem. And don’t forget to show them some love by plucking your copy of Bigger Than Bravery—and our contributors’ books—from their shelves!
Open just shy of two years, Rofhiwa Book Café in Durham is a thoughtfully designed space, combining stellar, locally sourced coffee with a carefully curated selection of books by Black writers. Rofhiwa’s founder, Boitumelo Makhubele, and curator, Naledi Yaziyo, say that they “value books as repositories for collective knowledge.”
But their gorgeous indoor space houses more than books and coffee; it’s a gathering place for community, from book launches to readings to art exhibits. Rofhiwa’s impact on its community can’t be overstated. In a commentary for Cardinal & Pine, Yaziyo wrote, “In the year that Rofhiwa Book Café has been in operation in East Durham, it has been my singular mission to expose Black children to books about Black children in other places and other parts of the world.”
At the close of this semester, students in the Lookout Books publishing practicum collaborated on a list of books that inspired them and their work throughout the term. To celebrate the final week of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage month, we’re in turn sharing their recommendations with you. Once you’ve immersed yourself in these beautiful titles, we hope you’ll also read up on ways to stop the rise in hate against Asian American Pacific Islander communities.
Content warning: Please be advised that several book notes below include references to depression and suicide.
When I found Franny Choi’s sonnet series “Chatroulette” in BOAAT, I knew I had to read more of her work. In Soft Science (Alice James Books, 2019), her second poetry collection, there are cyborgs and androids, cephalopods and moon phases. These tender, violent poems explore how humans build community and identity, and search for love in the fluid and intersecting worlds of the natural and digital, the human and machine. Soft Science is essential reading for those interested in how human bodies and consciousness are affected by technology, and this collection is especially compelling now, amidst the backdrop of the pandemic and ongoing Zoom fatigue. Dianne Seuss calls Soft Science, “a crucial book for our time—perhaps the book for our time,” and I couldn’t agree more.
I was first drawn to Yiyun Li’s memoir Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life (Random House, 2017) because of its lyrical title but soon found myself copying quotes from its pages into my journal, struck by Li’s ability to capture inchoate feelings in beautiful, unsentimental prose. During a period of suicidal depression, Li contemplates what it means to live, using the letters and private writings of her favorite writers as guides. While this book doesn’t offer easy answers, I found a great sense of relief in reading the work of a writer who doesn’t pretend to know the way forward but continues anyway. Moving seamlessly among different writers and moments in her life, Li speaks to the reader like a close friend, creating a connection that is difficult to forget.
Last week, Wilmington’s newest independent bookstore opened its doors on Market Street. You’ll recognize Papercut Books from the lush fern out front and the small shelf of books marked FREE. Offering a selection to the community at no cost is one of just a few ways Papercut Books owner Holly Bader hopes to give back to Wilmington, where she’s lived her whole life, something she notes is “somewhat rare these days.”
Alongside publishing faculty, students in the UNCW Department of Creative Writing’s MFA and BFA publishing-certificate programs power Lookout Books through their work in the capstone Publishing Practicum. To celebrate Black History Month and also introduce this semester’s staff, we asked them to recommend books, essays, poems, and stories that they’re currently reading. Get to know our nine student staff members below, and then contact your favorite local bookstore to order these titles. You can also follow the provided links; sales through our Bookshop store benefit both independent booksellers and the work of Lookout Books.
Marissa Castrigno is a second-year MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at UNCW, where she also serves as coordinator for the Writers in Action program. She looks forward to watching the evolution of a book from its proposal stage to its shelf-ready form. Right now, she’s reading Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest (University of Texas Press, 2019) by Hanif Abdurraqib, whose writing has fueled her love of all music genres.
Cheyenne Faircloth is a senior earning a BFA in creative writing and a Certificate in Publishing at UNCW. She is excited to work with an independent publisher that cares for left-of-center narratives, and to follow the life cycle of a book from manuscript to publication. Currently, she is devouring anything by Luther Hughes, first stumbling across his poem “if it’s about abuse, then yes, i’ll answer the questions” in Winter Tangerine’s 2016 summer issue.
This past year, it has been a balm for all of us at Lookout to continue working behind the scenes to bring you vital and timely upcoming releases. While we’ve been at it, we’ve also kept an eye on the work of our peers, who like us believe that small, independent publishers are an essential part of building platforms for new writers and pushing traditional boundaries in publishing.
We asked seven members of the Lookout team to select a book they’re most looking forward to in 2021, including the below highly anticipated titles from our friends at Copper Canyon, Graywolf, Hub City, and Milkweed to name a few.
Preorders are especially important for debut authors and indie books, so please contact your favorite local bookstore to reserve copies, or head to the Bookshop links below. Either way, you’ll help support independent publishing and bookselling!
HOMES by Moheb Soliman is about a complicated relationship with place, belonging, and borders. In this poetry collection, out from Coffee House Press in June 2021, Soliman depicts his road trip along the coasts of the Great Lakes region as he grapples with his immigrant origins, complicated colonial histories of land occupation and ownership, and environmental degradation due to climate change. The ambitious range and depth of his inquiries, and the book’s postmodern poetic, ensure a rewarding read.
I can’t wait to read Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler from Catapult! Described by the publisher as a novel that “challenges the way current conversations about the self and community, delusions and gaslighting, and fiction and reality play out in the internet age,” it seems like the perfect read at a moment like ours. Set at the time of Trump’s inauguration in 2017 and involving his conspiracy–theorist accomplices, it’s coming out via Catapult on February 2, 2021, right as Trump will exit office. In other words, the timing couldn’t be better to allow its political excavations to guide our reflections on the ways that Trump’s version of governance and national narrativizing hinged on his use of social media. It also might get us wondering what role the Internet will play in Biden’s America.
If you’re like us, you’ve probably found yourself video conferencing a lot lately—with everyone from grandparents to colleagues to students. At UNC Wilmington, home to Lookout Books, we’ve been gathering in virtual classrooms for the past five weeks now, and as both publishers and teachers of publishing arts, we’ve become increasingly aware of privacy concerns when we virtually invite others into our homes. Maybe joining your latest meeting from a faraway beach or outer space elicited a much-needed chuckle (we hope so!), but for us and for many of our students, background images can be more than a joke or a momentary vacation. They can offer an essential layer of privacy and help maintain confidentiality around disparities in living situations.
We also know we’re not alone in missing the community that bookstores provide—being able to step inside and immediately surround ourselves with books and fellow book lovers. So we reached out to some beloved indie shops that graciously came through with these beautiful, inspiring (free!) backgrounds, available in high-resolution by clicking the thumbnail images below. Whether the next few weeks and months find you virtually attending or teaching classes, joining a book-club conversation, chatting with Grandma, or sitting through your hundredth Zoom meeting, we hope that these images will lift your spirits.
Until we’re able to gather again for readings, book clubs, and of course shopping, please visit these bookstores’ respective websites for ways to help sustain them through this difficult time. Many indies continue to host virtual story time for kids, readings, and book launches. They fill orders from behind closed storefronts and work twice as hard for a fraction of the income. They’re serving their communities—those of us who know just how essential books are. We recommend purchasing books from them online or curbside (if they’re offering that option), buying a gift card, or making a donation.
Books Are Magic
Opened in 2017 by Emma Straub and Michael Fusco-Straub, Books Are Magic is home to new releases and beloved classics, hidey-holes for children and books to read in them, gumballs filled with poetry, events almost every night of the week and story times on the weekends, and yes, plenty of magic. Haven’t managed to take a selfie in front of their iconic mural? Here’s your chance! Thanks to Michael Chin for this photo.
Brazos Bookstore opened in 1974 to encourage the growth and development of the Houston literary scene. It continues to be a hub for creative and engaged readers in Houston and is now owned by a group of twenty-seven Houstonians who purchased the bookstore when the original owner retired. Many thanks to the Brazos team for this photo.
Driftless Books & Music
Driftless Books & Music has called Wisconsin’s Viroqua Tobacco Warehouse home since 2009, stocking their shelves over the years with half a million rare, antiquated, used, and new books purchased from the inventories of a warehouse and seven bookstores in five different states. Also boasting collections of records, sheet music, art, and a wall of iconic beer cans; Driftless hosts local and regional bands, poetry jams, author readings, and other events in their community performance space. Later this month, Driftless will host Bookstock: Two Days of Peace, Indie Bookstores, and Music, a series of streamed performances by musicians in indie bookstores across the country. Thanks to owner Eddy Nix for this photo.
Epilogue Books Chocolate Brews
Epilogue Books Chocolate Brews is a bookstore and Spanish-style chocolatería owned and operated by Chapel Hill locals Miranda and Jaime Sanchez, who wholeheartedly believe that the communal experience is cultivated by the sharing of food, drink, culture, and story. At their shop in the heart of downtown, patrons can browse books while enjoying craft brews, a glass of wine, or churros and a cup of chocolate. During quarantine, Epilogue has been working with other local retailers to ship goodie boxes that include chocolate, coffee, and artwork. “We’re been sending those boxes all the way to California and Washington with little notes,” Jaime said in an interview with NBC. “The love for one another has no borders. Through this experience, we’ve seen that the sense of community goes beyond all that. . . . I’ve never felt the community let us go at it ourselves, which we’re so grateful for.” Thanks to Mason Hamberlin, beloved alum of UNCW’s publishing program, for connecting us and supplying this photo by Miranda Sanchez.
Today in Seven Questions, we talk to Cameron Dezen Hammon, whose debut memoir This Is My Body: A Memoir of Romantic and Religious Obsession was recently released by Lookout Books. Kirkuscalls it “a generousandunflinchingly brave memoir aboutfaith,feminism,andfreedom,” and the Millionsadds, “Hammon explores motherhood, her relationship with her husband, her infidelity, and her growing senseofher own feminism. Her strikingly contemporary reflections about her treatment in conservative churches . . . make her story a salient one for this particular moment, in the wakeofthe #MeToo Movement.”
Hammon’s writing appears in The Kiss anthology from W. W. Norton, Catapult, Ecotone, the Houston Chronicle, the Literary Review, NYLON, and elsewhere; and her essay “Infirmary Music” was noted in The Best American Essays 2017. She earned an MFA in creative writing from Seattle Pacific University and is currently a writer-in-residence for Writers in the Schools in Houston.
Why was it important to publish this book now? How do you hope This Is My Body will enrich the conversation, especially around #metoo and #churchtoo?
I think women who have experienced sexual assault and harassment in a church context are hungry for stories that speak directly to their experience. There’s something particularly egregious about someone using spiritual authority to harm, and we need to talk about this.
In our newest series, The Future of Publishing, we’re reintroducing alumni of UNCW’s publishing program, including former Ecotone and Lookout staffers, who have gone on to careers in the industry. We continue our series with a profile of W.W. Norton’s Nicola DeRobertis-Theye.
Fiction editor of Ecotone while in the MFA program at UNCW, Nicola DeRobertis-Theye currently serves as the subsidiary rights manager for W.W. Norton and formerly worked as a foreign rights agent for Trident Media Group.
“On the foreign side, which is most of what I handle at Norton, we’re trying to place the translation rights to our books with foreign publishers,” she says. “It is a match-making process, knowing editors’ and houses’ tastes, and who can do well with what kind of book.”
“I’ve had really gleeful meetings at the book fairs in Frankfurt and London, where you get to celebrate in person this thing that has crossed borders and found readers,” she says. “It’s a similar process with the other rights, but knowing the book, knowing the ecosystem, that’s what it comes down to, and I do find that it takes both imagination and knowledge.”