Celebrating National Poetry Month with Tupelo Press

One of the University of Chicago Press’s newest distributed client presses is Tupelo Press, noted literary publisher of poetry and prose. In celebration of our new collaboration with Tupelo—and of National Poetry Month in April—we are delighted to share some of Tupelo’s thoughts about their history, their list, and their future.

Throughout April, shop our collection of new poetry books on Bookshop, or order directly from our website using the promo code POETRYMONTH to take 40% off all month long.

Can you give us a brief history of Tupelo?

Jeffrey Levine launched Tupelo Press as a nonprofit publisher in 1999, and we released our first five books of poetry in 2001. Since then, we’ve gone on to publish and distribute 345+ titles, so many of them prize-winning, all of them, we believe, important. We’re bi-coastal, with offices in western MA and on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. We publish about fifteen books per year (traditional and electronic) including poetry, translations, anthologies, creative nonfiction, memoirs, and literary fiction. Notably, we have long-privileged emerging writers, and also, especially, women and writers of color (women authors comprise 67% of our backlist). Over time, our list has also grown to include many of the world’s most distinguished, established writers as well, such as Robert Wrigley, two-time National Book Award finalist Lawrence Raab, Christopher Buckley, Annie Finch, Mark Halliday, Jeffrey Harrison, Valzhyna Mort, Paisley Rekdal, Ko Un, and Adelia Prado, just to name a very few.

How would you characterize what Tupelo seeks and celebrates in poetry and prose?

As our Poetry Editor, Cassandra Cleghorn, puts it, in Tupelo’s twenty-five years of existence, we have had the privilege of witnessing and helping to seed the extraordinary diversity of contemporary American writing—diversity of styles, voices, and identities. That is, our list is not reducible to any one style, school, or movement.

We have always looked for writing that takes palpable risks on the page, that makes discoveries, that enlightens, that makes us think, that makes us feel, that blows us away. Our broad aesthetic admits finds as diverse as Ilya Kaminsky’s career-marking Dancing in Odessa, Dan Beachy Quick’s transcendent translations of Sappho, Kelle Groom’s quicksilver memoir, How to Live. How can we not mention Karen An-Hwei Lee, G.C. Waldrep, Maggie Smith, Iliana Rocha? Paisley Rekdal’s astonishing braided memoir, Intimate: An American Family Photo Album, or our recent anthology of contemporary Native American poetry and essays, Native Voices. From the many thousands of manuscripts submitted to us every year, Tupelo creates a list that crosses generations, positionalities, and sensibilities. What unites our books is the spark of passion, the work of intellect, and the discipline of craft.

Our Editor-in-Chief Kristina Marie Darling notes that the idea of writing as conversation and community is crucial to our acquisitions process. She writes, “We love publishing work that expands our sense of what is possible in the tradition that we’ve inherited.” At conferences, writers will frequently ask us how to stand out from the many excellent manuscripts we read each year. More often than not, what compels us is a writer’s voice made rich by a long and varied life in reading. We love seeing writers think through competing and often vastly different artistic influences. This inevitably results in a productive tension that drives the work forward.

What is Tupelo looking forward to this year?

We have so much to look forward to in our twenty-fifth anniversary year, a year in which we celebrate our liaison with the University of Chicago Press distribution, publicity, and sales. We’re excited to ramp up the size of our new lists, both domestic and international so that together we can begin to take full advantage of all that the University of Chicago Press has to offer.

In 2024, Tupelo Press is thrilled to be publishing work by Lise Goett, Christina Pugh, Leigh Lucas, Liz Countryman, Karen An-hwei Lee, Justin Gardiner, Emma Binder, Ae Hee Lee, and Xiao Yue Shan. These groundbreaking books represent artistic excellence across the boundaries of race, class, gender, sexuality, genre, and discipline. 

Here are just a couple of highlights:  

Rosa Lane, Called Back

In the tradition of writers like Lucie Brock-Broido and Janet Holmes, Rosa Lane allows the mysteries of Emily Dickinson’s life to blossom into an incisive exploration of feminist poetics, innovation, and the gendered, temporally bound nature of artistic audience. “Pull my chair / into dinner’s envelope,” Lane writes in lines as lyrical as they are mysterious. The title of her stunning volume, memorializing the last two words that Dickinson wrote, which are engraved on her headstone, evokes a rich tradition of poetic voice as an alterity that speaks through the writer. For Homer, it was the muses, for the great Modernist H.D., it was the unconscious mind, and for Jack Spicer, it was radio waves from outer space. Here, Lane shows us that otherness that speaks through the poet as inheritance, as history. Yet this history is imbued with new agency and a fresh sociopolitical urgency as Lane considers questions about sexuality and silence in Dickinson’s artistic legacy.

Christina Pugh, The Right Hand 

In poetry that dazzles with its erudition and cosmopolitan approach, Christina Pugh shows us the role of language in constructing—and eventually deconstructing—the self. “In a room made of windows, glass is the skin,” she tells us. At turns luminous and devastating, the work in this gorgeous volume reveals every facet of the narrator’s lived experience—from inhabiting the physical body to articulating a sophisticated artistic sensibility—as discursive constructs, arising out of a nexus of community and shared experience. “[L]ike a flock we all landed at Teresa and the angel,” she recounts. Yet, at the same time, Pugh interrogates the narrator’s lingering sense of cultural and linguistic otherness, revealing her connection with those around her as both contingent and inherently unstable. The voice that emerges from this intersection of philosophy and art, celebration and elegy, is as singular as it is eloquent.

These books and others from Tupelo Press are available on our website or from your favorite bookseller.