I love reading books about Los Angeles — especially when they’re written by actual Angelenos. I guess I like seeing my city through a neighbor’s eyes…. One great way of discovering these books is by getting to know the local presses. Here are 11 to check out — along with a book from that press by a local author that I’ve read — or desperately want to read:
Red Hen Press. Having been around for close to 25 years, Red Hen’s got what I think is the biggest catalog of local indie presses, . This Pasadena-based literary press has been especially known for its many books of poetry — but is now in the process of transitioning to focus more on literary fiction and nonfiction. My own novel-in-stories Cake Time will be one of those books of fiction come April 2017! Red Hen also organizes regular readings across L.A., holds annual book contests, and publishes the Los Angeles Review.
Recommended: Working Backwards From the Worst Moment of My Life by Rob Roberge. This early short story collection by the author of Liar is full of visceral emotion (shame, disgust, all the good stuff) and unforgettable down-and-out characters.
Unnamed Press. Committed to publishing literature from around the world, Unnamed Press puts out mostly fiction, some memoir. It’s run by two locals that met while working for the Los Angeles Review of Books, according to the LA Times. Though this press pulls its authors everywhere from Bangladesh to Nigeria, some local writers find their book homes here too.
To read: Neon Green by Margaret Wappler. I’ve wanted to read Margaret’s novel about growing up in suburban Chicago in the 90s — with aliens (yes, aliens) — since she read an excerpt at a Roar Shack reading a few months ago. Gimme teen spirit with an X-files twist!
To read: Waiting for Lipchitz at Chateau Marmont by Aris Janigian. I used to drink at Chateau Marmont — so now I want to read about it. Plus the book’s described as “a bold and colorful critique of the California Dream.”
Angel City Press. I’m not sure Angel City qualifies as a literary press, but I wanted to include it because this press’ catalog boasts many nonfiction books about L.A., covering history, music, architecture, and much more. It’s the go-to place for pretty coffee table books featuring Los Angeles.
To read: To Live and Dine in L.A.: Menus And The Making of the Modern City by Josh Kun. The book’s about food, and it’s written by one of this year’s MacArthur fellows. I’m hungry just thinking about it.
Kaya Press. Affiliated with USC, Kaya Press publishes “literature being produced throughout the Asian and Pacific Island diasporas.” Browse the catalog to see the wide variety of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction by authors around the world. This press has an open submission process.
To read: Oriental Girls Desire Romance by Catherine Liu. Set in New York in the 80s, this novel apparently combines high-minded theory with exotic dancing in a money-hungry city. I’m wondering if it’ll be like Bright Lights, Big City, but girlier and sexier?
Gold Line Press. This press also has a USC connection, since it’s run by people affiliated to the school’s PhD Program in Creative Writing — where I got my graduate degree, though before the press came about. This small press puts out prose and poetry and holds an annual manuscript competition.
To read: Small Change by Sandra Hunter. Here’s a little excerpt: “Mouna puts a little dog blood in her husband’s soup. Lucee grinds up cockroaches and puts them in her husband’s favorite dessert.” Don’t you want to find out what happens after dinner?
Jaded Ibis Press. Described as a “feminist press committed to publishing socially engaged literature with an emphasis on the voices of people of color,” Jaded Ibis got new leadership earlier this year and is now co-owned by two women. The press is open to fiction and nonfiction manuscript submissions from women and writers of color.
To read: Daughter by Janice Lee. The plotline of this book includes an octopus in a desert, which piques my curiosity. Plus Janice is a mover and shaker in the local literary community and it’s high time I read a book of hers.
Prospect Park Books. This press publishes everything from literary fiction to humor books — as well as regional titles, like an anthology called Literary Pasadena with a foreword by Michelle Huneven, one of my favorite local authors.
To read: Mothers and Other Strangers by Gina Sorell. This book begins thusly: “My father proposed to my mother at gunpoint when she was nineteen, and knowing that she was already pregnant with a dead man’s child, she accepted.” It won’t be out until May 2017 and I can’t wait!
Otis Books. A project of the Graduate Writing program at Otis College of Art and Design, this press puts out fiction, nonfiction, and poetry — “with a special interest in work in translation and writing from and about Los Angeles.”
To read: Army of One by Janet Sarbanes. This short story collection explores “a variety of curious Southern California locales” — and I’m curious to find out if I’ve been to any or all of them.
Les Figues Press. This nonprofit press is a great place to find experimental, boundary-pushing work — the kind that can’t be pinned down by a genre. The press “embraces a feminist criticality and editorial vision” but does still publish books by men like the following —
To read: 2500 Things About Me Too by Matias Viegener. Did you write one of those “25 Random Things About Me” lists after getting tagged on Facebook? Apparently so did Matias — then wrote another, and another, and another — until he got to 2500. We are actually friends on Facebook but I never read his lists (is that bad?) so this book will be all new to me —
Writ Large Press. Also on the more experimental side of things is Writ Large, co-founded by Judeth Oden Choi and Chiwan Choi, in whose apartment I once gave a reading organized by Wendy C. Ortiz. This downtown LA-based small press puts out mostly poetry that’s innovative and unexpected.
Recommended: Hollywood Notebook by Wendy C. Ortiz. This fragmentary prose work will take you all over Hollywood — and fill you with desire for the city, its lovers, and its possibilities.
As with pretty much all my lists, this list is not comprehensive. There are lots of tiny presses — especially of the poetry and/or experimental variety — that I didn’t include (but here are some additional links you can check out: Penny-Ante, Insert Blank Press, Make Now Books, The Altar Collective, Bombshelter Press, Punk Hostage Press, Tia Chucha). Know of thers? Let me know in the comments —