By Charlotte Hamrick
Some time this past summer I became aware of Casie Dodd and Belle Point Press on Twitter. Honestly, I don’t remember why, out of all the presses on Twitter, this one caught my eye (maybe because it’s based in the South?!) but I’ve been following its progress ever since. I feel like I’m watching artwork in progress because that’s what Belle Point Press is, art. Knowing nothing about independent book presses or how they conjure the magic they do for us, I decided to ask Casie for an interview. She graciously accepted and here it is.
Why did you decide to start an independent press?
Thanks for asking! In some ways, there’s a simple answer: my husband and I have always loved books and we wanted to find a way to make more of them. Because we met as graduate students in English, our whole life together has revolved around books, and we’ve tried to cultivate a similar world for our children. During the pandemic, as we grew more serious about focusing on our priorities, we realized how well our passions and skill sets could converge in the work of publishing. After relocating closer to our family roots in the Mid-South and welcoming our second child, we decided to take the plunge into starting Belle Point Press, and we haven’t turned back.
How long have you been in business and what was the first thing that made you go, “We are really doing it!”?
We started registering the business and working on other preparations in Fall 2021 (developing the logo, refining our editorial vision, figuring out other business logistics), but our first book (the Mid/South Anthology) was published in September of this year after our open submissions call in February. I think the first time it felt “really real” was when we received our book shipment of the anthology, though to be honest, a lot of it has been happening so fast that in some ways it almost feels like this has always been our life. It’s hard to explain beyond the deep confirmation we’ve had that building this press feels like the work we were meant to do.
Are you trying to connect with a specific demographic?
As a regional press focused on the Mid-South, we certainly hope to connect with people around this unusual, eclectic part of the country. We’re eager to find voices that evoke the particularity of their communities throughout our region because we think it has often been overlooked or misunderstood. That said, one of the beautiful things about particularity done well is that it also connects with deeper, more universal human concerns through which anyone can make a connection. We think our authors deserve a wide readership and we look forward to finding creative ways to get their work into the hands of as many readers as possible.
So what exactly is the process for attracting and signing authors? Do you solicit or do you have a submissions process or both?
So far, the process has been a bit of a mix. As we’ve gradually grown our visibility through the Mid/South Anthology, our chapbooks, and our social media presence, we’ve been receiving more unsolicited submissions, but in some cases we’ve also reached out to authors whose work we admire; a few of the books in our 2023 lineup developed this way. For us, as a very community-oriented press, we’ve been really committed to building relationships with writers whose work and presence in the community speak to our own vision and values. But it’s also been very exciting to be discovered by writers who have sought us out themselves and to begin cultivating new relationships. We’re grateful to everyone who has entrusted their work to us as a press with such a short track record, and we hope we’ve served them well so far.
We currently have a rolling open submissions policy; writers are welcome to send us manuscripts via email: all literary genres, pretty much any length. There is no reading fee, and we do our best to respond within two months. We are reading for our 2024 catalog right now.
I know nothing about creating books. Do you do the actual assembly yourself?
That’s a good question! We get asked that a lot, actually. I have a great admiration for the small presses that work by hand, such as Bloof Books or Ethel. My husband and I have also taken some classes in bookmaking, and he especially loves that side of the creative process. However, at this stage in our lives, with two young children at home with us as we also try to keep up with our own work, household and family responsibilities, etc., we leave the printing to other sources. That said, my husband handles all of the interior design, and we collaborate on cover designs and other creative aspects of the process together. So far, we’ve been pleased with the print jobs by Mixam for our chapbooks and Bookmobile for our full-length projects.
I see you’ve started having workshops which seems like a natural progression for a press. Tell us a little about your goals and hopes for this venture.
Yes! As someone with a teaching background who comes from a long line of educators, I’ve been eager to build a workshop program as we get more settled in our regular press operations. We started with two series (poetry and creative nonfiction) this fall—one by my longtime friend and mentor, Ben Myers, and another by a new friend, Kirsten Reneau. They’re both brilliant and I’m grateful to be able to sit in and learn alongside our participants.
We’re also working on our 2023 calendar, which will include classes by authors of our forthcoming books and other friends of the press—as well as some new discoveries through our open call for proposals. I’ll be kicking off the year in January with my own seminar on “Writing Place” inspired by our Mid/South Anthology. I can’t say more than that about next year at the moment, but eventually I would love to build a local, in-person program alongside our virtual offerings as we work to make Fort Smith a more active literary center. I’d also like to mention that I care a lot about keeping workshops accessible, so we’re doing our best to keep registration fees low, to include extras with registration (like a chap or other bonus material connected to the workshop leader), and to offer fee waivers in order to reduce as many barriers to participation as possible.
I’m curious to know which southern authors you read (other than BPP authors!). What are you currently reading?
My graduate work focused primarily on 20th-century American literature so I’m really interested in a lot of the usual suspects from that time period, though my reading has a lot more gaps than I’d like. Walker Percy has been a major figure for me for many years. I love Katherine Anne Porter, and our household has been shaped by a lot of Wendell Berry’s ideals. I’ve also been kicking around the idea of leading a seminar on Kate Chopin’s lesser-known work next year. As far as poetry, this year I’ve enjoyed reading Marlanda Dekine and Tiana Nobile, among others. Recently, I’ve just finished Kelly J. Ford’s new Arkansas novel Real Bad Things for a local reading event here in Fort Smith, but I’ve also been trying to read other work by our Belle Point authors when I have time. Kirsten has assigned some great texts for our CNF workshop, so I’ve been working through one of her suggestions, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeannette Winterson. Otherwise, I’m trying to catch up on a stack of books I need to review for various outlets, which is going too slowly. I’m itching to read Mark Westmoreland’s new novel, A Mourning Song, because I really enjoyed his debut, A Violent Gospel.
Finally, we are known for our delicious regional food in the South. What is an iconic dish that means family and southern food to you?
I will never turn down a mashed potato. My husband’s family also has a special homemade rolls recipe that I would eat every day if I could.
Casie Dodd lives in Arkansas with her husband and two children. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Windhover, Oxford American, Front Porch Republic, and other journals. She is the Book Review Editor for Psaltery & Lyre and the Founder/Publisher of Belle Point Press.
Charlotte Hamrick began writing and submitting poetry, prose, and photography in her 40’s after a long working life primarily in healthcare business services. She has been published in numerous literary journals including Emerge Journal, The Rumpus, Still: The Journal, The Citron Review, New World Writing, Reckon Review, and Poetry Foundation’s Harriet Blog. She’s had nominations for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, Best Microfiction, Best Small Fictions, and was a Finalist for the 15th Glass Woman Prize and for Micro Madness 2020. She lives in New Orleans with her husband and a menagerie of rescued pets where she sometimes does things other than read and write.