Kelsey Street Press and First Books

Kelsey Street Press has had the good fortune to publish powerful first books by many amazing authors, including Bhanu Kapil’s The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers and Myung Mi Kim’s Under Flag, as well as early titles by writers such as Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Renee Gladman, and Elizabeth Robinson. The press has also had two series devoted specifically to publishing first books of poetry.

In the 1990s, Kelsey Street found that it had veered toward publishing more established writers and was drifting away from its early commitment to first books. Concerned, it began to explore ways to redress the balance. The solution came in a first book prize funded by the poet Mark Linenthal, in honor of his wife, the influential Bay Area feminist and poet Frances Jaffer (1921-1999). KSP co-founder Patricia Dienstfrey produced and edited the series. She worked with Poulson/Gluck design and was inspired by the simplicity of the influential modern editions from Gallimard. Three first books were published through this series.

Unknowne Land
poetry by Eléna Rivera
selected by Kathleen Fraser
2000

CUSP
poetry by Jocelyn Saidenberg
selected by Barbara Guest
2001

Occupied
poetry by Carol Mirakove
selected by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge
2004

Nearly ten years later, Kelsey Street again sought to preserve a space for first books in its catalog. This time, a new generation of press members worked with designer Jeff Clark to develop a template for the Firsts! series. Using typefaces designed by Sibylle Hagmann and Zuzana Licko, Clark created a flexible interior template that might adapt to diverse forms. For the cover, the Press wanted each title in the series to be unique but also visually consistent. Clark proposed that each Firsts! author create a drawing featuring a continuous, nonrepresentational stroke. Clark’s new cover design redrew the geometric Gallimard line that had inspired the covers for the Frances Jaffer series as a physical human gesture. The possibilities are vast: by their own hands, Firsts! authors may evoke signatures or trajectories, spareness or fervor, resolution or wavering.

7 Days And Nights In The Desert (Tracing the Origin)
poetry by Sabrina Dalla Valle
selected by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge
2013

Rings
poetry by Jasmine Dreame Wagner
selected by Elizabeth Robinson
2014

Deus Ex Machina: a Melodrama
poetry by Jennifer Pilch
selected by Myung Mi Kim
2015

The Firsts! contest is open to submissions through January 15, 2017. This year, Bhanu Kapil will select the winning manuscript. The contest invites submissions from women-identified writers and writers with non-binary identities who have not yet published a first, full-length book. There is no submission fee for this year’s contest. Click to read complete guidelines.

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