MEET THE PUBLISHER: Grand Concourse Press's Bonafide Rojas

Tell us about the mission of your publishing house and why you started it.

Grand Concourse Press is a small press but I created it out of necessity to control my own work. I have a big disdain with being told what to do, thats not to say O won’t ever publish with a different house but when I created Grand Concourse Press it was a motion of self validation, I didn't need a person behind a desk, in a tall office building, to validate my voice, especially when I’ve heard “Who are you trying to reach with your work?” “We don't know who your audience is?” so I created the press as a DIY project first, very organic, very step by step, let's see how this goes project & coming from independent hip hop & Rock & Roll aesthetic, it felt natural to do it on my own. Music has been DIY for decades so why not a publishing company, its been done before, so here's my contribution.

What do you offer writers that they cannot find at another press?

I love books, I want the books to be beautiful, to make them proud, & we have room to grow & expand. People ask me what I’m doing with the press but people don't understand that this wasn’t something I planned on being, a publisher wasn't in my focus, I wear a lot of hats but it's one of the most important ones because I’m dealing with someone else’s work & I want them to feel validated, to feel connected to the process, to feel connected to everything.

Tell us about the books you have released and/or upcoming releases.

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We've released four books: When The City Sleeps (2012), Renovation (2014), Dear Continuum (2015), & Notes On The Return To The Island (2017). Dear Continuum was written by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, a brilliant poet, writer, mother of three & activist, from New York City. I met her in Brooklyn in the 90's & she approached me with the manuscript idea & she spoke of Grand Concourse publishing it because we are the continuum. A creative non fiction book of the writer speaking to the continuum, represents what we both were, at one point in our lives. The other three are my own releases, mainly because I don't have hang ups about being "self published". If I was a band & released a DIY project & it was popular, many wouldn't care including the band, because it's about putting the work out. In twenty, thirty years, no one will care that my poems were published here or there, as long at there are available, which is a direct issue when trying to document poets who are necessary for a movement but never had work published. I don't hold back my reservations that the publishing industry, it's a monopoly & I encourage people to build their own networks & audiences & expand in ways they want to, now does that mean if a major house wanted to publish a book I would say no, I probably wouldn't, mainly because it's a rare time when I can be a poet & nothing else, but as a friend said once, it's like Jack White releasing music on Third Man Records, it's his investment, Grand Concourse Press is a love of mine.

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What do you feel writer's need to do to be successful?

Great writing. That's first & foremost, I don't care about your social media presence, your MFA or lack of, If I am publishing your work, I need to be a fan of your work. I have asked writers who are a bit reclusive, away from the spotlight to submit manuscripts then months later, ask to be taken out the contract for a variety of reasons. My philosophy about publishing is longevity, quality & legacy. When Amiri Baraka passed, people focused on a poem or two of his or the play he won an award for but Baraka had VOLUMES of work, over 50, & this is why he's Amiri Baraka. Now in contrast take two other of my heroes Pedro Pietri, who the majority of his books were out of print, until City Lights published his last collection, but I know when his archive were being submitted to The Centro, The Center For Puerto Rican Studies, there were boxes & boxes of work. So why wasn't that work published? Personal choice, maybe? & Louis Reyes Rivera, another master editor, poetic historian, documentarian, his book Scattered Scripture should be on everyone's shelf due to the historical vastness & accuracy, but it's very hard to find & I know his last book "Jazz in Jail" was recently published but they both should've had more work published & I know that generation was jaded & screwed over you know. But the work has to be there, the love for the word, the passion for poetry needs to be a blaze & being published is one of the many sparks it creates.

What challenges do you see in the industry that your press addresses?

I think we have a whole different set of challenges but some still are similar to bigger independent houses: funding, keeping designers, finding bigger distribution but I don't pressure the writers, or put that pressure on myself. I want them to want to finish these projects to show the world, to go on tour--does that always happen, no. The final line of the book is the most important, challenges are present in every publishing company.

What is your attitude toward conferences and how do you gain exposure for authors outside of the usual festival and conference circuit?

I'm 50/50 on conferences. I think some of the conferences are elitist. I know not all of them are like that, but I've been to a few & I overhear conversations about poets talking about other poets & where did they go to school but then you go to one & it'll have this amazing line up of legends reading but for me & the people I am writing for are not the people in these conferences. The other side of that coin is that these conferences are exposure filled & network galas & rubbing elbows with the who's who of publishing. You develop contacts that could be instrumental to the development of Grand Concourse Press. I think after the fiasco of AWP & the lack of Latino authors really tells me that this industry doesn't understand Puerto Rican/Caribeño/Latino/Latinx authors, I know they are trying but in 2017, why are we still looking for representation in these establishments that are approved by white gatekeepers. I am flexible with my perspectives because every year something changes, so who knows, attitudes change, people grow, & I might look at this in 5 years & say "Well I was wrong..." or "See, I knew it!"

What are your five year goals for your company?

MORE BOOKS PUBLISHED, I am looking at manuscripts right now, one should definitely be published by next year, & I want Grand Concourse Press to grow. There's a possible art book we're going to publish & I'm going to put some final touches on our first book competition & possible anthology.  We are not a typical publishing company so I don't worry about when we release it, I don't even care for the industry half the time, I do celebrate my friends & colleagues when they achieve a level in the publishing industry, does part of me want it? A small part, but it doesn't steer my ship in that direction, from day one I've always felt like a particular outsider, so this is nothing new. I will say when I think about Notes On The Return To The Island, I do wonder how a bigger press would approach it? Would they have told me to tone my politics down? Or make it more cliché? I have much bigger plans for Grand Concourse Press but the first choice is publishing quality work.

For more on Grand Concourse Press, visit their site here.