Small Press Spotlight :: Melville House
Melville House is near and dear to Book Culture’s heart. They are located in Brooklyn, a short jump from our stores in Morningside Heights. Melville House was born out of tragedy and innovation. After the 9/11 attacks on New York City, Dennis Johnson, a local fiction writer and journalist, and Valerie Merians, a local sculptor, asked for people to submit poems and prose about the attacks to Johnson’s blog MobyLives. They compiled the work into a collection called Poetry After 9/11. Both Johnson and Merians felt that this text would be representative of the emotions in New York City during this tragic and turbulent time. In order to publish the book they founded Melville House. The collection was a success; it was promoted by new stations and other media outlets. From then on, Johnson and Merians continued publish books from all genres.
Since it’s creation, Melville House has been interested in publishing books centered around current events, domestic and international. Books like Debt by David Graeber have added to and challenged popular conceptions on history. Graeber’s book introduces a new side of history around the evolution of economic systems in the world by including the history of credit systems. It is a short book, but very an important tool to examine and understand our current economic system in the United States and systems around the world.
As a publishing company functioning in today’s digital world, Melville House has worked to find a way of coexisting with the digital format. As well as manufacturing their publications on ebook platforms, they have developed a concept called the HybridBook. The HybridBook takes the best of print and media and fuses them together to enhance their reader’s experience with the text. For example, Willa Cather’s Alexander’s Bridge offers information on the construction of bridges, a central part to the plot. On the back page of the HybridBooks there is a QR code that anyone with a smartphone can scan and gain access to the secondary texts associated with themes presented in the story. These texts are called Melville House Illuminations. They are highly curated and thoughtful editions to the original text. For the five different novellas all called The Duel, the Illuminations offer different insight into the aspects of dueling that are close to the themes of that particular story.
Neversink Library Series focuses attention on overlooked and unappreciated texts from around the world. This series is important to bringing attention to the lesser-known titles from authors well known and obscure. These slight volumes are Melville House’s attempt at keeping these almost-lost texts from disappearing into the abyss of history. Melville House has published authors like Mikhaíl Bulgakov and Georges Simenon. Their newest Neversink title is Mary MacLane’s I Await the Devil’s Coming. This edition features an introduction by Jessa Crispin, critic and blogger. I Await the Devil’s Coming is the diary of a young woman living in Montana in 1902. MacLane is able to produce a brave and challenging confessional story. Although highly popular when it was first published, Mary MacLane’s work dropped into obscurity after she died. Melville House has revived this story; which still stands as one of the earliest accounts of feminism in American history.
Translating texts and bringing international authors to English readers is important to Melville House, especially after their translation of Hans Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone. Their newest translated text is coming out next month. A Short History of Nuclear Folly: Mad Scientists, Dithering Nazis, Lost Nukes, and Catastrophic Cover-Ups by Rudolph Herzog, translated by Jefferson Chase, exposes some of history’s most careless uses of nuclear weapons. Herzog is the author of Dead Funny: Humor in Hitler’s Germany. He uses dark comedy to discuss some of history’s dangerous secrets.
The Melville House Bookstore is located in the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. They host author events in their space, as well as doubling as gallery space. The current exhibit is a collaboration between artist Susan Mastrangelo and poet Albert Mobilio called “Motion Pictures.” Fiberglass and cloth figures constructed by Mastrangelo strut and rush throughout a room littered with poems written by Albert. Not having seen the exhibit myself, I can say that Albert Mobilio’s writing is brilliant and original and absolutely worth checking out.