Small press book distributor recommends several Chax Press books

A trio of books published by Chax Press at the University of Houston-Victoria has drawn praise from a literary small press book distributor, and one book landed on a 2015 best read list.

“Andalusia,” “The Complete Light Poems of Jackson Mac Low” and “Life-list” have appeared on the Small Press Distribution list of recommended books. Based in Berkley, Calif., Small Press Distribution offers book distribution, information services and public advocacy programs to hundreds of small publishers.

Charles Alexander, director of Chax Press and the University of Houston-Victoria’s poet and designer in residence, said it’s nice to be recognized in the community of writers, publishers and fellow small literary presses.

“It’s great when someone calls attention to the quality of work we are publishing,” he said. “The distribution possibilities have really shrunk in the world of publishing poetry and works of innovation. Right now, Small Press Distribution is it in the U.S.”

Alexander said Small Press Distribution carries publications from hundreds of presses, and some of those presses put out as many as 20 books a year.

Charles Alexander

“There are a lot of books that could be on that list,” he said. “To be one of the books chosen makes a difference in terms of the book being seen, thought about and purchased.”

Housed in the UHV Center for the Arts in downtown Victoria, Chax Press is one of the nation’s most innovative and active small literary presses. The press is known for a wide, inclusive, innovative and experimental vision in poetry.

“Andalusia,” has a series of poems initially in Arabic, with Spanish and English translations. The book also includes poetic responses by the author, Susan Thackrey. Alexander said the book was inspired by medieval Arabic poets in the Andalusia region of Spain. Amjad Nusayr, a UHV computer science lecturer, assisted Alexander with presenting the Arabic typographically.

“Andalusia” is listed on the Small Press Distribution recommended books list in the categories of poetry and translation.

UHV graduate student interns Melissa Cluff of Houston, Laura Hicks of Grosse Pointe, Mich., and Kristina Rose of Pearland worked on “Andalusia.” Cluff and Rose have since graduated with a Master of Science in publishing while Hicks is on her way to doing the same. Mareesa Johnson of Grand Prairie, an undergraduate communications design student, also worked on the book.

Johnson found the cover image of the book, and designed the cover and the book jacket for the hardback edition. Cluff proofread, wrote an author biography and helped lay out the text. She traveled to Victoria from her home in Houston every other week to present page layouts to Alexander.

Cluff said the internship and her work on “Andalusia” was a nice culmination to her publishing degree. The hands-on experience gave her a better appreciation of the arc of publishing from conception of the idea to the finished book.

“It was eye-opening to see the hundreds of steps it takes to publish a book,” she said. “The back end of it, including the editing and page layout, is so labor intensive. I learned what goes into making all those decisions and making it look right on the page. It’s a huge undertaking.”

Hicks assisted with proofreading and worked on the copyright. Rose helped get orders out to buyers and book reviewers. She also lent a hand with book publicity.

“Between them, the students worked on design, proofreading, production and promotion,” Alexander said. “They got a well-rounded idea of what happens with a small literary press.”

Written by Jessica Smith, “Life-list,” is a meditation on memory, love and grief organized through the language of birding. In addition to appearing on the Small Press Distribution recommended book list, “Life-list” was named one of the Best Reads of 2015 by Sundress Authors.

Cluff, Hicks and graduate student Georgette Walker of Little Rock, Ark., worked on the book along with undergraduate students Enkeleta and Drenica Dervishi, both of Victoria.

“The Complete Light Poems of Jackson Mac Low” is a collection of 60 poems written during an extended stretch of the poet’s life from 1962 to 1988. For his “Light Poems,” Mac Low created a chart of kinds of light. He worked through these images of light as he thought of particular qualities related to people for whom the poems were written as well as of the letters in their names.

All three books are available from and at the UHV Center for the Arts bookstore, 204 N. Main St.

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Jeremy Shapiro