The Publishing Post
Indie Spotlight: Comma Press
By Caitlin Morgan, Millie Kiel and Mara Radut
When it comes to regional diversity in publishing, the industry, whilst starting to spread out, does remain London-centric for the time being. For the rest of the country, especially in places where literature thrives and runs through a city’s current with just as much force as the capital, this can seem like an obvious imbalance. However, as The Publishing Post acknowledges, one of the many joys of indie presses is that they can highlight and fight for the culture of a town or city, shining a light on powerful and passionate literature scenes both in the city itself and elsewhere. In this issue, we’re spotlighting Comma Press, a Manchester-based indie press that, among other things, does just this.
Founded and based in Manchester, Comma Press originally came together way back in 2003 “as an artist’s group,” originally publishing city-based anthologies such as The Book of Liverpool, before coming to form more solidly in 2007 into the not-for-profit press that it is known to be today. With a unique, clear, and deeply authentic passion for the short story and literature in translation in particular – even having its own translation imprint – Comma Press is dedicated to highlighting new or underrepresented cultures, voices, and forms of literature in a refreshing and invigorating way.
Passionate about Manchester, Comma Press is a founding member of the Northern Fiction Alliance, a collective of independent Northern publishers committed to doing things differently. Comma has also been awarded “Northern Publisher of the Year” by Northern Soul. The press clearly stands for, and is very proud of, Manchester, the northern part of the UK and the booming literature scene that exists there, and it is clear from the press’s actions, such as hosting the Manchester in Translation event, that it aims to further promote regional diversity across the publishing sphere. The presence of Comma Press, and everything they stand for, reminds us that literature from across the whole of the UK is constantly evolving and does not risk becoming stagnant any time soon.
One of the most exciting things about Comma Press is its Reading the City Series. Each book captures the social, historical and political essence of a particular city, like contemporary micro-thesauri of cities from all around the world.
Expanding readers’ horizons by focusing on cities such as Gaza, Istanbul or Tokyo among many others, Comma Press breaks out of the Eurocentric pattern of literature. It doesn’t strive to showcase any disparities between people of different cultures, if anything it aims to bring forth the similarities that we all share. We’ve all been awestruck by a city at some point, we’ve all seen both beauty and brutality alike.
A combination of the common, the mystical and the mysterious, The Book of Ramallah (edited by Palestinian novelist Maya Abu Al-Hayyat) depicts a city plagued by the Israel Defense Forces, constraining people into adapting to an atmosphere of looming unease, due to the recurrent abuses of the Israeli soldiers who rule and patrol the streets. Nonetheless, the people who live in or nearby Ramallah and those who stop there for work-related reasons, are the witnesses of a vibrant cultural scene. The café culture and the celebration of writing and theatre for instance, are very much part of the heart and soul of this tormented Palestinian city located in the central West Bank. Otherwise, the society itself could not be any more ordinary: people are behaving childishly at times; they can be idealistic and ambitious. They worry about trivialities, they have fun. They go for ice-cream on Rukkab Street, fall in love with people on balconies, they enjoy the life stories of others and they struggle with the wind of change.
We cannot recommend the Reading the City Series enough, especially to those readers who are more on the hesitant side towards short stories and translated fiction. Comma Press simply knows what makes a good book, forever taking potential and turning it into reality.
As well as their strong roots and global outlook, Comma Press are also an independent publisher of national significance, publishing the annual BBC National Short Story Award Anthology. The award has been running since 2006, and Comma have been the proud publishers of this anthology for over a decade. Past winners and runners up of the award include giants like Zadie Smith. These anthologies are powerful and condensed collections of great literature.
In short, Comma Press is something quite incredible. It’s an independent press pushing the way forward for publishing not just in the UK but more broadly, championing a more inclusive and widened outlook. The passion, drive, and acumen of Ra Page, founder and CEO of Comma Press, and his team has led to something truly special with this indie!