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Publishing Poetry with a Purpose

By Helene Atwan

Sasha Pimentel and Beacon Press Staff
Poet Sasha Pimentel comes to visit us at Beacon Press. Left to right: Louis Roe, Helene Atwan, Sasha Pimentel, Nicholas DiSabatino

Ah, April.

No, it’s not the cruelest month at all; in fact, it’s the month when we celebrate poetry, and given all the other things that are going on in our country at the moment, it’s a gift to be able to turn to the comforts and joys that poetry offers.

For Beacon, though, poetry isn’t just about offering those gifts. We view poetry as an important and effective voice for addressing issues of social justice, for underlining the importance of a community devoted to equity and building a just society. Another way, a very compelling way, of speaking truth to power.

To that end, we have been proud to publish poets like Sonia Sanchez, who bears witness to the importance of racial justice as well as embracing Queer communities and standing against any form bias, and Mary Oliver, who has written so brilliantly about the preeminence of the natural world and the urgent need to protect our environment. We were thrilled to have the chance to publish all of the poetry of James Baldwin a few years ago.

For Want of WaterAnd 2017 brings two new volumes to our poetry list which I am delighted to announce here. Our National Poetry Series winner this year is a remarkable writer, Sasha Pimentel, whose work was selected by Pulitzer Prize winner Gregory Pardlo. For Want of Water explores urgent issues from the perspective of a Filipina living in El Paso. Her searing verses, set on the Mexican border, explore war and addiction, love and sexual violence, grief and loss. We will be publishing Sasha’s book in October.

Bullets into BellsOn December 14, 2017, in observance of the fifth anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we will publish an anthology, Bullets into Bells. I first heard about this book from Colum McCann, who has been active in the fight against gun violence through his nonprofit organization Narrative4, and who has written a thoughtful introduction. The editors of this volume, Brian Clements, Alexandra Teague, and Dean Rader, have brought together fifty-four poems by such acclaimed poets as Billy Collins, Mark Doty, Rita Dove, Martin Espada, Naomi Shihab Nye, Ocean Vuong, and Juan Felipe Herrera, and paired them with responses by Americans who have been touched by gun violence, including Nobel Laureate Jody Williams, Senator Chris Murphy, and Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts, or from gun violence survivors of the Columbine, Sandy Hook, Charleston Emmanuel AME, and Virginia Tech shootings.

We like to think of ourselves here at Beacon as publishing with a purpose, now more than ever. This April, we’re finalizing plans to publish more Poetry with a Purpose. I hope you will join me in my admiration for these very special volumes.


About the Author 

Helene Atwan has been director of Beacon Press since 1995. She has been reading poetry all her life. Follow her on Twitter at @hatwan.