Kate Gale on running an indie press and her Festival of Books favorites


Twenty years ago, Kate Gale co-founded Red Hen Press, an independent publisher based in Southern California. Under its wings, Red Hen has a few specialty imprints as well as an active program that puts writers in the classroom. Gale is herself a poet and a librettist -- a typical musical project of hers is with composer Billy Childs, based on Octavia Butler’s “Kindred.” Gale’s latest collection of poetry is “The Goldilocks Zone,” published by the University of New Mexico Press. Gale will appear at the Festival of Books on Saturday on the panel “Poetry: Forms of Consolation: Traditional and Experimental Poetics” at 11 a.m. in the Annenberg Auditorium at USC.

What books are on your nightstand (and/or your e-reader, tablet or phone)?

“Our Andromeda” by Brenda Shaugnessy
“Ghosts” by Cesar Aire
“The Wild Girls” by Ursula K. LeGuin
“Maddadam” by Margaret Atwood

I love them all.

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you began Red Hen? And is there anything you did when you started out that you think a new independent press should do?


What I wish I knew is that it would be far more of an adventure than I ever imagined. I thought it would be like climbing a mountain but it’s actually more like learning to fly and flying is dangerous and yet it changes the way you move in the world. It’s the most challenging thing I’ve done, including raising teenagers -- crazy boy and crazy lesbian. I love the way publishing has made me a maker. I like the maker world.

What we did: We didn’t tell everyone that we knew a lot, which would have been a lie, but I see a lot of people starting small presses doing just that! We went around building relationships and asking questions. I think you improve your game by asking the right people the right questions and then acting on their advice.

Tell us about an author or teacher who inspired you to become a writer.

I wanted to be a writer like Margaret Atwood and Marguerite Duras and Ursula K. LeGuin. Ben Saltman and Peggy Shumaker were my teachers that showed me you can do that with grace.

What are you looking forward to at the Festival of Books this year?

Our author Douglas Kearney is launching a book this year: “Patter,” and I am over the moon about this book which is already creating quite a splash. It’s about miscarriages and pregnancy, birth and African American fatherhood and Doug is a rock star.

Richard Blanco is coming and Michael Afaa Weaver, Chip Kidd! Aimee Bender! As always, it’s an amazing lineup at the festival: Two days of books and magic, what more could you wish for?

And, confession, my friend, the poet Nicelle Davis, and I are taking her 6-year-old for the first time to the festival and he is going to be so excited when he sees LeVar Burton that it’s ridiculous. The kid part of the festival is always amazing.

What’s the last book that made you laugh or cry?

Great question: Pete Fromm’s new book coming out this fall. It’s about what happens when love becomes this other thing, like you bent the spoon of the sky and it isn’t sky or spoon any more, it’s the other thing which is not of this world but is bigger and better and you’re inside it and you’re small. It’s a love story about a boatman and his wife who develops MS. It takes writing and story telling to this whole other place.


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