Paris Press contributes to American culture by publishing groundbreaking work by women writers, voices overlooked by mainstream publishers.
Founder and Director of Paris Press Jan Freeman is a poet, and since her college days in the 70s, she has loved the poetry of Muriel Rukeyser. In the 80s, in NYC, she heard well-known poets such as Galway Kinnell, Stanley Kunitz, Sharon Olds, Michael Harper, and Nina Cassian talk about Rukeyser's collection of essays — The Life of Poetry. She tried to find a copy but discovered it had been stolen from every public and school library in New York! Pre-internet, it took her 6 years to find the book. She discovered it in the window of a second-hand bookshop, while walking down Christopher Street in the Village, just before giving a poetry reading at the Civic Center Synagogue.
Jan paid $40 for the book — more than she had ever spent on a book before. But it was worth every cent. The Life of Poetry was the most inspiring, affirming, and comforting book she had ever read. For her as a poet, it expressed the importance of living with poetry at the center of your life. For those uncomfortable with poetry, it addressed the fear of poetry that many people have, and how often school teachers create that fear because they teach poetry as if it is a mathematical equation — with a correct and incorrect understanding. In the book, Muriel Rukeyser says that everyone needs to live with poetry and the arts in our daily life because they help us feel deeply. When we feel deeply, we become more sensate and compassionate human beings.
Because the book was long out of print (first published in 1949, and later reprinted in 1974), Jan decided she needed to publish it for other people to experience the encouragement and support that Muriel Rukeyser offers to people from all backgrounds. She wanted to give the book to everyone who could read. She wanted to stand on street corners and hand it out, put it in motel rooms next to the Bible. Jan applied for 501 (c ) (3) status, received it, raised money for the first time in her life, helped typeset the book, design the book, and in 1996 it was available in bookstores around the country. The Life of Poetry was launched in Provincetown, with Marge Piercy and three others: a retired physicist, a painter, and a poet. Then Paris Press celebrated it in Northampton with the mayor, Mary Ford, members of the community from theater, dance, painting, and commerce. Rukeyser believed that boundaries between disciplines are false, and all fields, all people are connected — and poetry is inside everything.
From that point on, Paris Press published other great books by women that had been neglected and fallen out of print or that had not been published. Our list of authors includes Ruth Stone, Emily Dickinson and Susan Huntington Dickinson, Adrian Oktenberg, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Zdena Berger, Virginia Woolf and her mother, Julia Stephen, and many others. Paris Press books have won major prizes and have been reviewed in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Springfield Republican, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, The Greenfield Recorder, National Public Radio, and of course, The Ashfield News.
A major part of the Press’s mission is to educate the public about the great literary contributions of women writers. This year, paying tribute to honorary Board Member Eleanor Lazarus of Ashfield (1947–2013), the Paris Press launched the Eleanor Lazarus Educational Outreach Initiative to support educational programming in Western MA and around the country with workshops, readings, discussion groups, symposia, and reading and study guides for classroom use.
Paris Press exists because of the generosity of individual donors, family foundations, and public foundation (the NEA, MCC, MFH). Individual donors are the most important supporters for the Press. We are most grateful for contributions of any size, from $10 up, and we welcome stock contributions as well.
The Press values being part of the Pioneer Valley, and at least 60 percent of our programs are in local venues, such as senior centers, schools, libraries, and community centers in Hampshire, Franklin, and Hampden Counties. If you have ideas for events or want to volunteer for the Press, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Paris Press is a proud participant of Valley Gives and member of the Western Massachusetts community.