October is an exciting month in the literary person’s year, for it is when Danielle Dutton’s tiny publishing house Dorothy: A Publishing Project releases its entire annual catalog: two slim books. Dorothy publishes works that might not find homes in mainstream publishing houses, bringing them out in small editions of beautifully-designed paperbacks with original cover art. This year’s releases are The Babysitter at Rest, a story collection by Jen George, and the first English translation of Suite for Barbara Loden, by acclaimed French writer Nathalie Léger. Both books are off-kilter, quiet, plotless creations that explore what it means for a woman to tell the story of her life. (In other words, not PR jobs you would wish on even the brightest-eyed of publicists.)
Dutton, herself a novelist, is carrying on a fine tradition with her idealistic publishing project. One cannot help but think of Virginia Woolf, and Hogarth Press. Founded by Woolf and her husband in 1917 amid a boom of private presses, Hogarth Press focused on, as Ursula McTaggert puts it, publishing “living, avant-garde authors” and generating “a literary and political conversation.”
Woolf was intimately involved in the work of Hogarth, selecting and editing the texts—books like T.S. Eliot’s Poems and the first English translations of Sigmund Freud’s work. In the first 15 years of the press’s existence, she also physically set the type and stitched the bindings, often while dressed in overalls and chain-smoking handrolled cigarettes. She worked to publicize the books when they came out, and according to McTaggert, “Woolf was at the center of a network that connected her texts to the Hogarth’s releases and to the reading public.” With Hogarth Press, Woolf was able to make an impression on the literary world beyond her own many great books. By publishing “outsider” voices, translations, and political pamphlets, she connected British readers with feminist writings and international politics.
McTaggert points out that Hogarth Press was named for the Woolfs’ home, and that this very title “indicated that Woolf saw her personal space, the room of her own, as simultaneously private and public—from its position of privacy came one voice in an international dialogue.” Similarly, Dutton’s press is named for a member of her family—according to the website, “head librarian, author, gardener, animal- and art lover, bookmobile-driver, and great-aunt Dorothy Traver, who on every birthday gave a book with an owl bookplate.” In both cases, the private becomes public. The room of one’s own expands into a space capacious enough for many voices.
Running a press allowed Woolf immense creative freedom; as she put it, “I’m the only woman in England free to write what I like.” Dutton calls her press a “curated conversation of what fiction can be.” In a publishing world that has the budget and attention for fewer and fewer risks, independent media outlets like Hogarth and Dorothy offer an alternative, a way to access other voices, and “a safe space in the interstices between public and private, aesthetic and political.”