Three Years

Awst Press is turning 3 today! As we've done the last two years, we are launching another essay series this week to celebrate our anniversary. Three years seems notable even if it isn't a huge number. I am sometimes surprised that so much time has passed, but I think that's the side effect of being busy with and passionate for the work of the press.

We're proud of this last year—publishing Donald Quists' Harbors (our bestselling book to date and an award winner at that) and Vida Cross' Bronzeville at Night: 1949 (our first book of poetry). We’ve been making appearances at literary events around the country—expanding our audience and community, promoting our authors—and preparing for our next release: a novel by the exquisitely talented Micheline Aharonian Marcom that arrives in November. Our next chapbook series, tentatively scheduled for the end of this year or the first of next year, will mark the end of our chapbook production as we refocus on full-length works. Running these series has provided us with an opportunity to learn about so many amazing authors, and I am regularly reminded of just how lucky I am to work with such talented individuals.

For God shows no partiality.
— The Bible, Romans 2:11

But like most of you, we’ve also spent a lot of time focused on current events happening here in America. As we began to gear up for this year's essay series, we found that the current political climate has provided innumerable topics that need thoughtful attention. One area we're interested in exploring stood out—a topic you're not supposed to discuss at work or dinner parties: religion.

Around this time last year, I saw an article about the religious "nones," people who don't subscribe to any faith practice. Then articles like this one, suggesting that those who attend weekly religious services are happier, started popping up. All sorts of questions arise from these—Are people actually leaving their religions? Are people actually happier because of religion or simply happier because they have a recognized community? Why would somebody leave a religion? Are there people who question their religion but ultimately choose to stay with it? Why?

We don't have answers for all of these questions. We're not interested in parsing what’s right or wrong and we are most certainly not encouraging anybody down a particular religious path. Over the last three years, we’ve interacted with authors across the whole religious gamut—some exude their faith both in their writing and their personal interactions, others are more circumspect resisting any indication of a faith, others vocally reject organized religion but still consider themselves to be spiritual, and others are simply atheist.

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.
— The Quran 49:13

For this essay series, our authors focus on their experiences with religion and faith. Learning about a variety of faiths seems integral to helping us support and grow our community. By increasing our understanding we can better appreciate the differences within our community. Fostering acceptance for many religions is both timely and necessary.

From the moment we picked our topic, we knew who our curators for this series should be—Sophfronia Scott and Susanna Childress. Sophfronia was an author in last year's essay series and Susanna was our very first chapbook author. I have immense respect for both of these women and for their work. They are strong individuals—forged from the events in their lives and sustained by their faith—but what I most admire about them in this moment is how they use the best of their faith to connect with anybody regardless of the other person's religion or lack thereof.

These two have assembled seven authors—A. Anupama, Sarah Arthur, Eman Beshtawii, Alicia Jo Rabins, Allison Schuette, Michelle Webster-Hein, and Sarah Wells—who will be sharing their personal stories over the next month. We are happy to welcome these new writers into the Awst community and are thrilled with the quality of their essays. I found something of value in every one of them and hope you do as well.

Tomorrow, Sophfronia and Susanna will share some of their thoughts, and the first essay will go up on Thursday. We'll have other announcements over the next month, the Bronzeville at Night: 1949 Support CPLF sale ends 9/15/17, and Micheline A. Marcom's book will remain available for pre-order through 9/30/17. Thank you for supporting our authors, their work, and the press. We're happy you're allowing us to continue onwards.

Wendy M. Walker