To visit Sherman Asher
by Nancy Fay
Sherman Asher Publishing began with an impulse to produce beautiful books. Judith Asher had been in love with books and bookmaking since childhood when she would play at printing books and binding them. It was her vision in 1994 to create a press with the trademarked slogan: “Changing the world one book at a time.” The slogan comes from the Talmudic teaching: “Tikun Olam,” which translates as “Mend/ repair/ transform the world”. I signed on as editor before the first book appeared, spending all my spare moments when not at my other jobs immersed in page proofs. When the press had a dozen titles in print in 1997, forsaking all others, I agreed to work for Sherman Asher Publishing as a legitimate job with known hours and a paycheck. Judith brings to the press her powerful sense of engaging the world through Judaism, and I through my Buddhist practice. With each book the press has found a new level of its pragmatic path of creating books that change the world.
In our quest for books as beautiful objects, we tried hiring book designers, but Judith quickly discovered a ferocious passion in herself for the intricacies of font, page design, and creating covers that expressed the essence of the books. She now works collaboratively with Janice St. Marie, a graphic artist, who provides technical support on realizing Judith's design ideas. The earliest awards for the press (Benjamin Franklin Award and PEN West) in 1997 for Listening for Cactus by Mary McGinnis, a first book of poems by a brilliant writer who has been blind since birth, was partially credited to our design decision to bind in a Braille frontispiece. Our initial hope had been a Braille / English format, but this did not work due to the more extensive space requirements for Braille and English on facing pages. Judith and I had long been involved with disability rights and proponents of barrier free buildings. After years of attending Mary's extraordinary readings, watching her hands skim along the raised dots and markings of her notebooks as well as many instances of including her poetry in our anthologies, it seemed a natural progression to publish Mary's book. Our inside joke was that we invented “publishing on demand” as we would tell Mary repeatedly, “Just give us the poems. You've got a great book lurking in those big black notebooks. Hand over the poems and we will make a beautiful book.”
We didn't know how hard it would be to cross genres when we decided to edit the anthology Written With a Spoon: A Poet's Cookbook. We simply wanted a book that combined our two loves; great food and great poetry. Since this was a book we would buy, we naively figured we had a market. If I had known beforehand the special nightmares of copyediting both poetry and recipes I might have deserted the project on the spot. Ah, but then came the bliss of taste testing the recipes for Nectarine Pie and Handcranked Peach Ice Cream. Following your passions can lead to some odd, yet wonderful, places.
We were already great admirers and friends of both Joan Logghe and Miriam Sagan, so when they pitched us the idea for Another Desert : Jewish Poetry of New Mexico (for a review of Another Desert) we were eager to work on it. Spotlighting the rich Jewish legacy of New Mexico appealed to us. The Jews of the frontier West and the hidden converso Jews among the early settlers from Spain have little official visibility in books. Judith is active on regional, national, and international boards for Jewish education and is fond of saying that as soon as there is a board for intergalactic Judaism she will serve on that too. The hidden work was proofing poems that looped into and out of Spanish, Hebrew, Ladino, ( a mixture of Spanish and Hebrew) Yiddish , and the archaic Spanish that is specific to Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado. My unlimited gratitude to Reuben Cobos for his meticulously researched dictionary of the region. To our delight this book was a finalist for the 1998 Mountains and Plains Awards, and has miraculously gone into a second printing. Que milagro!
Likewise, when Marjorie Agosín brought us the manuscript for Miriam's Daughters: Jewish Latin American Women Poets (for a review by J.C. Todd) it seemed a natural progression of our interests in Judaism and in bilingual texts. Work by these poets was frustratingly hard to obtain, and we were attracted to making their work more visible and available. We had published Marjorie's poetry in a bilingual edition Lluvia en el desierto / Rain in the Desert (for a review) the year before, and so we felt we could stretch our skills to encompass a book in English, Portuguese, and Spanish with multiple authors. This noble project would have been worthy of a well-endowed university with graduate students assisting in the endless logistics. What in the world was a micro press without grants thinking when we decided to orchestrate such an international project? We thought it would be a book we'd love to read, and it was!
While Judith was in Spain she stopped to visit one of our favorite
who had poems in two of
our prior anthologies, The XY Files and The Practice of Peace.
Lawrence Schimel has
authored or edited over 40 books and had just had a press drop out of
agreement to publish his
anthology by and about gay Jewish men. He gave us several stories to read and
we were wild about
them. Judith saw the appropriateness of a press known for its interest
in Judaica presenting the
writings of gay Jewish men. Never mind that we knew little about
marketing frankly erotic stories.
The writing and the content were compelling, and so we leapt in to
publish what became Kosher
Meat. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive from Publishers Weekly, Salon.com, and Tikkun who devoted a surprising
of ink to praising the
book. When Kosher Meat was a finalist for both ForeWord Magazine's
2001 Book of the Year
Award and the Lambda Literary Awards, we felt that our faith was