About the Press
A little history
The Seven Stories story began in 1983–84, when Dan Simon came across a story by Nelson Algren called “A Bottle of Milk for Mother” in an old anthology edited by Robert Penn Warren that Simon bought from a street vendor for a dollar. He then read everything Algren wrote that he could find and discovered that Algren’s books—all of them—had been allowed to go out of print. Simon’s friend and colleague Glenn Thompson, founder and publisher of Writers and Readers Publishing, encouraged Simon to see if he could obtain the rights, offering to give him his own imprint and to cover the printing costs. The first books—The Neon Wilderness, then Never Come Morning—were published as “Dan Simon/Four Walls Eight Windows” books at Writers and Readers, which at the time was distributed in the US by W.W. Norton, where Simon was working as an assistant editor after grad school when he met Glenn. The Algren books sold well, and got some attention.
In 1985, Simon formed a partnership with another young editor, John Oakes, who was at Grove. Together they incorporated and raised some funds in 1986. Thompson let them have the remaining stock of the early Algren reprints for good luck.
After ten years as an independent literary and political press under the co-direction of Simon and Oakes, Four Walls Eight Windows bifurcated and the two editors went their separate ways as independent book publishers, each taking their respective halves of the Four Walls list, Oakes continuing to use the Four Walls Eight Windows name, and Simon as founder in 1995 of Seven Stories Press—named in honor of the first seven of the authors at Four Walls Eight Windows who chose to join him on the adventure: Octavia E. Butler, Annie Ernaux, Gary Null, Project Censored, Charley Rosen, Vassilis Vassilikos, and the estate of Nelson Algren. After the first seven came another 20 or so. But without the first seven Simon said that he would not have set out for a second time as founder of a new independent press. The first book under the new imprint was Vassilikos’s And Dreams Are Dreams…, a collection of three novellas that appeared in the fall of 1995 from the author of the celebrated political thriller, Z, the basis for the Costa-Gavras film of the same name.
Seven Stories publishes works of the human imagination—sometimes in the form of fiction and literature, sometimes in the form of political nonfiction and sometimes in a hybrid form that has elements of both. Our books may be written originally in English or in other languages—as much as 25% of our list in any given season may be works in translation from the French, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Arabic, Russian, Swedish, Polish, Korean, or Vietnamese among other languages—or, as is true of many of the works of Ariel Dorfman, written in two languages simultaneously, the author going back and forth between English and Spanish until the text is complete.
Whether political or literary or both together, Seven Stories is as well known for publishing on human rights, social and economic justice, and media as for its prize-winning American fiction, literature in translation, and poetry collections. We believe that the mix here of politics and fiction, of protest and celebration, of militancy and tenderness is important. Our credo is that publishers have a special responsibility to defend free speech and human rights, and to celebrate the gifts of the human imagination wherever we can.
Whether publishing the zeitgeist-changing fiction of American masters Kate Braverman, Octavia E. Butler, Rick Demarinis, Barry Gifford, Peter Plate and Chavisa Woods, newsbreaking investigative reporting by Greg Palast or Loretta Napoleoni, the bestselling late writings of Kurt Vonnegut (including New York Times hardcover bestseller A Man without a Country), National Book Award-winning Poems Seven by Alan Dugan, Greed by Nobel Prize-winner Elfriede Jelinek, the 2016 Mildred L. Batchelder Honor Book Award-winning middle-grade novel Adam & Thomas by Aharon Appelfeld, the 2016 Stonewall Book Award-winning Sex Is a Funny Word, or Kia Corthron’s The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter, currently shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, Seven Stories earns its reputation for bringing books that might otherwise have been marginalized thunderously into the mainstream conversation.
Seven Stories publishes two major annual books each year, Human Rights Watch’s World Report, which catalogues the changing human rights situation in over 90 countries and territories; and Project Censored’s Censored, which tracks the news that in a highly functioning democracy would be on the front pages of every metropolitan daily and leading the evening news broadcast, but in our country is relegated to so-called alternative publications. Noam Chomsky wrote us recently in praise of Project Censored on the occasion of its 40th anniversary this year, citing “its remarkable achievements, both in bringing to us critically important stories that have had little or no media attention and in engaging young activists who will be able to carry on this very valuable work. A crucial contribution to the hope for a more just and democratic society.” For twenty-five of it’s 40 years, Project Censored has partnered with Seven Stories.
These annuals arrive each year alongside pioneering nonfiction from Russell Banks, Kate Bornstein, Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis, Jack Forbes, Shere Hite, Derrick Jensen, Kalle Lasn, Inga Muscio, Ralph Nader, Hal Niedzvicki, Loretta Napoleoni, Barbara Seaman, Howard Zinn and so many others. They are joined on the Seven Stories list by necessary works in translation from giants of the global literary and political scene like Assia Djebar, Ariel Dorfman, Marguerite Duras, Annie Ernaux, Jean Giono, Hwang Sok-yong, and Vassilis Vassilikos, and prominent and important fresh voices like Wojciech Jagielski, Lola Lafon, and Abdella Taïa. Seven Stories is also pioneering graphic works that range from Ted Rall’s bestselling political biographies, to the exquisite and bestselling Graphic Canon anthologies edited by Russ Kick that have introduced hundreds of illustrators and graphic artists to a new reading public, and re-introduced the world’s classic literature—arguably humankind’s most important and lasting legacy—to a new generation of readers discovering Shakespeare, Sappho, Dante, and so many other great writers for the first time in the form of ingenious and transformative graphics.
A little more history
One of our most influential books was Noam Chomsky’s 9-11, an Open Media pamphlet edited by Greg Ruggiero which came out in November 2001, only seven weeks after the events of that day. It was published as a cry in the wilderness from a dissident voice then not widely known outside of academia at a moment when the concerted American response to the tragedy was the bombing of Afghanistan. But within two years it was not only a worldwide bestseller, selling 400,000 copies in the US and over a million across the globe, but more importantly had become the emblem of a nascent resistance movement here, one which by 2003 then-President George W. Bush was finding it necessary to deny in presidential press conferences. 9-11 showed the world—and ourselves—that there were other voices in America that did not agree with the policies of our government. Many other titles we have published, by writers like Barry Gifford, Angela Davis, Assia Djebar, Annie Ernaux, Kurt Vonnegut, and Howard Zinn to name just a few, have changed how large numbers see themselves and the world around them, shifting the conversation and bringing courage and true storytelling to bear. But it may well have been 9-11, so small a book physically that we called it a pamphlet, that best shows how a book can stake out a claim that will bring about change decades or even generations later.
Weeks before the presidential election of 2012, and then again in the weeks before the 2016 presidential election, Seven Stories partnered with bestselling investigative reporter Greg Palast to publish Billionaires & Ballot Bandits and The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, to inform Americans of voting system irregularities that were disenfranchising minority voters across the nation. In 2012 the story was broken on the front page of The Nation magazine and embraced by unions in Ohio especially, who toured Palast extensively to their members. In 2016, after Rolling Stone broke the story, Palast paired the book with an extraordinary documentary movie. In both cases, he was able to inform people at a key moment in our nation’s history about events that were not being reported extensively in the media and that were having a tremendous impact on our democracy.
And then there are the writers here who cross back and forth across the line between politics and literature constantly—Linh Dinh, Beverly Gologorsky, Innosanto Nagara, Peter Plate, Anne Roiphe, Cory Silverberg, Chavisa Woods, to name just a few, not to mention Lee Stringer and Kurt Vonnegut—who came from opposite ends of the American dream and became true friends at Seven Stories. Some Seven Stories authors publish their fiction and their nonfiction with us—Linh Dinh, Ariel Dorfman, Kurt Vonnegut, to name a few, while others publish both books for adults and books for young adults or children with us—including Barry Gifford, Andri Snaer Magnason, Howard Zinn, to name a few; and some in both English and Spanish—for example Noam Chomsky, Ariel Dorfman, Innosanto Nagara, and Howard Zinn.
Our philosophy and vision
One of the characteristics of our catalogue we are most proud of is that one-book authors are a rarity. The norm is for our authors, including many of our most successful who could publish anywhere, choose to stay with Seven Stories, and also for us to stay with the authors on our list. It is more common to see six or eight or ten books from one author on our list than to see only one. We think this shows that once our authors know us well, they want to keep on with us; and that the better we know our authors, the better we are able to publish them well.
Under the direction of publisher Dan Simon, perhaps no other small independent house in America has consistently attracted so many important voices away from corporate publishing. Part of our goal is to at least provide a viable alternative, so that writers who would rather go with a smaller, independent, politically engaged publisher, where profits from bestsellers are redirected towards the acquisition of books that might not otherwise be published, and where there is a guiding social mission, at least have the choice. Authors of note should not have to feel that the only publishers are the corporate ones. Seven Stories isn’t the only such publisher, needless to say. We’re part of a vibrant community of smaller houses doing great work, like Akashic, Beacon, Bellevue Literary, Cinco Puntos, Coach House, Coffeehouse, Ig, Feminist, Graywolf, Haymarket, Melville House, Monthly Review, Milkweed, New Press, OR Books, Other Press, Parallax, and Verso, to name just a handful of the presses in this vibrant counter-culture, each one with its own strengths.
On several notable occasions, Seven Stories has stepped in to publish important books that were being refused the right to publish for political reasons, including Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras and the Crack Cocaine Explosion by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Gary Webb, Citizen Newhouse by Carol Felsenthal, The Others by pseudonymous Saudi Arabian queer author Seba al-Herz, All Things Censored by distinguished journalist and death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, My Times: A Memoir of Dissent by John L. Hess, and 10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert and Rex Ray. But much of what we do in defense of free speech is more nuanced. We keep all our books in print. The only time we will put an edition of a book out of print is when we have another edition of the same book in print that is either more affordable or more up to date. For example, we will let a hardcover go out of print once there is a paperback out that replaces it. And we will do a less commercial, or even a less narrative work by an author whose more commercial books we also publish.
Seven Stories is the authors we publish and the books they write. Seven Stories is also the people who work here and contribute on a daily basis to the books and to the ongoing project, or have worked here and take something of their experience here with them when and wherever they go. In our catalogue we name our current staff, our foreign agents and distributors, and our board of advisors, but also, as “fellow travelers,” key former staff that continue to bring us projects or help our work in other ways. Were you not to read a single book, but came and visited and met the people who work at Seven Stories you might come away with the same complete sense of Seven Stories and the books we publish. Funny thing.
We are completely independent. We publish in English, in Spanish, in hardcover, and paperback, usually with simultaneous e-book editions in all major e-formats, books as long as 1,500 pages, and pamphlets or children’s books as short as 28 pages, for adults, for young adults and for children. Occasionally we have produced our own audiobooks (though far more often we sublicense the audio rights to our books to audiobook publishers).
Siete Cuentos Editorial
Launched in 2000, Seven Stories’ Spanish-language imprint, Siete Cuentos Editorial, represents a major ongoing effort on the part of Seven Stories to introduce important English-language texts to Spanish-language readers. Siete Cuentos has published Spanish-language editions of Our Bodies, Ourselves (Nuestros cuerpos, nuestras vidas) and Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States (La otra historia de los Estados Unidos.) Siete Cuentos has published new and classic works of literature by Ariel Dorfman, including Death and the Maiden (La muerte y la doncella) and Heading South, Looking North (Rumbo al sur, deseando el norte), as well as fiction by Ángela Vallvey and Sonia Rivera-Valdés. We selectively publish new works in separate English and Spanish editions, as for example with Julia Alvarez’s Where Do They Go, an illustrated children’s book from a poem about the experience of loss.
Triangle Square books for young readers
We see children and young adults as active readers and doers who will change the world for the better. Triangle Square Books for Young Readers breathes progressive new life into the world of children's and YA books through our inclusive imprint, which features such titles as the award-winning 10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert and Rex Ray, Innosanto Nagara's A is for Activist, the runaway hit board book for the children of the ninety-nine percent (in both Spanish and English), Cory Silverberg's What Makes a Baby? and Sex Is A Funny Word, and our For Young People series, which adapts celebrated nonfiction books for middle grade readers and to date includes seminal works by Howard Zinn on a people's history of the US, Charles C. Mann on globalism, Jared Diamond on evolutionary biology, and Ronald Takaki on the history of multiculturalism. Triangle Square books are published in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats, in English and Spanish, throughout North America and around the world. Triangle Square supports social justice, multicultural literacy, restoration of the environment, kids’ rights, and freedom of the imagination.
Seven Stories Press Limited
In 2016, we opened Seven Stories Press Limited, a British company, to bring out Seven Stories and Triangle Square titles in England in a homegrown way, initially featuring a modest and highly selective list, and with the hope of some day also being able to originate titles from England for the U.S. and the rest of the English speaking world.
At Seven Stories we see books as tokens of friendship, and often enough friendship also arises from the work we do on these books and the close association that work often requires. Some years ago the historian and Seven Stories author Howard Zinn called and asked us to introduce him to a writer he much admired, fellow Seven Storian Kurt Vonnegut. We did, and it turned out that Kurt was already an avid reader of Howard’s books. The two became fast friends for the rest of their lives. As we’ve been taught by many of the authors we work with—Jared Diamond, Derrick Jensen, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Peter Plate, Octavia Butler and Barry Gifford to name just a few—the human species is fickle and is often dangerous to itself and to others. Friendship though seems to be, if not an answer to that problem then at least a tempering quality that isn’t unique to humans necessarily, but let’s say is a tender and tempering quality we share with other animals that can help us bring positive change to all aspects of the things we do.
Regarding bookselling culture, Seven Stories publishes Andy Latie’s Rebel Bookseller, and Loren Glass’s forthcoming Rebel Publisher: The Rise and fall of Grove Press and the Evergreen Review, and has other related projects in the works. We believe the independent bookseller community in America to be an historically significant one and we engage with local independent booksellers as much as possible.
Our friends at Penguin Random House provide us with the world’s most efficient and effective sales and distribution. And not enough can be said about American librarians—said, and then said again, and again. Without the librarians and booksellers, we couldn’t do what we do. About the former, Kurt Vonnegut famously wrote, “The America I loved still exists, if not in the White House, the Supreme Court, the Senate, the House of Representatives, or the media. The America I loved still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.” We made that into a poster. If you’d like a free copy, written in Kurt’s own hand, write to Noah Kumin at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll send you one.
Finally, we wish to express here our thanks and appreciation to the members of our advisory board (Dore Ashton, Russell Banks, Athol Fugard, Juris Jurjevics, Raoul Peck, Peter Sellars, Claire Tisne, and Minky Worden), to our staff, to our authors, and to our readers, since without you all no statement of who we are would be complete.