19 December 2023 Small Press Book Publishing

Students in “Small Press Book Publishing” participated in the selection of the Seneca Review’s biennial book prize.

For students aspiring to work in writing or publishing, “Small Press Book Publishing” with Associate Professor of Writing and Rhetoric and English and Creative Writing Geoffrey Babbitt provided invaluable insights.

Over the course of the semester, students participated in selecting a manuscript to win the Deborah Tall Lyric Essay Book Prize.

Named for the late poet and HWS Professor of English, the biennial Deborah Tall Lyric Essay Book Prize was founded by the editors of Seneca Review, the Colleges’ national literary journal, in 2017 to support innovative work in the essay form, including cross-genre and hybrid work, verse forms, text and image, connected or serial pieces, and/or beyond category projects.

The winning manuscript is published by Seneca Review Books, an imprint of Hobart and William Smith. Past winners of the prize include I/I by Katherine Indermaur, Sound Like Trapped Thunder by Jessica Lind Peterson and Five Plots by Erica Trabold. 

Over the course of the semester, students read and evaluated 15 semifinalist manuscripts submitted to the competition. Ella Weiss ’24 says many “Small Press Book Publishing” classes were filled with lively discussions about which manuscript should win the top prize.

Students had the opportunity to present one of the five finalists, which they helped choose, to Seneca Review’s guest judge, Wendy S. Walters, who ultimately selected the winner. Walters is an associate professor of nonfiction in the writing program of the School of the Arts at Columbia University and award-winning author. Her work includes two books of poetry and a book of prose titled Multiply/Divide: On the American Real and Surreal, which was named a best book of the year by Buzzfeed, Flavorwire, Literary Hub, The Root and Huffington Post.

Walters joined the “Small Press Book Publishing” class twice via Zoom, first, to hear students present on each of the manuscripts and second to share the winning selection.

Students had the opportunity to quiz Walters about how she made her choice. Questions included, “How do I know if a work is objectively well written, or if I just liked something?” “How close to finished is this manuscript, or how much editing do you expect it to undergo before publication?” Walters responded with insights from her experience as a writer, reader and teacher.

Annette Stephens ’24 says a semester in Babbitt’s class has demystified how books are written, edited and selected for publication. “I appreciated getting to see behind the scenes of a small imprint and learn how books are selected and edited before publication,” Stephens says.

The winner of the 2024 Deborah Tall Lyric Book Prize is Matthew Morris' F-cked Fable/ Ghost Hand. His book will be published in 2024. Morris will give a reading of his work on campus.