Julian Khalil Allen reads at an event celebrating the publication of 'Black Joy,' a youth poetry anthology published by Nomadic Press with the nonprofit Chapter 510 & the Dept. of Make Believe in 2019. (Robbie Sweeny Photography)
After 12 years of publishing marginalized BIPOC and queer writers, the nonprofit Nomadic Press announced on Jan. 30 that it will be closing. In an Instagram post, the Oakland-based independent publishing house cited a “big drop in sales” as well as a decrease in other sources of funding for the decision. There are a dozen new titles confirmed to be published in February, and all existing books on Nomadic Press’ website will be available to order until Feb. 28.
There was a “desire for integrated community, for chosen family,” said Fowler, in the same interview. “For a place to safely explore and be who we needed to be (as beautifully messy as that might be at times), and for spaces that reflected our many selves.”
Over the years, Nomadic Press gradually carved out space for underrepresented voices through gatherings and workshops where BIPOC and LGBTQ writers could discuss their work and build community. In 2020, the publisher created the Black Writers Fund, an initiative in which community donations and a portion of book sales were distributed to the press’ Black writers at the end of the year.
Those involved with the publisher say Nomadic Press’ emphasis on accessibility and local engagement — namely, its intentional and human approach to the submission process for writers — set it apart from traditional literary establishments.
For many, the task of getting their work out into the world can feel isolating and “disembodied,” says writer and Nomadic Press cohort member Antmen Pimentel Mendoza. As part of the cohort, Pimentel Mendoza and nine other writers were paired with editors to work on new chapbooks to be released on Feb. 4. Nomadic Press also supported the writers in navigating printing, sales and distribution.
Pimentel Mendoza explained that the tiring process of sending out digital manuscripts to publication after publication — only to be ghosted or rejected with empty, vague responses — often drains and discourages emerging writers.
“With so much of literary and publishing culture, a lot of things feel big, far-off and anonymous,” says Pimentel Mendoza. “And I think Nomadic Press embodied the opposite of that: of being small, being immediate and intimate in the area and being very much collaborative and community-oriented.”
The upcoming event for their new chapbooks is bittersweet: the writers — many of whom are being published for the first time — are in the midst of an exciting release and celebration, while also mourning the loss of the press that has sustained and supported their work.
“I think I'm still processing it,” says cohort member Rachelle Escamilla, a longtime poet. “I think what it means for a lot of poets is that this is going to cut off their ability to represent themselves in the world. And it's even harder when you don't have people who can advocate for your work.”
Escamilla credits Nomadic Press with preserving the voices of the writers it worked with — writers who often disrupted genre conventions in both craft and representation. “I think [larger poetry presses] want to see poems that appropriate whiteness,” says Escamilla. “And I have never seen that out of the books that Nomadic puts out. Nomadic allows their poets to be themselves.”
In 2022, Nomadic Press also began renting out a stand just outside of San Francisco’s Financial District, where bookseller Grace Jackson would discuss Nomadic titles with local pedestrians. When business was slow, Jackson would read from the inventory — sitting for hours immersed in stories they hadn’t encountered before. “I really didn't realize that there was this whole world of literature that I hadn't really been aware of,” says Jackson.
Jackson received a phone call from Fowler in mid-January with news of the closure. While the Nomadic Press team were dedicated to preserving the organization and its mission, the lack of funding ultimately made it impossible to keep the organization afloat. “Sometimes there are these blows that we just can't come back from,” says Jackson.
But they and other Nomadic Press community members say the publisher’s impact will be deep and lasting — even after it officially shuts down. Nomadic Press’ belief in the local writing community — cultivated by writers who discuss Black and brown identity, queer relationships and navigating the world through a marginalized body — has nurtured a microcosm of writers, all strengthened by a deep sense of belief in themselves and one another.
“The way Nomadic Press animates their values by things like the Black Writers Fund, hosting events and anthologies and creating space for marginalized writers, I think is so important,” says Pimentel Mendoza. “I hope that folks will hear the call of the gap that might be left with Nomadic Press’ closure and be like, ‘What does it look like to invest in and be excited about folks who are writing right where we are?’”
Nomadic Press books can be ordered from the publisher's website until Feb. 28 and will then be available directly from authors and Small Press Distribution from March 1 through Dec. 31. After Dec. 31, 2023, Nomadic Press books will only be available directly from the authors.