Lost Roads Press is true to its name.
Since its founding in 1977, the publishing company has wandered the country. From its roots in Arkansas, the company was based in Rhode Island and Colorado before settling in Jackson in 2009 and becoming one of two presses that are based in or associated with the Cowboy State.
Wyoming is an ideal home for Lost Roads Press, Executive Editor Susan Scarlata said. The press started in a small town in Arkansas and has always aimed to give a voice to people who don’t live in major metropolises and don’t have as much exposure or ability to be part of an arts community, she said. The heart of Lost Roads Press is to give those authors a venue.
“I think throughout Wyoming there are networks of artists that span large geographic areas, but it’s not necessarily the same thing as being in a centralized box, so that’s something that the press looks to support is those voices,” Scarlata said.
She particularly likes to focus on women writers, who are underrepresented in the publishing world, she said.
“It really did feel appropriate, in that it’s always really sought to help authors that are somewhat off the beaten path find a place to publish and find a venue for their work,” she said. “So it felt very apropos or fitting to be here.”
Writer Frank Stanford founded Lost Roads Press in 1978 to support writers in Arkansas and other locations off the beaten path, Scarlata said.
Well-known writer C.D. Wright took over as editor after Stanford’s death that year and moved the press to Rhode Island. She and her husband, Forrest Gander, published more than 40 titles by other writers, including fiction, poetry, visual art and a guide for tourists in New Orleans, according to Scarlata’s recent presentation at the Wyoming Arts Summit earlier this month in Lander.
Wright was a well-established author in the literary community and a MacArthur Fellow, Scarlata said. Her death last January was a huge loss to the literature world, Scarlata said.
Wright and Gander were two of Scarlata’s professors at Brown University. The two educators told many of their students that they were looking for someone to take over the press for them after two decades. In 2004, the year after Scarlata graduated with her master’s from Brown, she told them she was interested. She officially took over as executive director about two years later and brought Lost Roads out west, first to Colorado before settling in Jackson.
Scarlata set to work going through the press’ backlist of previously published books to determine which titles could be successful bring back into print or to reprint in new designs suitable for today’s market. She chose seven titles out of more than 40.
But something apparent to her right away — there weren’t many women among the authors of those chosen books, she said. She wasn’t comfortable being a female publisher with a mostly-male list of authors, Scarlata said. Only about 25 percent of books published in the U.S. are by women, she said.
So she started the Brigham Award, named after writer Besmilr Brigham, who’d been published by Lost Roads Press and was well-known for her commitment to writing as an art form, Scarlata said.
The award commemorates the writer’s legacy and brings to light work by women authors who live between the land between the publishing hubs on the coasts, Scarlata said.
“I wanted, in whatever small way, to make a concerted effort to change, first of all, my own list and shift it towards gender balance,” she said. “And perhaps now we’re moving towards more women than men, which I’d be fine with.”
Fellow writers volunteer as judges for the contest each year.
“We get to have a really fun conversation about deciding what we will publish that year,” she said. “That’s an aspect that’s so compelling for me, is to be in conversation with different authors and making this decision about what we agree on as three different people with three different perspectives on what we’ll publish for the year.”
The press helps the chosen authors connect with audiences by organizing readings, workshops and events. Those are largely made possible with support from the Wyoming Arts Council, she said.
Even some of the big publishing houses have little ability to promote their authors, leaving them to organize and pay for their reading tours.
“We try to take on however much we can to help make that happen and help create connections,” Scarlata said. “I really like that element, as well as bringing some teaching and ability for people in Wyoming to learn from the authors we’re publishing and get their perspective.”
Wyoming Arts Council executive director Michael Lange said the press is well-respected in its field and the team works hard to share their expertise by setting up readings an around the state. Scarlata has provided valuable professional development for writers in Wyoming, he said in an email.
“The state is lucky to have Lost Roads Press call Wyoming home,” he said.
Scarlata runs Lost Roads Press with assistant editor Linnea Ogden. The press is based in her home, while printing takes place elsewhere through an independent contract, she said. The press publishes one or two books a year, one being the winner of the contest.
Scarlata’s interest in writing and literature began in childhood. She and a friend created a newsletter for their families, and she focused on creative writing in high school. Her first job out of college was an internship for Copper Canyon Press. She writes professionally today and is a published author herself.
A book of her poems has been published by Horse Less Press, she’s published at Pen America online and and has work in a number of anthologies. She mainly writes poetry, nonfiction, reviews and other literary work.
“It always was a passion and a way to make sense of the world and share and understand other peoples’ experiences,” she said.
Scarlata works full time as the communications and marketing officer at the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole.
The press, she said, is a labor of love. It’s all volunteer, in terms of the time and effort that goes into it, she said.
“I think it’s pretty amazing to live in Wyoming and be able to have an independent press, and with our current world, it’s just gets kind of easier and easier,” Scarlata said. “I really feel like it is something that allows me to stay connected to the broader literary world and really appreciate that about keeping it alive, keeping it going.”