YellowJacket Press -Gianna Russo’s labor of love- celebrated its 10th anniversary this past November.
YellowJacket is a non-profit, independent, small, local press that was founded and is currently headed by Saint Leo University professor, Giana Russo. This small press is dedicated solely to publishing poems. In fact, it has published 30 chapbooks from 30 poets in over ten years.
To celebrate its anniversary, the press released an anthology. Titled Glass Bottom Sky, this anthology is the press’ first. The anthology is packed with 77 poems, two from each of the thirty previously published poets as well as seventeen from the board members. The editors of Glass Bottom Sky, Silvia Curbelo and Gregory Byrd, selected the poems.
Glass Bottom Sky is a unique title, and readers may wonder where this name came from. This paradoxical statement that indicates transparency was not the idea of Russo, but rather one of the editors of the collection of poetry. Actually, the title of this anthology originated from Silvia Curbelo, who was inspired by the glass bottom boats that are popular in Florida, which is a fitting representation of this small, local Florida press.
Russo, an instructor of English and creative poetry, runs the small, local press, YellowJacket. On top of balancing being a founding editor of YellowJacket and being an instructor, Russo is also currently pursuing her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing.
“It’s like being a full-time student and having a full-time job,” Said Russo. Russo founded this local press while teaching at Howard W. Blake School of the Arts. Inspired by the school’s mascots, she titled the press, YellowJacket. Initially, Russo envisioned for her students in her high school creative writing class to publish their own work; eventually, she decided to start an actual press.
“My thoughts on turning it into a press were that students would get real-life experience beyond the classroom in editing, publishing, design, layout, publication, event planning and marketing,” said Russo. “These would be essential to them should they decide to pursue anything in the literary arts.”
A small, local press that runs successfully for as long as ten years is rare. Russo attributes YellowJacket’s success to its unique approach to publishing. There may be other small, local presses; however, YellowJacket is the only Florida press that specializes in publishing the works of Floridian poets and the only Florida press that solely produces chapbooks, which is a collection of poetry by one poet.
Over the course of the ten years, thirty chapbooks have been published, approximately two to four are published a year. YellowJacket holds about two contests a year, publishing a chapbook for the winner of each contest. The board of advisors assists in selecting the winner, and overtime the competition seems to be more competitive.
“The contest has gotten more competitive because we have more and more poets who are writing at an advanced level entering it, and more poets in general,” stated Russo.
As a non-profit independent press, YellowJacket runs on a tight budget and still manages to run successfully. In fact, YellowJacket is operated entirely by volunteers. Also, the chapbooks are relatively inexpensive to publish, and each copy of the book sells for $6 each. However, the anthology has placed a larger financial burden on the press, and to support the amount of money needed to publish Glass Bottom Sky the press used Indiegogo.com. The effort of fundraising money through this site allowed YellowJacket to “raise several thousand dollars”, reported Russo.
Besides the strain that may come with the issue of funding the small press, another primary stress results from time constraints. The two contests a year create an obstacle of deadlines that have to be met, according to Russo; however, the pressure in producing these chapbooks is well worth it because as Russo describes working for the press dedicated to publishing poems as “strictly a labor of love.” In fact, her proudest moment running the press was at a conference, called “The Other Words Conference” in St. Augustine, Florida. This event was rather gratifying because some of the poets – whose chapbooks were published by YellowJacket – read their work as the keynote speakers among their peers.
“The Keynote reading included Gregory Byrd, Silvia Curbelo, Peter Meinke (Poet Laureate of Florida), Mary Jane Ryals and Liz Robbins,” said Russo.
According to Russo, poems from the anthology that embody YellowJacket the most are “Deer Hunting in the Everglades” by Gregory Bird and “Lucky Bones” by Peter Meinke.
“Both of these pieces are carefully crafted, skillfully honed and full of fresh imagery. [Deer Hunting in the Everglades] is a narrative poem that is accessible to almost any reader. We strive to bring poetry to audiences, and often that means publishing poems that are easy to understand, but deal with complex ideas, as this one does. The poem deals with the uneasy and ambivalent relationship between a father and son, one based on love and hate. Most people have some type of ambivalent feelings about people in their family who they truly care for. An added plus is that this poem is set in Florida,” said Russo. “‘Lucky Bones’ by Peter Meinke is another accessible poem. Here, we have a character who is confronting later life without his wife at his side. There’s an element of sadness that is frank and unflinching, but the language is casual and every day.”
Those feeling the need to quench their thirst for poetry, YellowJacket’s chapbooks and Glass Bottom Sky can be found in multiple locations. Copies can be purchased at the press’ website: YellowJacket.com, Amazon (anthology only) or even Russo’s office in Saint Edward Hall.
The longevity of the YellowJacket press can be attributed to Russo’s and the other board members’ dedication. Russo suggests keys to success for small, local presses are having the passion for literature, the dedication to supporting poetry and poets, and the love of literature from the readers. Even though the dedication from Russo has contributed to Yellow Jacket’s accomplishments, she reported, that YellowJacket would be going on a year hiatus for Russo to complete her MFA.