Black Book Publishers in the United States

A Historical Dictionary of the Presses, 1817–1990
Donald Franklin Joyce

WILD TREES PRESS

Wild Trees Press publishes books by and about women from a feminist point of view. Although it is a black-owned commercial book publishing firm, its feminist thrust is not limited to exploring the experiences of black women. Books produced by this publisher portray the lives of women of all races and backgrounds.

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Alice Walker and fellow writer Robert L. Allen founded Wild Trees Press in Anderson Valley, California, in February 1984. It was in Anderson Valley that Walker wrote The Color Purple. She expressed her delight with the valley as a place to publish books. “We loved the valley, it reminded me a little of Georgia. We had also made lots of friends. The valley is incredibly rich and all sorts of things are grown. We decided to grow books.”  1

When questioned about the publishing objectives of their firm, the publishers acknowledged that they were black-owned but said that they were mainly interested in producing literature of quality by writers of diverse races: “We are a Black-owned publishing company, but we publish writers of various races. We seek to publish books which we find moving and significant and of high quality and special insight.”  2 That special insight, as illustrated in most of the books released by this firm, is the feminist perspective.

The first book published by Wild Trees Press was J.California Cooper’s APiece of Mine. This group of short stories was released in December 1984. It has gone through three printings. Widely reviewed, 10,000 copies are in print.  3

The current Wild Trees Press catalogue lists three other titles, one of which is Jo Anne Brasil’s Escape from Billy’s Bar-B-Que, which, published in 1985, is a humorous novel about a Southern white woman coming of age in the 1960s. This work had an initial press run of 3,000 copies, which sold out three weeks prior to its publication date.  4

In 1986 two other books were published by Wild Trees Press: Condor and Humming Bird by Charlotte Mendiz, a novel about the relationships among three women in Bogota, Columbia, and Ready from Within: Septima Clark and the Civil Rights Movement by Septima Clark, a first-person narrative by a civil rights worker in the South.

Wild Trees Press aims its books at the general adult audience, selling through bookstores and such distributors as Bookpeople, Publishers Group West, Bookslinger, the Red Sea Press, and Inland. The publishers described their other marketing techniques:” We publish an annual catalogue, and attend the American Booksellers Association annual convention as our main marketing activities. We also seek reviews for each title and have had some success with this.”  5

PUBLICATIONS

A Piece of Mine, by J.California Cooper, is a collection of folksy short stories about the trials of black women at the hands of black men. Each story is intuitively told by other black women who are friends or who know the main character. Publisher Alice Walker, in the book’s introduction, comments briefly on the “sister-witness” technique employed by Cooper in writing the stories:

Cooper creates vividly the voice of the sister-witness that all of us, if we are lucky, and if we are loved, have in our lives. She is a woman you trust with your story as it is happening to you; she is the woman from whom you hide nothing. She is on your side.  6

For example, in the lead story “$100 and Nothing,” the sister-witness narrates an episode in which Mary, a battered wife and the story’s main character, is severely berated by her self-indulgent, shiftless husband.

I went home to lunch with Mary once and he got mad cause we woke him up as we was talking softly and eating. Lord, did he talk about Mary! Talked about her skinny legs and all under her clothes and her kinky hair. She tried to keep it up but she worked and sweat too hard, for him. She just dropped her head deeper down into her plate and I could see she had a hard time swallowing her food.  7

In another story, entitled “Sin Leaves Scars,” the sister-witness voice, like a soothsayer, predicts with a woman’s intuition the fate of Lida Mae, the beautiful young girl who is the main character, whose life is eventually ruined by men who lust after her.

During the first 12 years as she was realizing her world of food, animals, insects, trees and flowers, school and other people, people, mostly men, were realizing her. Even brothers and uncles like to put their hands and anything else they could where they shouldn’t have.  8

The sister-witness narrator, after recounting Lida’s many tragic affairs with lustful men, ends her story with a final observation of Lida and a grateful assessment of her own condition.

The years have passed and we have really sure nuff got old. Lida Mae looks like she is 150 years old and she is only 45 or so. I stop over to see her on my way to my son’s house to get my grandchild sometime and she still be setting on the porch, drinking and she say things I don’t know if I believe them. She say, “Life ain’t shit, you know that? It ain’t never done a fucking thing for me!!”

When I leave, thoughts be zooming round in my head and I think of those words I got on a 15 cents post card go like this:

Some people watch things happen.

Some people make things happen.

Some people don’t even know nothing happened.

Then I go on over to pick up my grandbaby and thank God, ugly as I may be, I am who I am.  9

A Piece of Mine is a collection of skillfully written, entertaining stories; however, these stories, whose heroines are unfortunate black women, seem to portray only the negative elements in black men.

In the early years of the civil rights movement, there were many individuals in the South who were working quietly, at great personal sacrifice, for the equal rights of black Americans. One of these individuals was Septima Clark. In Ready from Within: Septima Clark and the Civil Rights Movement, edited with an introduction by Cynthia Stokes Brown, Wild Trees Press has provided a vehicle for Septima Clark to tell her story from the feminist viewpoint. Brown emphasizes this fact in her introduction:

The main difference is that this story is told from a feminist perspective. After the civil rights movement Mrs. Clark took part in the women’s liberation movement and learned to comprehend her own story, as well as that of women in general, in a framework very different from that through which she experienced her life as it happened. When men who knew her in the 1960s read this story, they say, “But that’s how she felt back then.” No, it’s not, but it is how she felt at the age of eighty-one.  10

Mrs. Clark’s courageous story began in the 1950s in her native Charleston, South Carolina, and its environs where she taught school and was very active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). In 1956, after she was fired from the local school board because of her membership in the NAACP, she accepted the position of director of workshops at the Highlander Folk School, an organization working for better interracial relations, in Monteagle, Tennessee. From Highlander, she directed and developed her citizenship program which trained thousands of blacks to return to their communities and set up voter education programs to teach other blacks to read, enabling them to register to vote. In 1962, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the NAACP adopted the citizenship programs, and scores of blacks were registered throughout the South, according to Mrs. Clark.

In the next four years all the groups together trained 10,000 teachers from Citizenship Schools. During that period 700,000 Black voters registered across the South. After the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, registration increased very rapidly. At least a million more Black people registered by 1970. But it took until the election of 1972 for the first two Blacks from the Deep South to be elected to U.S. Congress since Reconstruction. They were Andrew Young, who helped me set up all those Citizenship Schools, and Barbara Jordan, from Texas.  11

Septima Clark worked very closely with many men in the civil rights movement. She was on the executive staff of the SCLC; however, she did not feel that most of the men in the movement had a high regard for women. “I see this as one of the weaknesses of the Civil Rights Movement, the way the men looked at the women.”  12 Even Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as Mrs. Clark recalls, did not really think much of her.

I had a great feeling that Dr. King didn’t think much of women either. He would laugh and, “Ha, ha, ha. Mrs. Clark has expanded our program.” That’s all. But I don’t think that he though too much of me, because when I was in Europe with him, when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, the American Friends Service Committee people wanted me to speak. In a sort of casual way he would say, “Anything I can’t answer, ask Mrs. Clark.” But he didn’t mean it, because I never did get the chance to do any speaking to the American Friends Service Committee in London or to any other groups.  13

Ready from Within is a revealing memoir by a key figure in the civil rights movement. Edited by feminist Cynthia Stokes Brown, Mrs. Clark’s reminiscences are the result of her hindsight of those experiences after she had joined the women’s liberation movement and had adopted a feminist philosophy and point of view.

CONCLUSION

Although the books published by Wild Trees Press have been written by women from a feminist perspective, they are not merely missiles of propaganda for the women’s liberation movement. Foremost, they are works authored by exceptionally talented writers of rare vision and philosophical substance. Hopefully, Wild Trees Press will continue to release more books of comparable literary quality in the future.

Address: Wild Trees Press, P.O. Box 378, Navarro, CA 95463.

NOTES

1.  “Wild Trees Press,” Bookpaper, February 1986, p. 35.

2.  Alice Walker and Robert L.Allen, letter to the author, June 11, 1986.

3.  Ibid.

4.  Ibid.

5.  Ibid.

6.  J.California Cooper, A Piece of Mine (Navarro, Calif.: Wild Trees Press, 1984), p. vii.

7.  Ibid., p. 3.

8.  Ibid., p. 9.

9.  Ibid., p. 19.

10.  Septima Clark, Ready from Within: Septima Clark and the Civil Rights Movement, edited with an introduction by Cynthia Stokes Brown (Navarro, Calif.: Wild Trees Press, 1986), p. 19.

11.  Ibid., p. 70.

12.  Ibid., p. 79.

13.  Ibid., p. 77.

INFORMATION SOURCES

Clark, Septima. Ready from Within: Septima Clark and the Civil Rights Movement. Edited with an introduction by Cynthia Stokes Brown. Navarro, Calif.: Wild Trees Press, 1986.
Cooper, J. California. A Piece of Mine. Navarro, Calif.: Wild Trees Press, 1984.
Joyce, Donald Franklin. “Changing Book Publishing Objectives of Secular Black Book Publishers, 1900–1986.” Book Research Quarterly 2 (Fall 1986): 42–50.
Walker, Alice, and Robert L.Allen. Letter to author. June 11, 1986. “Wild Trees Press.” Bookpaper, February 1986, pp. 34–40.

OTHER PUBLISHED TITLES

None.

LIBRARIES HOLDING TITLES

King College, Bristol, Tenn.: Library.

Volunteer Community College, Gallatin, Tenn.: Library.

Most large academic and public libraries.

OFFICERS

Co-Publisher: Alice Walker; Co-Publisher: Robert L.Allen.



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Black Book Publishers in the United States -- : A Historical Dictionary of the Presses, 1817–1990

MLA

" WILD TREES PRESS ." Black Book Publishers in the United States : A Historical Dictionary of the Presses, 1817–1990. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1991. The African American Experience. Greenwood Publishing Group. 21 Aug 2014. <http://testaae.greenwood.com/doc.aspx?fileID=JBP&chapterID=JBP-3181&path=encyclopedias/greenwood>

Chicago Manual of Style

" WILD TREES PRESS ." In Black Book Publishers in the United States : A Historical Dictionary of the Presses, 1817–1990, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1991. The African American Experience. Greenwood Publishing Group. http://testaae.greenwood.com/doc.aspx?fileID=JBP&chapterID=JBP-3181&path=encyclopedias/greenwood. (accessed August 21, 2014).