Confronting an increasingly tough business, three heroes of gay and lesbian publishing pass the torch
Barbara Grier wants everyone to know the rumors of her retirement are greatly exaggerated. "I field about 40 calls a day from hysterical customers who have heard Naiad [Press] is closing," Grier says testily. "Well, it's not true." When she decided recently to scale back production at the Florida press she cofounded almost three decades ago with her life partner, 60-year-old Donna J. McBride, many assumed she must be on the verge of shutting down. Grier dismisses this charge, but even she admits it's easy to see how such rumors got started. The changes at Naiad are coming at a time when, as she puts it, "a lot of strange and horrible things are happening" in lesbian and gay publishing.
Richard Labonte, one of the founders of A Different Light bookstores, is retiring after two decades in bookselling, and lesbian publisher Nancy Bereano has announced she's selling 15-year-old Firebrand Books to her distributor, effectively closing the small house's doors. This is an alarming series of events at a time when small presses are threatened by ever-larger publishing giants and small bookstores by chains. Could we be facing the end of independent lesbian and gay publishing as we know it?
Not so fast, Labonte says. "I don't want to give the impression that I think gay bookstores are doomed or that gay publishing is doomed," he says. True, he's leaving the store he helped found, but he insists his decision has more to do with getting on in years than with any fear for A Different Light. "I decided about a year ago that I wanted to take a break. [I've] shared ownership of a 20-acre farm near Ottawa, Canada, since '76, and I've only spent maybe two months there, total, in 20 years. So I decided it's time to go have a sabbatical."
Bereano has a less-happy motive for selling Firebrand. She's selling her press to Chicago's L.P.C. Group in part to help pay off her debts. Although current Firebrand titles will continue to be available (including Alison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For books), there probably won't be any new ones. Unlike Labonte, Bereano says her decision has everything to do with problems in the publishing industry--specifically with an eroding market for nonmainstream lesbian and gay books.
"Forty-five percent of lesbian, gay, [and] feminist stores have gone out of business in the last two years," she says bluntly. It's a trend, she adds, caused not only by the rise of chain stores--notorious foes of independents--but by an increasingly mainstream-oriented movement that simply "reads much less. …