Welcome Table Press was founded in 2002 by author and educator Kim Dana Kupperman in her downeast Maine kitchen. The press originally served as a vehicle for Food For Thought, a miniature, hand-sewn periodical featuring lyric essays of 1,500 words or less, original art, and a recipe for a local, seasonal dish.
In 2003, the press launched a literary touring group, Three Genres in the Rain, whose readings benefit organizations devoted to reading and writing.
In 2008, Welcome Table Press was incorporated as a nonprofit organization whose mission is to publish and celebrate the essay, in all its forms. In 2009, we received 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. The press is governed by a board of directors, run entirely by volunteers, and sustained by contributions from individuals.
Since then, we have hosted a book-arts workshop and two symposia on the essay. We have published two print anthologies and a pamphlet series, Occasional Papers on Practice & Form, and offered internships and editorial training to creative-writing students.
Why the Essay?
Imagine the American literary landscape without the voices of writers such as Frederick Douglas, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, E. B. White, James Baldwin, Susan Sontag, and Joan Didion. Where would we be as thinkers and writers, teachers and students, as a nation of informed citizens without them? And where would we be as readers without the thousands of other writers whose names you may or may not recognize—names such as bell hooks, M. F. K. Fisher, Edward Hoagland, Annie Dillard, Peter Matthiesen, June Jordan, David Foster Wallace, Barbara Ehrenreich, Audre Lorde, Aurora Levins-Morales, André Aciman, Loren Eiseley, Winona LaDuke, N. Scott Momaday, Inga Muscio (to name just several)? What would our collective consciousness do without the hundreds of periodicals (thousands, now, with the advent of online publications)—the journals, magazines, and newspapers—some of them widely circulated, some of them not, that feature essays grappling with all manner of subject matter, from musings on the quotidian to narrative reportage for laypeople on scientific topics to politically-infused manifestos?
Indeed, would we even be able to call ourselves Americans, without paying homage to the essayist Thomas Paine, whose long essay “Common Sense,” produced and distributed as a pamphlet in 1776, catalyzed revolutionaries and led to our independence from the British monarchy?
And yet the essay these days is one of the most misunderstood and understated forms of prose. The big presses, and to a lesser degree the smaller, independent ones, are cautious about taking chances with unknown essayists (even if their work is published widely in periodical venues). A collection of essays linked by a visible theme is more likely to be published than a collection of discrete essays. The term memoir-in-essays was invented to distinguish autobiographical writing that is, really, a collection of personal essays. And outside of the publishing and literary worlds, if you say the word essay, most people recall (sometimes with dread) that five-paragraph composition assigned throughout high school and college.
What is an essay? According to Aldous Huxley, it is “a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything.” The word essay comes from the French verb essayer, to “attempt” or“try,” and was coined in the sixteenth century by Michel de Montaigne, who used the term to describe his attempts—some of them more trialsome than others—to record his thoughts. If all of this sounds a little vague to you, it is, and such vagueness of definition may explain why publishers are so hesitant to promote the essay even as essays are making readers hungry for more.
So, why the essay? We at Welcome Table Press believe it is time to celebrate this form of writing as it’s never been celebrated before. Which means publishing nothing but essays. In all their forms, from the Montaignian train-of-thought personal essay to the experimental-you-can’t-tell-the-difference-from-a-prose-poem lyric essay.
And everything in between.