Monday musings on Australian literature: Specialist presses

I’ve written Monday musings before about publishers, including posts on small presses and university presses. Today I’m bringing you another – about publishers which specialise in a certain “type” of literature. As with my other posts of this type, this won’t be comprehensive, but will comprise a selection whose specialties interest me! Here they are – listed in their order of longevity, as far as I can tell.

Currency Press

subtitles itself, “the performing arts publisher”. It’s the one I’ve known for the longest, which is partly due to the fact that it’s over 40 years old and partly because its subject area crossed my professional life. It started in 1971 as a publisher of plays, but has expanded significantly since then to “screenplays, professional handbooks, biographies, cultural histories, critical studies and reference works” in the performing arts area. In 2011, its 40th year, Currency Press received an AWGIE Award for its outstanding contribution to the performing arts. Among their new releases is a book that was launched at the Sydney Film Festival today. It’s by film academic, Sylvia Lawson, and is about my favourite Australian documentary, The Back of Beyond (1954). If you want to find the script of a film or play by Australian greats like, say, Andrew Bovell or David Williamson, Currency Press would be your first stop.

Five Islands Press

is one of several small publishers which specialise in Australian poetry. I’ve chosen them to represent this special interest area because it is one that I often see around the traps though I haven’t yet reviewed any of their publications. They were established in 1986, and aim to publish both established and emerging poets. In 2012 they published Lisa Jacobson’s verse novel, The sunlit zone, which was shortlisted for this year’s inaugural Stella Prize.

Magabala Books

describes itself as “Australia’s oldest independent Indigenous publishing house”. It was established in 1990, and is located in gorgeous Broome. It is a non-profit organisation that aims “to preserve, develop and promote Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures”. It has, to date, published more than 100 titles in a wide range of forms and genres from children’s picture books to adult fiction, from poetry to contemporary non-fiction. Their list of authors is extensive and would be a great place to start, particularly for authors not well-known in the mainstream.

Spinifex Press

describes itself as “an award-winning independent feminist press, publishing innovative and controversial feminist books with an optimistic edge”. I’ve read a few books from them during my blogging career – Merlinda BobisFish-hair woman, Francesca Rendle-Short’s Bite your tongue, Sefi Atta‘s A bit of difference and, just yesterday, Susan Hawthorne’s Limen. According to the About Us page on their site, the press was established by Susan Hawthorne and Renate Klein in 1991, one year after Magabala, and now has over 200 titles in print. They were, they say, the first publisher to set up an interactive site based on a book (for Building Babel in 1996) and the first small press in Australia to release eBooks through an eBookstore attached to their own website. They publish Australian and overseas writers, including many works in translation. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the books of theirs that I’ve read. Their books aren’t all overtly political but all deal in some way with women’s experience. Spinifex seems to be a good example of what a small publisher with a very focused goal can do.

Spineless Wonders

is a relatively new kid on the block, having been established, as far as I can tell, around 2011. (Don’t you wish all organisations included a little bit of their history on their websites?) Anyhow, Spineless Wonders is “devoted to short, quality fiction produced by Australian writers … [to] brief fiction in all its forms – short story, novella, sudden fiction and prose poetry”. Their name refers to the fact that their publications are “delivered to readers via  smart phones and laptops”, but they do publish in print form, and also audio. Check Litblogger Angela Meyer’s interview at with the founder, Bronwyn Mehan, for some background to her philosophy.

To conclude …

That’s five, and probably enough to get you thinking about the breadth of publishing out there. There are plenty of others, including publishers for genre fiction (such as Pulp Fiction Press), children’s literature (such as New Frontier Publishing), regionally-focused publishers (such as Backroom Press in the Kimberleys), not to mention education publishers, religion publishers, and so on.

Do you have any favourite specialist presses you go to for specific reading interests?

12 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Specialist presses

  1. Spineless Wonders wins for best name! Specialist presses fill a wonderful niche, don’t they? It’s good you seem to have so many there that are going strong.

  2. I don’t usually consider publishers when I am looking for a book. However, when I am at the airport I seek out the Popular Penguin books that sell for $9.95. If I saw ‘Spineless Wonders’ as a title rather than as a publisher, I would be more likely to look at the book!

    • Thanks for the reader’s response Meg … There are times when I do, too. The popular Penguins, the Text Classics and, years ago the Virago are some that I am aware of specifically looking for … Each has/had a very recognisable cover or spine to look for. I appreciate that. I’ve also tended to be aware of boutique publishers in small bookstores because you tend to notice them more.

  3. I have come rather belatedly to your blog via AWW. As an author I’m always fascinated to discover who is devoting some of their time to the scribblings of those who have a story to tell. Thankyou for sharing….

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