Host Publications, one of the few poetry presses in Austin, offers a unique space for underrepresented voices.

It’s a moderately cool Saturday in November. Hundreds of people have converged on the Capitol for the 28th Annual Texas Book Festival. Between panels and book signings, bibliophiles meander among the tents and food trucks. Nestled within the tightly packed semi-chaos, a table nearly overflows with books that contain titles like {Gemini Gospel} and {Threesome in the Last Toyota Celica}. Most of the titles are the product of local authors, but one name, Pablo Neruda, clues passersby in that this is no ordinary book press showcasing its wares. This is a poetry press, and not just any poetry press: a {woman-co-owned and -operated} press showcasing woman-identified, Black, Brown and queer {local} poets. The small banner adorning the table sports the name: Host Publications.

By Cy White. Photos courtesy of House Publications.

Annar Veröld, first-generation Honduran-American, takes the helm as the managing editor and has been with the press since the height of its most active years, alongside its founder, the late Joe W. Bratcher.

“I met Joe when I started working in Malvern Books,” Veröld begins. “There was this wonderful moment that we had at this literary conference, AWP, where I was no longer working with him, but I was a free agent,” she says with a wistful smile, eyes toward the sky as if recalling the experience. “I made it clear that I love literature and would have loved to work in publishing. Maybe about a year later, he brought me on to revive the social media for Host Publications. Slowly over time, he was like, ‘I would love to publish Fernando [Flore]’s book. Let’s get that going.’ We laid down the groundwork for the {I Scream Social Anthology}, the first one that we did. He and I both saw and still believe that Austin is this incredible literary city with so much talent, especially in our marginalized communities—women and nonbinary writers, immigrant folks, people of color. I ran that series for five years, and it never felt like there was a gap where I couldn’t fill the lineup with people that really excited me.”

Fast forward to the 2024 Front Market. Veröld and her partner in crime, Host’s senior editor, Claire Bowman, have taken full command of the small publishing house for underrepresented voices. The energy has noticeably shifted. Veröld and Bowman have worked almost nonstop to create a publishing house unlike any other within Austin. Bratcher’s spirit speaks to them even now.

“Just for just for funsies, Claire found an old document where Joe had written a note that was just the word ‘nonprofit’ with a question mark,” Veröld recalls, a noticeable brightness coloring her voice.  “It must have been at least a decade old. We’re like, ‘That’s the exact question we’ve been asking ourselves.” The conversation erupts with laughter at the universe’s timing. “Listen,” she continues as the mirth subsides, “poetry is not…we don’t get into it to make the big bucks. We can’t make the big bucks by making or selling it. That’s not why we’re doing this, but we need to make it sustainable. That’s what a nonprofit structure is for.”

Innovation means evolution. It means building something with the sole purpose of fulfilling a need. Both Veröld and Bowman know and understand that the world needs more creatives willing to speak out, speak boldly with their entire chests to bring us back to a world that understands and insists upon empathy. In the spirit of provocative thought, Mónica Teresa Ortiz, author of Host’s first full-length individual collection of poetry, {Autobiography of a Semiromantic Anarchist}, will return with their latest collection as the recipient of Host’s inaugural full-length poetry prize in honor of Joe.

“One of the things a lot of people might not know about [Joe], just knowing him maybe as the owner of Melvern Books, is that he was very radical,” Bowman states. Her voice catches on a bur of emotion when thinking of her dear friend’s unwavering dedication to human rights and the human voice. “It’s really special,” she says as the threat of tears subsides. “That kind of revolutionary spirit is something that Mónica brings to their poetry in a way few others do, investigating systems of oppression while also translating our reality as it changes into all of these tender and beautiful love poems. These poems are really musical and really fractured and broken while also holding that tenderness, taking their shot at…the systems of power that need to be taken down. That book will be launched at the end of July, around the time the I Scream Social is revamped. It’s going to be such a kickass time.”

In a world that has come full circle in the worst possible way (restricting and even physically silencing those who dare to use words as their means of revolution), Host Publications stands as a sword to cut through the madness.

“Poetry is powerful,” Veröld says. “We would love the day-to-day person to embrace that, but political leaders who are trying to wipe the surface clean understand that, to at least some degree, the poet might know something. At the center of it, we are publishing incredible poetry that we really think needs to be out in the world.”



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