From the time of its inception about a year and a half ago, before we even had a title to accompany the project, We Belong in History was slated for release in January 2014, the centennial of the celebrated former Oregon Poet Laureate William Stafford’s birth. The project is the result of a 2012 entreaty from current Poet Laureate Paulann Petersen, who asked that Ooligan Press join others from Portland, others from all over Oregon, in celebrating the life of one of our greatest poetry legends. Ooligan Press answered the call, and it’s difficult to believe that the oft-mentioned date of the centennial is here at last.
As much as We Belong in History: Writing with William Stafford is a passion project—an effort steeped in the promise of young voices and the love that we here at Ooligan have for Stafford’s contributions to Oregon’s literary culture—it’s also something that we as publishing students need to market and sell. We Belong in History caters to several notoriously difficult sales demographics. If selling a poetry book is difficult in today’s publishing world, then selling a poetry book filled with young, unknown authors is near impossible. The book also features another selling point in the form of lesson plans for educators looking for effective ways to bring Stafford to the classroom, but the fact of the matter is, we’re looking at a very limited audience.
We Belong in History is different from many concurrent Ooligan projects because much of our success will depend upon the sales boost that timely conscientiousness will give us. Because the centennial of Stafford’s birth has inspired such widespread remembrance, the We Belong in History team is taking it upon ourselves to join into any celebration we can, encouraging people to consider our own specific brand of celebration as they carry out their own. This makes the entire year of 2014—especially the month of January—crucial to our marketing plan.
Our efforts on this front have been met with mixed success. Thus far we have attended two William Stafford events with wares in hand, though we have attempted to join in with a lot more. The problem with seeking entry with the intent to sell something is that most of the time, someone else is selling something too, and we can hardly crash other book launches with all of our sales guns blazing, so we have definitely been limited as to the number of events in which we can participate.
The first event we attended was a quiet community reading at the Milwaukie Ledding Library on January 11th which featured Paulann Petersen and several members of the city government. The second was Oregon Public Broadcasting’s public presentation of their radio show, Think Out Loud, which inspired an in-depth discussion of Stafford’s life and legacy. We can classify these efforts as a mixed success because, although we sold no more than ten books between them, events such as these contribute a great deal to spreading Ooligan’s name and our mission, and we never know who is going to come looking because something about our book or its message stuck with them. Stafford’s name is everywhere now, and Ooligan wants to be there right along with him.
Ooligan also conducted our own launch event on January 7th at In Other Words Feminist Community Center, contributing to the wealth of events with our own unique dialogue and attendance, and featuring readings from our enthusiastic young contributors. We will also be hosting a second release party on February 12th at Broadway Books. We are looking forward to attending more centennial events this month and throughout the year. For more information on William Stafford events in and around Portland, visit the 2014 Stafford Centennial Calendar at Friends of William Stafford.