During its two-decade history, the small nonprofit literary press Sarabande Books has operated out of the public eye, tucked into a small space off the beaten path in the Highlands.
That all changes next week when they move to NuLu. And what an exciting move it is.
For months, insiders have wondered what would become of the recently vacated Local Speed, and now we have some answers: Sarabande’s new location is in the Local Speed building at 822 E. Market St. They won’t be using the whole building — it’s being split into several parts, and Sarabande will be in the front half of the second floor. But that’s still a big space with a lot of possibility.
“We want to take 10 steps forward with our public presence,” says Kristen Miller, director of programming and development for Sarabande. Miller recently spoke with Insider about the upcoming move, Sarabande’s history and mission, and what the move means for their future.
Sarabande was founded in 1994 by Sarah Gorham and Jeffrey Skinner.
“It was the first — and still is the only — literary press of this caliber in this region,” says Miller. “There were very few independent literary presses at the time. The major corporate presses you’ve heard of were not taking risks on the kind of literature our founders found valuable.”
That literature includes poems, essays, short stories and occasionally novels and novel-length essays. Sarabande often focuses on first-time writers and minority writers — authors big presses tend to ignore. While Sarabande believes these authors and their work have serious value to our culture and community, Miller says, “The genres we publish — particularly poetry — are often not big money makers.”
The press publishes 10 to 12 books a year, with more than 200 in their back catalogue. But publishing is just part of the press’ nonprofit mission. Letting people know about Sarabande’s other work is part of the big move.
“We want people to know what we are doing, and that goes beyond publishing books,” Miller says. “We have an entire branch of our organization that takes writing workshops into under-resourced communities.” Sarabande also takes writing workshops into community centers and addiction recovery and mental health facilities.
The new space won’t house workshops at first. It won’t have a dedicated bookstore either. But it opens the door for continued growth.
“We plan to grow into the space,” explains Miller. “The NuLu community has the potential for a lot of new and exciting steps for us. Including retail, including growth in staff size, we have a longterm dream list that includes potentially an urban writing residency that would take place near our offices.”
Miller thinks the growth will be aided by the fertile atmosphere downtown. “We really feel like the East Market Street community is a perfect fit for us. There are a lot of exciting new businesses and art galleries, it just seems like that’s the place for people who are coming into their own in Louisville right now.”
Sarabande already has started interacting with their new neighbors via a presence at the Flea Off Market. They also are planning to join the various festivals and block parties NuLu hosts, and they hope to team with some of the retail outlets in NuLu to host pop-up shops.
This move is part of a multi-year push for expansion that stretches at least as far back as 2014, when the Louisville press opened up shop in Brooklyn.
“Our first kind of big step as a press was to open a satellite office in Brooklyn (in) May 2014, just about two years ago. It was a big step for us, and it’s been an exciting new development,” says Miller. The press has been able to expand their acquisitions by improving relationships with agents, and they’ve been able to tap more directly into the New York literary scene through approaching critics and and reviewers as well. “It’s helped us to gain a higher profile in the national and global publishing industry.”
But don’t worry about Sarabande getting too cool for Louisville. “We have plans to be in NuLu indefinitely,” Miller says.
But first, they have to move. They are having a moving party, and everyone is invited. From 11 a.m.-4 p.m. on Thursday, June 9, you can stop by Sarabande’s Highlands location at 2234 Dundee Road. They’ll have coffee and donuts, and if you help them move some boxes, they’ll send you home with a free book — or more.
“All of our volunteers will be sent home with at least one book,” says Miller. “That’s one of the ways we’ll lighten the load. It’s a win-win — less books for us, more books out in the community.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated with a clarification about the genres Sarabande publishes.