Lisa Bowden has a creed: “No one is free until we’re all free, and the most important voices to center are those on the margin.”
The belief guided her when she co-founded Kore Press 25 years ago, and guides her still. The nonprofit is dedicated to publishing literature by women and transgendered writers. A celebration to mark its silver anniversary is slated for Nov. 11.
The press came about when she and co-founder Karen Falkenstrom searched for a path away from the white male literary canon.
“With Tucson having such a rich literary history, and in particular incredible women writers, it was pretty liberatory to step into the community literary scene,” Bowden recalls. “We were really wanting to make an impact by centering women’s voices and queer voices and folks of color using literature as a tool for those conversations.”
As a small press, Kore combines the artistry of printing literature with the fight for social justice. For Bowden, a University of Arizona graduate, “It was really like creating a sacred space for women’s voices and folks on the margin.”
Twenty-five years of successful publishing has not been without its difficulties.
“The economics of it is anybody’s challenge as a small arts organization in the climate of dwindling government resources,” Bowden says. “We are an independent nonprofit arts organization and we don’t have a stream of institutional support.”
In spite of this, Kore Press has thrived as a vibrant part of the Tucson community.
“We stay really nimble and creative. We have longstanding relationships with the business community, the university community and the arts community and we’ve been building those relationships for a long time, so that social capital and that cultural and professional capital has been invested in for 25 years,” she says. “Those deep and wide roots into the community are lifelines.”
Over the years, Kore has been boosted with a $15,000 award from the National Endowment for the Arts and was the recipient of the National Book Foundation’s Innovations in Reading prize. Among the writers it has published are Alison Deming, Tracie Morris, TC Tolbert and Mary Gordon. “Powder: Writing by Women in the Ranks, from Vietnam to Iraq” (2008) and “Letters to the Future: Black Women/Radical Writing” (2018) are among Kore’s most successful and important titles, says Bowden.
Also key to Kore’s success, she says, are the community relationships and dialogue the press creates. Among them are The Listening Project, where teen girls interviewed female veterans to create radio stories, and Big Read, a 10-week community event around the life and work of Emily Dickinson.
“A lot of our large-scale community collaborations are really exciting, successful projects because that’s when we get to do the public aspect of publishing,” says Bowden.
Integral to Kore, she says, is creating dialogue around “particular issues that a poet has written about in a particular work and bringing that out to the community in very different ways, such as bringing in scholars, talking to business folks, working with youth, doing visual exhibitions and partnering with different sectors of the community.”
Kore’s anniversary celebration will include a reading by poet Ofelia Zepeda, flamenco dancer Mele Martinez with Logan Phillips providing poetic accompaniment, and sound artist Tracie Morris. Among the artists who have donated work for the auction are Cynthia Miller, Simon Donovan, Ellen McMahon, Eva Harris, Sara Hubbs, Leslie Cho Newman, Desiree Rios and Barbara Penn.