The Oakland-based small nonprofit book publisher Nomadic Press may have shut down in March, but most of its titles—over a hundred—will remain available for the foreseeable future. Earlier this month, Nomadic founder J.K. Fowler announced that starting on June 1, the books will be moving to a new publishing house, Black Lawrence Press.

“It’s hard to think of a better ending to this,” Fowler told The Oaklandside, “especially given their reputation.”

Black Lawrence Press, a small independent publisher based in upstate New York, will also be releasing over 10 new books that Nomadic had planned to publish this year, but couldn’t due to its closure. 

After reading about Black Lawrence online and talking with some of the press’s writers and its Executive Editor Diane Goettel, Fowler got the impression that “they really care about their authors and are in this for the long haul.” Black Lawrence Press has operated since 2004, publishing over 300 books. Like Nomadic, the press has largely focused on poetry while publishing fiction and non-fiction. Nomadic’s books will be transferred to Black Lawrence for free and their authors will continue to receive royalties from the new publisher, said Fowler.

Goettel spoke about the similarities between the two publishers during an interview with The Oaklandside, calling Black Lawrence “a slightly older East Coast sister to Nomadic.” On occasion, they’ve even worked with the same authors: Two writers, Michal “MJ” Jones, and Miah Jeffra, have published books in the past with both Nomadic and Black Lawrence.

“It just seemed like such a good fit, as we have writers who write about similar topics and in similar forms,” Goettel said. “There’s a lot of kinship between our presses.”

Goettel said she has writer friends who have faced difficulties after releasing a book on a small press that later went out of business.

“Often when a small press ends, it’s almost like they evaporate,” Goettel said. “It can be very hard for the author to get basic information, like knowing: What happens to my rights? Can I get remaining copies of my book?”

Goettel wanted to prevent Nomadic writers from facing such difficulties and help their books live on. She said she would have considered taking on collections from other shuttered small presses in the past, but it’s a daunting task. In part, she chose to do so with Nomadic because “Fowler made it very easy.” He provided detailed descriptions and PDFs of all Nomadic books, connected Goettel with their authors, and was “very organized and thoughtful about the whole process.”

Fowler was impressed with Goettel’s distribution network and her focus on getting Black Lawrence books into “university libraries and classrooms.” Many Nomadic books were published with educational engagement in mind and include reading guides at the end with questions and small assignments to spark critical thinking. 

J. K. Fowler, the founder and executive director of Nomadic Press, poses for a photo near Lake Merritt in Oakland, Calif., on February 23rd, 2023. Credit: Amir Aziz

Nomadic authors have often described the press as a family, due to how it fostered connections between its writers by hosting events, helping organize writing groups, and hiring some of its authors to edit each other’s books. Goettel plans to continue that trend while bringing Nomadic’s authors into Black Lawrence. 

“I’m going to buddy every Nomadic author with a Black Lawrence Press writer who I feel have something in common,” she said. “Then we’ll try to do something to amplify their writing, like getting them both on a podcast, a group interview, or organizing a reading with the two of them.”

Goettel is also immersing herself in the Nomadic family. She plans to read all of the press’s books over the next six months and will host a reading for Nomadic writers at the Beast Crawl Literary Festival in downtown Oakland this July 22. Black Lawrence writers who live in the area will also be invited.

Some Nomadic authors who spoke with The Oaklandside said they’re aware of Black Lawrence, and that learning their books will live on through the press was a pleasant surprise.

“I personally am very happy and excited to be with Black Lawrence Press,” said MK Chavez, an Oakland-based writer who published two poetry books with Nomadic. “I’ve known about them and how they’ve shown up in the world for a while.”

Chavez, whose parents emigrated from El Salvador to the U.S., pointed to Black Lawrence’s Immigrant Writing Series as an example of the press showing up in a manner that impressed her and extended beyond literature. The series features works about immigrant experiences by writers who live in the U.S. but were born in another country, or have at least one parent who was born outside the country. It functions as an autonomous division within Black Lawrence Press, with its own editors and advisors, who are also immigrant writers.

The series aligns with one of Nomadic’s goals, as stated in its mission statement, of “creating an inclusive environment, particularly for those persons who have been excluded from the arts due to class, race, nation of origin, gender identity, sexuality, and/or disabilities.” 

Daniel B Summerhill, a writer and professor who grew up in Oakland whose poetry book Divine, Divine, Divine was published by Nomadic, told The Oaklandside it was a huge relief when he learned his book would continue to be published and distributed. Summerhill is a big fan of the Black Lawrence, and even submitted Divine, Divine, Divine to that press, but withdrew when Nomadic accepted it for publication.

When he first heard Nomadic was closing down, Summerhill was in the midst of a job search. Now he’s in the process of moving and taking on a new teaching job. Although he’s wanted his book to continue reaching readers, he said he hasn’t “had the space or capacity to think about what to do with it.

“It was exciting because it was one less thing I had to stress about,” Summerhill said.“And more than that, Black Lawrence is a press Divine, Divine, Divine could have been at anyway. It was a seamless transition instead of an anxiety-provoking one.”

As Nomadic’s books move to Black Lawrence Press, its nonprofit is transitioning into Nomadic Foundation, a new nonprofit set to begin operating in August. The foundation won’t be focused on book publishing or event hosting but instead will exist to support the formation of small presses that amplify marginalized writers.

“The focus is on helping other publishers do what we did,” said Fowler about the foundation. “But in their own way.”

A board of directors from throughout the Bay Area, U.S., and Mexico will ultimately decide on the details, but some things Fowler sees the foundation doing include giving out literary awards and helping presses access grants, form nonprofits, and fundraise. 

As Nomadic’s books live on through Black Lawrence Press and the foundation helps pass the baton to new publishers, Summerhill is happy to still be connected with fellow writers.

“We’ll still have kinship,” he said. “I’m definitely excited to be in that community still.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that MK Chavez’s parents emigrated from Mexico to the U.S. They emigrated from El Salvador.

Journalist and poet writing about homelessness, housing, and activism in Oakland and the East Bay.