Dante Di Stefano: How did Free-Grace Press come into being?

Clifford Jackman: Free-Grace Press was created because we wanted to publish books that are about using the readers imagination. Our books are sculpted art / a  kinetic sculpture that you can carry around – an Artist’s Book. We desire to recreate the joy of looking, feeling, reading, and using one’s imagination.

At our physical foundation is the genderless and often anonymous Pamphleteer publisher that was born slowly after the invention of the printing press for the masses. From Jane Anger (1589) to Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin (1776) we adore the brutal honesty and high art of Pamphleteering.

We believe those Pamphleteer times and today’s Internet (self-publishing) times are very similar.  The internet’s abandon and freedom is similar in spirit to the free-for-all that Pamphleteering was, and/or, is.

Another brick in our foundation is the Artist’s Book championed most recently by William Blake (1757-1872). His combination of drawings and paintings with text was groundbreaking. Since then artists and writers have carried on the tradition of an Artist’s Book through Dadaism, Surrealism, and Conceptualism. The respect Blake had for literary prose did not make it through to Conceptualism (1970’s). And that’s when aesthetics and philosophy dominated the Artist’s Book design so there were very few literary stories – just visual, conceptual, and philosophical stories. So at Free-Grace Press we aim to continue this tradition of the Artist’s Book.

DD: Tell us about the first book Free-Grace has published, The Worming of America by Autumn Leaf.

CJ: Well literally it’s an answer to another Pamphlet published in 1615. We published The Worming of America as a rebuttal to Joseph Swetnam’s pamphlet / novel published in 1615 titled, The Arraignment of Lewd, Idle, Forward, and Unconstant Women: or the Vanity of Them, Choose you Whether: With a Commendation of Wise, Virtuous and Honest Women: Pleasant for Married Men, Profitable for Young men, and Hurtful to None.

Genre-wise, it’s a blend of historical fiction, alternative history, and literary fiction. It’s a post-modern study or play on questions of femininity, debt, sin, and freedom.

The story is told by a first person narrator –  Autumn Leaf (aka Susan Hutchinson), and it transports readers to Colonial Boston(1650) where The Worming of America (WoA) explores oppression in a Puritanical time as seen through the eyes of Anne Hutchinson’s daughter. Autumn throughout her day investigates / debates, the English Civil War (royalty and/or white slavery), the Free-Grace Controversy, and how America unified for a militaristic revolution.

DD: Tell us about the books you’ve slated for publication in the next few years.

CJ: The second book Free-Grace Press is publishing in 2021 is, Mother’s Day in the Empire State, Or, An Answer to the Arraignment of Women. Mother’s Day, again is written in modern day prose. It’s about motherhood in contemporary Appalachian society. The author is a 50-year-old woman – Constance or Connie Munda – she is a single Mom in upstate New York and a Child Protection Services (CPS) officer. She investigates two mothers for child abuse on Mother’s Day, one mother lives within poverty Appalachia, and the other lives within luxury Appalachia. The release date is Mother’s Day 2021, and it is 70,000 words. Thirty illustrations accompany the book. The narrator, Connie Munda, is the daughter again of an American heroine. She is the daughter of Anna Jarvis, the woman who started Mother’s Day in 1906 – whose story is almost as compelling as Anne Hutchinson’s story.

Our next third book will be the beginning of a trilogy called, Sagg;, Or Life in Free-Grace.It’s a modern-day analogy to Henry Thoreau’s Walden; Or Life in the Woods. All three will be in the epistolary novel form. These letters are written by Sam Kane, a 50-year-old man in modern day prose, and the launch dates are staggered yearly starting in the spring of 2022. Each novel within the trilogy will be approximately 70,000 words and will have again 30 Illustrations. The novels are called Sagg; Or Life in Free-Grace, because Sagg is a pond in Southampton, NY and Free-Grace is the root of Thoreau’s “Life in the Woods.” The narrator Sam Kane is a divorced dad from New Jersey who is writing letters to his son and daughter about his life and failed family in the epistolary novel form. It follows Walden’s chapter, subject, and topics, very closely, but the narrator / Sam Kane, is unaware his life going down the same path as Thoreau’s experiment in the woods.

DD: What kinds of books are you looking to publish going forward?

CJ: Well, the above 4 books should take us to 2024.  But during that time we’ll evolve into publishing more author’s work because we’re correlating a great design / publishing team for Free-Grace Press.

DD: Why should poets read a book like The Worming of America, or some of the other forthcoming Free-Grace titles?

CJ: Poets would like WoA because the prose is jazzy, rhythmic, and lyrical. The WoA prose also cares deeply about the reader and showers respect on all of five senses.  And more importantly WoA taps into the 6th sense / the inner eye with its prose and illustrations. Tapping this extrasensory perception or sense – that we all have – is what the successful poet does and where the poets’ work should live. The poet would enjoy WoA because as publishers we too have tried to boil it all down to a metaphysical or transcendental truth.

DD: What small presses do you admire?

CJ: Presses we like are –

1 – Haymarket Books –

2 – Seven Stories Press

3 – Fine Art Gallery Presses – Davis Zwirner Books and Hauser and Wirth Publishers.