Fireweed Press began in the late ‘80s, when several Madison, Wisconsin, poets, who had been writing and publishing in magazines, began to see the merits of putting their work in chapbooks. Among them, Jeri McCormick decided to act on the advice of established poets Edna Muedt and Viola Wendt (both now deceased) and assemble a first manuscript. McCormick, who had acquired publishing skills at her state government job, called a meeting with eight local writers who shared her interest in publishing.
In naming the press, McCormick drew on her fondness for colorful weeds, consulted a botany guide, and picked the fireweed for its vivid hues and prolific renewal properties — an apt plant to serve as a metaphor in the writing world. The poets met at McCormick’s home and began their work as a mutual support collective. Starting with registration in the ISBN system, which was a slow postal process in those days, they met as a group for five years, volunteering editorial, production and promotional help for each new book. The press’s style, then and now, has been to give great freedom and autonomy to the individual author, who makes cover and production decisions, takes on the cost, and retains all proceeds from sales.
Membership is loosely defined, with no contract and no dues, and it comes through verbal acceptance by a writer, following an invitation agreed to by three Fireweed authors, who offer experience and continuity. Authors may publish again and again with the press, and they are free to work with other presses as well. Over the years, membership has grown from 9 to 24, with 4 members deceased. Meetings of the full membership are no longer held; instead, individuals or small groups advise each other.
By 1992, Fireweed had published 13 books and a packet of post cards, plus flyers with sample poems. During the first decade, the group gave presentations at numerous meetings, book displays, and poetry conventions. The press’s 35 books have garnered many fine reviews, online and in journals, plus publicity through Garrison Kiellor, newspapers, Amazon postings, and countless readings in book stores. Some have won prizes from the Wisconsin Council for Writers and the Wisconsin Library Association. Wisconsin’s recent poet laureate, Bruce Dethlefsen, is a Fireweed author.
Fireweed Press continues to put out books by respected, high-achieving authors, who have learned their craft and are ready to go public with their writing. For each new book, the collective gets to know the work of the author and proceeds toward a working/publishing relationship by invitation.