Friday, April 10, 2009
Aloha! I don't want readers of this blog to feel sorry for me, but I've had to spend this week working in Hawai'i. (A tough assignment, I know, and - yes - this is the view of Waikiki Beach from my hotel window.)
You really couldn't get further away from anywhere than the 50th state of the USA - it's slap bang in the middle of the North Pacific, 9 hours' flight from Sydney, Australia and 5.5 hours from Los Angeles.
Impressively for a state of less than 1.3 million people, Hawaii has a healthy publishing industry, the Hawai'i Book Publishers Association having 19 members, most of which are attached to institutions (there are also many self-publishers, as there are everywhere). The most eminent is undoubtedly the University of Hawai'i Press, which specialises in the humanities, anthropology and natural history with a clear bias towards Asian and Pacific subjects.
Hawaii's leading independent publisher is The Bess Press, founded by owner Ben 'Buddy' Bess way back in 1979. I had met Ben many years ago at a trade fair (I couldn't recall whether it was Frankfurt or BEA - encouragingly, neither could he) and it was great to meet him again this week and see that he's very much still in business, albeit having had one major restructure in recent years.
The Bess Press does what many regional trade publishing houses around the world do well, which is specialise in topics of local interest. Its list includes over 200 titles - guides to Pacific languages, Pacific history (especially related to the WW2 in the Pacific), educational/children's books and natural history. They sell well across the Pacific and North America - and sell boxloads of their titles through Costco's Hawai'ian stories (although Ben tells me they've yet to crack Costco on the mainland). The Bess Press is planning to attend this year's Frankfurt Book Fair, so look out for Ben at the Independent US Publishers exhibit in Hall 8.
Another pleasant surprise during my visit was bumping into the celebrated New Zealand Maori writer Witi Ihimaera, author of Whale Rider (and also associate producer of the wonderful 2002 film of the same name. Currently holding a Citizen's Chair at the University of Hawai'i, Ihimaera today picked up a Star of Oceania award from the University of Hawai'i for his contribution to Pacific literature and film.