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Support for Underrepresented Voices: Backbone Press

Last year on our blog, we highlighted one literary magazine each week. The response was so positive, we decided to continue with a variation on a theme.

In 2018, the focus will be on publishers: the small presses, hybrid companies, and purveyors of quality handbound titles we’ve grown to love and that are cultivated right here in the Tar Heel State.

First up? Backbone Press.

Based in Durham, Backbone Press is “a small press with a big vision.” Committed to being a venue for ethnic poets, including African American, Latino, Asian, and others, Backbone Press publishes poetry that is “political, invocative, social, gritty, personal, and poignant.”

A micropress, their focus is on chapbooks, generally, and in language that is “elegant yet striking as well as provocative.” The author list includes Dariel Suarez, Allison Joseph, Tyree Daye, and Tara Betts.

Catherine Ntube won the 2017 Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize for her afrofuturistic poem “Contaminant Relics.” This contest, sponsored by Backbone Press each spring, honors the prolific work of poet great Lucille Clifton. Widely celebrated for her unpretentious and unapologetic poems, Clifton’s unique free verse was free of punctuation, taut, and always recognizably her. When submitting think: humanness, struggle, adversity, resilience. This year’s final judge was Vievee Francis.

The managing editor is Crystal Simone Smith, the author of two poetry chapbooks, Routes Home (Finishing Line Press, 2013) and Running Music (Longleaf Press, 2014). She is also the author of Wildflowers: Haiku, Senryu, and Haibun (2016). Her work has appeared in numerous journals including: Callaloo, Nimrod, Barrow Street, Obsidian II: Literature in the African Diaspora, African American Review, and Mobius: The Journal of Social Change. She is an alumna of the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop and the Yale Summer Writers Conference. She holds an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte and lives in Durham with her husband and two sons where she teaches English Composition and Creative Writing.

“Our niche is cultural writing, not just poetry, by African American writers,” says Smith. “We need more venues and spaces focusing on diversity.”

Backbone Press accepts unpublished work during their open reading period each Spring. Recent acceptances include The Ocean Between by Beatriz Fernandez and The Riddle of Longing by Faisal Mohyuddin.

In the Fall, Backbone Press sponsors The Shared Dream Chapbook Contest for immigrant poets (2018 winner TBA).

Keep an eye on their website,, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest.