The Story Behind Garland Press

By Laurel Dile King, Editor and Publisher

 Laurel Dile King
Laurel Dile King

I became a small press publisher for the same reason I became a writer: a love of literature that goes back further than my memory. I wanted to repay a debt of gratitude to the writers who had enriched my life and to “pay it forward” to future readers and writers. Pursuing that love of literature also led me to work as a Camp-Dig-a-Book counselor (for kids with reading difficulties), a newspaper reader (I was a human search engine in pre-internet days.), a bookseller, a librarian, a creative writing instructor, and an editor. It prompted me to earn a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in creative writing. But the real groundwork of Garland Press was being laid well over a century ago.

Portrait of Grace Lee, by Evelyn Lee
Portrait of Grace Lee, by Evelyn Lee

My maternal grandmother, Grace Lee Lent was born in Brooklyn, Pennsylvania, in 1891 and grew up among her three maiden aunts, all artistically inclined. Evelyn professionally painted portraits and landscapes. Mary drew intricate pencil

Alice Louise Lee
Alice Louise Lee, from Penn Publishing Company’s Brief Biographies of Some Well-Known Authors

sketches. Alice Louise was a successful novelist and short story author who sometimes wrote under the pen name John Garland (Garland was their mother’s maiden name). The male siblings of these talented sisters were Edward, my grandmother’s father, who was a farmer, and Dr. Willis T. Lee, a geologist/explorer and writer for the National Geographic Society. As a young woman, my grandmother went to Washington, D.C., to stay with Uncle Willis to help care for his two young children. During this time she took drawing lessons at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, where she drew the book plate that would eventually become the Garland Press logo.

Pencil drawing by Mary Lee
Pencil drawing by Mary Lee

Grace returned home to northeastern Pennsylvania and worked as a seamstress, traveling the area and staying with families who had need of her sewing skills. On New Year’s Day 1919 she married Edwin Lent, a local dairy farmer, and in November of that year my mother was born, soon to be followed by three siblings. As far as we know there were no further artistic pursuits other than the baking and sewing she did to

Willis T. Lee, from The Geographical Review, 1920
Willis T. Lee, from The Geographical Review, 1920

bolster the family income. She did keep a journal every day, which we were led to believe was nothing more than a record of the weather, who came visiting, and who was born, married, and buried. We’ll never really know, though, because my grandmother destroyed those journals before she died at age 93.

One of the 9 novels published by Alice Louise Lee, a.k.a. John Garland
One of the 9 novels published by Alice Louise Lee, a.k.a. John Garland

But there was plenty of evidence that Grace was a reader. When I was a girl visiting my grandmother’s farmhouse, her wall of bookcases, with the shelf of books by Alice Louise Lee (a.k.a. John Garland), were a constant source of wonder. I was related to someone who wrote books! There in my grandmother’s sewing room, sitting on the braided rug in front of the bookcases with their leaded glass doors, turning the brittle pages of Aunt Alice’s books, the stirrings of Garland Press were awakened in me. Or perhaps it began even earlier, when I was christened with the name “Laurel Grace.”

Today Garland Press is dedicated to publishing literary novels that feature strong women. In an era when most editors can’t take time to help along new writers, we work with our authors to produce their best possible books, however how long it takes. We’re old fashioned that way.

Bookplate drawn by grandmother Grace Lee, over a century ago. Its digitized version is the Garland Press logo. If I had not found the bookplate after Grace’s death, in a book inherited from her, I would have never known my grandmother could draw.

 

Thank You

I am extremely grateful to the following people for volunteering their time, advice, and overall support to Garland Press:

Robin Cuneo
Sam Paradise
Anne Pound
Zachary King
Lauren Sheridan

A special thank you goes to my husband, Dave King, who has helped Garland Press in innumerable ways. He has done everything from designing flyers, to baking pretzels, to setting up spreadsheets, to making epic visits to the Library of Congress, to driving all over the Northeast for literary events. Without his love and support, there would be no Garland Press.

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