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Agents of Change

Hands-on operation Kore Press has launched careers and thrived on a national scale for 20 years

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Tucson has had its share of small publishing houses pop up over the years, with the kind of mixed results you'd expect from grass-roots startups.

Kore Press was one of those startups, a local outfit hoping to get some undiscovered authors published in an effort to enrich the reading community. But there was a twist: All the works would be by women, specifically those who didn't fit the cookie-cutter mold expected of female authors by the mainstream publishing world.

Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, Kore Press is one of three feminist publishers in the U.S. that have lasted that long.

"And we're the only one that publishes more than five titles a year," said Lisa Bowden, Kore's publisher and co-founder.

Bowden and local poet Karen Falkenstrom got the idea to start Kore after Bowden had spent a few years working for another publisher. She had fallen in love with the world of bookmaking and printing, and along the way she noticed something quite disturbing: Hardly any women were getting published.

"We both recognized a need and desire to support the work and writing of women," Bowden said. "We recognized how rich the writing community is, (but also) how many talented women writers there were who were not getting published.

"We wanted to do something about that."

But Bowden admits she never expected Kore to get this big. All told, Kore has published the works of 127 women, including a recent anthology with 37 authors represented. Bowden says Kore likes to say it has launched 55 careers, "but it's probably more than that."

Kore (pronounced core-AY) is Greek for "daughter." It's also another name for Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter who, according to mythology, was kidnapped by Hades and taken to the underworld in the winter, but escapes every spring. As the goddess of vegetation, she is meant to symbolize the regenerative nature of all living things.

The name fit well with Kore's mission, Bowden said.

"We like the idea that women are agents of change."

While Kore remains a hands-on operation for Bowden, in the beginning it was really hands-on. She said that in the first seven years every book was put together by hand. Printing was done one page at a time, followed by hand-binding of the tomes.

"It was very much an aesthetic, artistic process," she said. "I was always a fan of the beauty, of the creativity of the project."

But a desire to reach a wider audience—and Bowden's development of an allergy to letterpress materials—prompted Kore to embrace technology and move into the modern world of publishing.

However, Kore remains at heart a volunteer-based organization that is more about spreading the word than raking in the dough.

"It's very much about lifting up the voices of women and girls," Bowden said.

One of the most powerful works to come out of Kore is Powder, a collection of essays and poetry from 19 female members of the U.S. military who shared tales of rape, wartime atrocities and combat. First published in 2008, the book is included in college women's studies programs and has been adapted into a play that's been performed at local high schools.

"We've been told that we've changed and saved the lives of women in the military," Bowden said.

Over the years Kore has branched out from its local roots, publishing authors from around the world. Its board of directors includes members from New York City and Los Angeles. Bowden said Kore intends to grow its national presence, and possibly venture into the world of e-books.

"In a way, we're closing out 20 years and preparing for a very different kind of two decades," Bowden said.

Kore's Birthday Bash

Local publishing house Kore Press is holding a 20th-birthday celebration at 2 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 10, in conjunction with its annual fundraiser.

The event is at the Franklin House, 402 N. Main Ave., and will feature an auction of art and services along with music, food, drinks and a ceremony commemorating Kore's 20 years in the business.

Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. They can be purchased at korepress.org.

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