Thursday, November 17, 2011


Today, we plan to lunch with our good friends, Henry and Kathy Hamman, a couple who owns one of The Mountain’s small presses called Plateau Books. Henry and Kathy, who’re world travelers, have formidable credentials in the editorial and publishing field, and my friend, Vickie Sullivan, who owns Border Press, often compares notes with them about the complicated job of marketing.

The Hammans lived in Iran and India – places that offer delicious Eastern cuisine – and as I lived in Iran during the 70’s, we have a common interest in exotic cuisine. Today’s menu for the luncheon includes curry, roasted vegetables, dal (yellow lentils), and raita (yoghurt with cucumber and dill). Kathy is a chef magnifique and has a deft hand with seasonings and unusual ingredients.

Kathy, editor-in-chief of Plateau Books (at Sewanee, Tennessee), formerly served as editorial director of a press at the University of Miami where she captured the “Choice” award for two of the books she edited. She has been recognized in the journals Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy. Henry, the publisher, has edited numerous scholarly monographs, published fiction and nonfiction books, and is a former university faculty member. He’s also recognized for his excellent investigative reporting and articles in Financial Times.

The Hammans live in a cottage on Jumpoff Mountain Road at “Tick Farm,” where their offices are located. They’re assisted in their work by “Lucky,” an ancient Rhodesian Ridgeback dog that pretty much owns the place and joins us at mealtimes when we visit the farm. Lucky’s manner of getting acquainted is to approach a guest, stick his wet nose in her face, and if the guest blows her breath on his face, he retreats and lies down, signaling his approval of the visitor by curling up in a corner to listen to the repartee'.

Plateau Books advertises as a publisher of “lasting significance for discriminating readers” and is committed to publishing books that “value wisdom, knowledge, passion, and personal experience.” This year, the Hammans produced Swimming Solo, a book that recounts the story of a courageous daughter who dealt with aging parents suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Swimming Solo has been touted as “a fascinating personal story, painstakingly told, with no unflattering or awkward details spared in the interest of wholeness – and that is the triumph.” (Isabel Anders, author of Becoming Flame). I reviewed the poignant story in a former blog when the book first appeared on the market. This account about “parenting our parents,” carries out Plateau Books’ mission statement of publishing volumes that “value wisdom, knowledge, passion, and personal experience.”

As a former editor for an academic publishing house, Kathy knows the special requirements for academic publications, including the importance of peer review. Presently in the slot for publication by Plateau Books is a theological work entitled Getting Your Sermon Heard, by William Hethcock, professor emeritus of homiletics, The School of Theology at Sewanee: The University of the South. Hethcock, the “preaching guru” at Sewanee, has authored a work that will be a significant contribution to theological seminaries throughout the U.S. and abroad.

We were told to come to lunch at 1 p.m. as the Hammans had to pick up their Mennonite milk delivery (which they use to make yogurt) at 12:30 from Dagmar Gundersen, and I’m sure the raita will contain some of the Gundersen pick-up. Although rain has begun to fall and Sewanee is shrouded in grey, we anticipate having a good time – the conversation is usually lively and eclectic, and we laugh a lot when we get together. As four people interested in the art of writing, we also have weighty conversations about religion and books, particularly those volumes that both presses have produced. Border Press publishes many of my young adult fiction and poetry books, but Vickie takes notes about non-fiction possibilities as the Hammans have considerable background and experience in editing and publishing in this genre. Their press also supports independent booksellers and offers special pricing for direct sales to independent bookstores.

We plan to return to Teche country on Saturday, and I know this brief encounter with the Hammans will be another highpoint in visits to The Mountain – that is, if we get past the rain now falling in heavy sheets and coloring the landscape a gunmetal gray, a hue that often inspires me to refer to Sewanee as Grayburg. It’s a perfect day for sharing a meal and talking about books!

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