by Susan Visakowitz
Philadelphia’s The Head and The Hand is a unique indie press in that it is a non-profit sustained in large part by major cultural organizations, including the Philadelphia Culture Fund, and has a structure more akin to a fully-functioning arts organization, with a board of directors, a small core staff, and a team of several stalwart volunteers who make it possible for H&H to do what it does. When you hear Project Director Linda Gallant Moore talk about The Head and The Hand’s various initiatives and overall mission—and that it runs a writer’s workshop and a brick and mortar bookstore that serves as an important community hub—it quickly becomes clear H&H is so much more than a straightforward publisher of written works.
The Head and The Hand was founded in 2012 by an urban farmer named Nic Esposito who did a stint working for the City of Philadelphia as a sustainability expert and now consults privately on that subject. Initially, the press focused on long-form works, mostly novels, as well as themed anthologies inspired by Ben Franklin’s Almanac.
But as Gallant Moore explains, the ambitions were always much loftier. “Whether vegetables or books, Nic has always been about making something to share with the community. Really the whole idea of the press is around putting thought into action.”
To help him manifest his initial vision, Esposito brought in Gallant Moore and creative director Claire Moncla fairly early on. The trio, along with many helping hands, have focused on the goal of serving the community by forming partnerships with local Philly institutions and literary organizations, allowing the press to expand its impact and, as Gallant Moore notes, “work with as many writers as possible.” The Head and The Hand counts everyone from Drexel University to local literary org Blue Stoop as a partner, and has achieved local renown through a variety of innovative initiatives.
Among these is the “Chapbook Vending Machine,” an idea Esposito dreamed up and which travels around the city, having been everywhere from the Drexel Writers Room to local cafes and restaurants. “Instead of getting a bag of chips, you get a chapbook,” explains Gallant Moore, “and isn’t that so much more interesting?”
Additionally, during the pandemic, The Head and The Hand offered patrons the opportunity to book “Date Nights” at its still-fairly-new, eponymous bookstore, which opened in May 2019 in the Fishtown/Kensington area of Philly. “The bookstore has been a center of gravity for us,” says Gallant Moore, “and we wanted to find a way to continue building a sense of community with the people who had come to know it.” So, H&H invited parties of two to four people to rent the bookstore for the evening; they would bring their own food, while H&H provided a table with linens, a custom playlist for their date, and a beverage.
These sorts of playful ideas have not only helped make H&H a true part of the community in Philly, but have given it the means to survive the typical ups and downs of any arts-focused entity. “Because we have always been agile and adaptive,” say Gallant Moore, “we’ve been able to maintain our footing, even during the pandemic.”
Another metamorphosis the press underwent as it aimed to broaden its impact was shifting from novels to short-story collections, creative non-fiction, and poetry chapbooks. “We look at ourselves as a launchpad for writers, and so we’ve expanded our publishing quite a bit over the years to help with that,” explains Gallant Moore. “We’ve always wanted to get what we publish into the hands of as many people as possible while still being able to operate with minimal resources.” H&H realized that chapbooks were more aligned to that mission than more traditional long-form works.
That said, one exciting new release coming up for H&H is a 150-page anthology done in partnership with another Philly publisher, Toho. The book, due out in September, is the output of a virtual workshop that was set up during the pandemic to help writers reflect on this “extraordinary time,” says Gallant Moore. The title is still being workshopped, but its working title is Hindsight is 20/20.
Next up is a chapbook series done in collaboration with the Venceremos Brigade, a 50-year-old activist organization that travels to Cuba every year to promote solidarity between U.S. citizens and Cubans. The series launches July 26.
“These two releases are very different,” says Gallant Moore, “but that’s the fun of being part of The Head and The Hand. We love partnering and collaborating, and it’s wonderful when our visions align with others’.”
LINDA GALLANT MOORE is the project director of The Head & The Hand, a nonprofit independent publisher and bookstore based in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. In addition to ushering H&H’s books, anthologies, and chapbook series from conception to print, she cultivates publishing and programming partnerships with literary organizations and institutions, ranging from the Free Library of Philadelphia to Drexel University’s Writers Room. She has over 14 years of professional writing and editing experience and welcomes every opportunity to shape and sustain creative communities.
SUSAN VISAKOWITZ (www.instagram.com/exiting_in) is a poet and painter who loves to tell the stories of fellow creative types. She got her start reporting on music for various small blogs and eventually publications like Billboard magazine. Currently she is focused on a new series of art projects under the name Exiting In.