Wendy Thomas Russell
Brown Paper Press is an independent publishing house headquartered in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the United States — Long Beach, California. Founded by Wendy Thomas Russell and Jennifer Volland in 2014, BPP is a small but mighty company with a passion for progressive nonfiction.
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How’d you get your start?
My press got its start the way many good ideas begin: over a scotch on the beach with a good friend. It was 2014, and the friend was Jennifer Volland, co-author of Long Beach Architecture. Like many writers, we sometimes bemoaned the publishing industry and how elitist it could be; in our (admittedly limited) experience, the big houses weren’t interested in niche books and offered little support to unknown authors. One night, with our feet in the sand and whiskeys in our hands, we dreamt up the idea of starting our own press. Or, rather, Jennifer dreamt it up, and I laughed at her. Now, seven years later, I’m in a job I relish, publishing books by some of the best people I’ve ever met — and I have Jen to thank for it. When you’re too scared to dream big, it helps to have a friend do it for you.
"In the morning I walk my dog, Pearl, and listen to the Unf*ck Your Brain podcast. Then I write a bit in my home office — either for my weekly ParentShift Blog or for my monthly newsletter, The Bowling Alley."
How do you envision your brand growing in the future?
The same way I envision myself growing: older and wiser. Brown Paper Press is less a brand and more just a reflection of me. Or at least that’s how I think of it. The press is exactly how I’ve chosen to build it, so anything you like or dislike about it is 100% on me. I try not to do anything because I think I should. 'Shoulds' can go die in a hole, in my opinion. If I find a book I love and want to publish it, I do it. If I don’t feel I have the time or energy or finances to dedicate to a project, I won’t take it on. There were several years that I walked the line between glorified hobby and fledging business — which could be humbling at times — but I would have gone under had I bitten off more than I could chew. And, today, I have a profitable boutique press that, quite literally, makes authors dreams come true. The fact that it started with a scotch on the beach just makes it all the better.
How does your work march us to a better future?
I’m a flaming liberal and firmly believe that my “liberal agenda” is the most direct route to a better, happier future. We have to see each other for the deeply flawed but uniquely wonderful people we are, and be willing to extend our hands to the needy — especially when they are being oppressed or discriminated against. My goal is to bring awareness to people’s plights and to create a platform for progressive ideas just might change the world.
Where are your favorite places to go in Long Beach?
I am an unabashed fan of Long Beach. From Bonita Nursery & Florists in West Long Beach to the Nature Center in East Long Beach, from the Michelle Obama Library in North Long Beach to the Long Beach Museum of Art at Bluff Park. — I’m truly grateful for all of it. I love Fourth Street and Cambodia Town and the East Village and Pine Avenue and the Peninsula. I love the new shops at Second and PCH and The Hangar at the Long Beach Exchange. I even love the Dollar Tree near my house!
"There are too many wonderful restaurants in this town to possibly name, but some of my go-to’s are Auld Dubliner fish and chips, Benley Vietnamese Kitchen spicy green beans, Boathouse on the Bay oysters, the Eldo's Durban curry and rice, Enrique’s chicken paella, Grounds Bakery toasted pastrami, Holé Molé's fish tacos, Le Creperie's escargot, Open Sesame's chicken shawarma plate, The Ordinarie's whisky selection, Philly’s Best cheesesteak, PRIME by Shenandoah's elote off the cob, Rance’s deep dish, Roscoes’ Carol C. Special, Saint & Second's short rib, Sushi Kinoya's sashimi and blue crab, Viento y Agua's coffee, Wide Eyes Open Palms Hippie Tartine and Chai Tea…I’m forcing myself to stop now because I’m very hungry."
If you could move to any other place in this or any universe, where would you go?
I’m already looking at cottages for sale in Scotland. I don’t know that I’ll ever leave Long Beach for good — but it would be very nice to spend half the year among all that good scotch, wouldn’t it?