Portrait of a Poet, Publisher and Literary Activist: Katerina Stoykova Klemer

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Saraya Brewer

Poet, Publisher and Literary Activist Katerina Stoykova-Klemer

An accomplished poet, teacher and translator; founder of the longstanding creative writing group Poezia; founder and host of a literary-themed radio show; and founder and senior editor of her own press (whew) – it’s no wonder Katerina Stoykova-Klemer has become a household name among the Lexington literary scene.

Given her extensive accomplishments, it might surprise folks to learn that the local literary scene is not something she dove into headfirst upon moving to Lexington from her native Bulgaria in the mid 1990s. A writer from an early age, Klemer came to the states to marry her American fiance (now husband), whom she initially met through the pen pal organization International Pen Friends, but between raising her son, living in a new country, and working full-time as a project manager and software engineer for Lexmark, she experienced a distance from writing for more than a decade.

“I wrote a lot before I came, then when I came to the United States, something happened and I didn’t write for 11 years,” she said. “Then all of a sudden, I started writing again – in English.”

Klemer said the experience of being reacquainted with writing – in a new language, no less – was challenging, but liberating as well.

“For the first time, I learned to tell the truth to myself,” she said.

“Accents” (she speaks with a lovely Eastern-European one) has become a major theme in Klemer’s life – and the title of her radio show, an annual literary reading she organizes, and the publishing company she founded in 2010, which is currently her primary job.

While it maintains a strong focus on local and regional poets, Accents Publishing occasionally publishes prose (something Klemer says she would like to do more of in the future) and also highlights national and international authors. Expanding the press’ focus is a distinct part of Klemer’s strategy for the press – something she hopes will ultimately help put local authors on a larger literary map.

“It’s wonderful to have a local press that highlights the local community, the local art and local talent,” she said, “but unless (we include authors from) outside this area, then our press is not relevant outside this area.”

Like many other major projects she has embarked on, Klemer had some initial hesitations about starting her own publishing company.

“Ideas appear in my head, and the first thing I do is I say, ‘No, no, I can’t do that.’ For whatever reason,” she said. But the idea for the press wouldn’t leave her alone.

“I have this test that I do, and it’s ‘will I regret not doing this?’” she explained. “If the answer is ‘yes, I will regret not doing it,’ I go ahead and do it. I can always fail, but at least I know I have tried.”

The concept for the press emerged following Klemer’s experience with getting two of her own books published; during that time, she says, she learned a lot of things – including that she has very strong opinions about how things should be done.

With Accents Publishing, there were two major facets she hoped to distinguish from other literary presses: publish the books quickly and make them affordable.

“I have been through the process of trying to sell my own book, and I have been through the process of buying other people’s books. To me that was very important,” she said.

“It’s very hard to charge for something that people can get for free unless they want to support you,” she added. “And they want to support you if they feel that you are doing what you can to meet them halfway.”

With around 30 books published over the past three years at an average price of $5, one could easily check off both of these aspects as successes for Accents Publishing. Many of the books are hand-bound by Klemer and her husband, Dan, at their home office. She relies heavily on the assistance of four interns, who help with tasks ranging from project management to scheduling book signings to maintaining the blog, making it possible for Klemer to focus on other focuses of her life – such as writing, which she says is a priority to make time for.

“It’s super important to me to continue writing regularly, or to think about writing or to do something writing-wise, so I have to make time,” she said. “I have to make time for it, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do anything else.”

National poetry month might take place in April, but local literary enthusiasts Katerina Stoykova-Klemer and Hap Houlihan have initiated a new local movement encouraging Lexington to produce more poetry. This June marks the inaugural Lexington Poetry Month, a monthlong writing marathon that asks participants to write a poem every day and submit it online. Submissions will be posted daily on the Accents Publishing blog. Acknowledging the fact that writing something for public consumption every single day is a tall order, participants may elect for a certain percentage of their poems to go unpublished.

Registration is open through May 31. For more information, and to register to participate, visit www.accents-publishing/blog/lexington-poetry-month or email lex.poetry.month@gmail.com

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