Free River Press
Free River Press is a nonprofit publishing house founded in Nashville, Tennessee, USA in 1990, whose mission is to develop a literary mosaic of America written by people from all walks of life. It pursues this goal by conducting writing workshops in farmhouse dining rooms, homeless shelters, small town libraries, senior centers, urban churches and foundations. Its goal is to amass a collection of writings that will eventually resemble a collective American autobiography.
Free River Press was founded in Nashville in 1990 by writer Robert Wolf and Steven Meinbresse, former Coordinator of Tennessee’s Department of Homeless Services. The press grew out of a writing workshop Wolf conducted at a Nashville homeless shelter between 1989 and 1991.
For one year during this period Free River Press ran a Great Books seminar funded by the Tennessee Humanities Council. One of the seminar’s purposes was to investigate what several traditional cultures said constituted full humanity. Wolf’s premise was that our culture has no shared adequate idea of what constitutes full humanity and therefore has created institutions, such as schools and work places, that are deforming us. This is the root of the drug and alcohol problem which in turn is major cause of homelessness. The seminar mixed homeless and non-homeless participants.
By 1991 Free River Press had published six slim volumes by the homeless, including Five Street Poets and Passing Thru. In 1991 Wolf moved to rural Iowa and began a writing workshop with neighboring farmers that ran for two winters. Their writings were issued in three books, Voices From the Land, Simple Times, and More Voices From the Land.
During the time he worked with Iowa farmers, Wolf was also traveling to west Tennessee to conduct writing workshops there. Subsequently, as part of the press’s mission to document life in the Mississippi Delta, it published two memoirs by west Tennessee farmers. Wolf later conducted a workshop in Helena, Arkansas. Subsequently Free River Press conducted more workshops in small Midwestern towns and cities, and in New Jersey, New York City, Chicago, west Texas, and Santa Fe.
In 1999, Oxford University Press published a sampling from the first nine years of Free River Press books, An American Mosaic: Prose and Poetry by Everyday Folk.
In 2009, Free River Press published a second edition of Heartland Portrait: Stories From the Rural Midwest, a large anthology incorporating 18 years of writings developed in workshops in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
The Free River Press writing workshop was designed with the amateur in mind. Its secret lies in the fact that it is orally oriented, which in practice means that participants tell their stories before writing them. They are then asked to write their stories as closely as possible to the way they told them. This helps the writing process while giving it authority. The workshop method presupposes that we share an intuitive wisdom about storytelling.
In 2006 Free River Press won the Heritage Publication Award for publication from the State of New Mexico for its anthology Ayer Y Ahora: Stories From Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico. This anthology included stories by Hispanics who grew up in agricultural mountain villages.
- Free River Press website
- Wolf, Robert. “In Search of America,” Journal of Rural Mental Health. Pocatello: Idaho State University Press, 2008. 43-54.
- Wolf, Robert. An American Mosaic: Prose and Poetry by Everyday Folk. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.