This publisher silences cynic

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

November 27, 1990|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

The one thing Paul Evans emphasized most often was that he is a real book publisher who puts out legitimate works.

"If you don't understand anything else, I want you to understand that," he said, punctuating his words by slapping the top of his desk.

"I am a legitimate book publisher. I sell my books nationwide and abroad. And all of my books are books of consequence. . . . They are books of consequence in terms of subject matter, typography and design.

"These are important, legitimate, serious works," Evans continued passionately. "Books that mean something to the community, to the book-reading public, that contribute to the general culture."

I stroked my chin during this little sermon and narrowed my eyes: Never, ever tell a journalist that you are a legitimate anything. It makes our palms itch to examine your birth certificate.

"Why do you keep saying you're legitimate?" I asked suspiciously.

"Well," said Evans proudly, "for one thing because I am doing something people don't expect me to do. I am exploding the stereotypes. I mean, a black man making contributions to the literary field, putting out quality work, dealing with buyers nationally and internationally? People don't expect that. People find that hard to believe."

So this is a story, in a sense, about myths and stereotypes and legitimacy; a story about a hardworking entrepreneur (how I have come to hate that overused term) and a particular moment in his history: a bubble in time.

Evans, 42, is a native Baltimorean and a former newspaper man. Now he is strictly a publisher. He started the C.H. Fairfax Co. 10 years ago by scraping his pennies together and by praying a lot.

Since then, he has published some 15 books, most by local writers, a dozen as vanity publications. This year, he is seeking investors to expand C.H. Fairfax into a film company and literary magazine.

All of this is accomplishment enough. But Evans dared to raise the issue of legitimacy in front of a cynical and hungry journalist, and so, he must be judged.

Is he legitimate? Does he put out quality work? Do the books he publishes contribute to the literary culture of our society?

Yes. Cynic though I am, I suppose the answer to all of these questions is, yes.

Evans operates his publishing company out of a tiny, cramped cubicle of an office in the Park Circle industrial center in northwest Baltimore.

There is no telephone there and no window. Leaning towers of books and cartons teeter in every corner. Newspapers and letters and other papers spill out of filing cabinets, overflow his desk, and carpet the floor.

But looks aren't everything.

Over the years, the C.H. Fairfax Publishing Co. has put out a broad spectrum of books that other publishers probably would have ignored: a collection of poetry, "Heart to Heart" by Mary Carter Smith; a collection of the columns, "Madeline Murphy Speaks" by former Afro-American writer, Madeline Murphy; a book of philosophy, "The Overcome: A Black Passover" by the Rev. Peter Bramble.

On average, the books have sold from 2,000 to 5,000 copies each -- modest by mainstream publishing standards -- but valuable, nonetheless. They add texture to our literary culture.

One of Evans' top sellers has been a cookbook, "The Griot's Cookbook" by noted local story tellers Mary Carter Smith, Alice McGill and Elmira Washington. That book went through several printings and sold about 7,000 copies.

He is proudest of "The Path Between," a historical novel examining the controversial life of the Emily Dickinson family. The book, written by Maravene S. Loeschke, a Towson State University professor, represented a double break from the stereotype of a black publisher: The author is white, the subject matter is mainstream.

And Evans paid the publishing costs although the author got no advance. Similar is the case with "Map Rap" by Earl Jones, a former city teacher who uses rap to teach geography. That book is due out in early December and schools from all over the country already have expressed interest.

Evans works hard for his authors. He sends mailings to libraries and booksellers all over the world -- mailings that result in sales from as far away as Melbourne, Australia. He has advertised in the New York Times Book Review section. Every year, he hosts a book-signing reception for his authors.

So Evans need not be self-conscious about his company. He need not pound the table to make his point.

His output speaks for itself. He is just as much a publisher as is Random House.

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