Serpent’s Tail/High Risk Records

Date Range: 19901997
Survey Conducted: Tue, 2009-10-06
Creator: Serpent’s Tail/High Risk Archive

High Risk Books was founded in New York City in 1993 by Ira Silverberg as an imprint of Serpent’s Tail Press in London. Dedicated to publishing challenging, innovative, and progressive literature, High Risk Books transcended the traditional boundaries of publishing to provoke and inspire a new generation of writers and readers. Ira Silverberg told The New York Times in a March 13, 1994 interview that he and his co-editor Amy Scholder wanted to “catch an area of the market that’s being overlooked by mainstream houses. We’re working with a lot of gay men, lesbians, and African Americans, because the voices of under served communities tend to shed more light on societal conditions than the voices of the people who have the franchise. That’s not to say we won’t publish straight white men.” While connected by a certain subversive impulse, authors as diverse as William Burroughs, Kathy Acker, June Jordan, Sapphire, Ameena Meer, Kenzaburo Oe and many others were published by High Risk.

As a small press High Risk played a crucial role in providing a space for writers, many just beginning their careers, who would otherwise have found it difficult to get published in mainstream houses. Anny Patty, editor-at-large at Crown Publishing, complimented Ira Silverberg for “publishing a kind of book that’s very hard for corporate publishers to get past committees, which tend to homogenize things. He’s able to publish non-homogenized writing and to sort out those who are posing from those who really have something to say.” Ira’s larger agenda for High Risk Books can be summed up in his statement to The New York Times: “I hope we’ll be seen as the diamond in the coal bin that publishing is right now. I want to prove to the world that literary publishing has a future”. In January, 1997, High Risk Books ceased operation due to disagreements with the Serpent’s Tail office in London. Serpent’s Tail Press continues to publish from the United Kingdom.

Source: Friedel, Tania, and Brian Stevens. “Guide to the Serpent’s Tail/High Risk Archives.” November 2, 2005. NYU Fales Library and Special Collections, New York, New York University. Accessed February 4, 2015.

Summary: The Serpent’s Tail/High Risk Archive is a part of Fales Library’s Downtown Collection, which is a comprehensive collection of author and business files, printed materials, manuscripts, photographs and other materials related to the Downtown New York scene from ca. 1975 to the present.

The archival portion of the Serpent’s Tail/High Risk Archive is comprised of the correspondence, manuscripts and contracts of authors who published with High Risk Books, press binders on High Risk and Serpent’s Tail authors, business and administration files, production files, publicity, reviews, photographs, sales catalogs, posters, ephemera, and some audio/visual and printed material. The Serpent’s Tail/High Risk Archive contains a comprehensive collection of High Risk Books files during the years of its operation. Ira Silverberg’s original organization of the archive was preserved as much as possible.

Of relevance to A/PA history are files on several South Asian authors published by Serpent’s Tail/High Risk including Ameena Meer and Atima Srivastava. Materials on Nobel Prize winning Japanese author Kenzaburo Oe and Singaporean author Gopal Baratham are also located in this archive, which contains contracts, correspondence with the authors, publicity materials, production details, manuscripts, and photographs.

Total Size: 37.5 linear feet and 25 Boxes
APA-related Size: 1.5 linear feet and 1.5 boxes
Languages of materials: English
Arrangement: alphabetical
Location: Fales Library & Special Collections, New York University
Bibliographic Control: finding aid
Finding Aid Link:
Conditions Governing Access: Open to researchers without restrictions; Appointments are necessary to consult archive and manuscript materials.

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