Jillian Elba, Fordham University sophomore interviewed publisher Lynne Elizabeth in fall, 2020 for LaborArts.org
If my conversation with Lynne Elizabeth could be summed up into one life lesson, it would be the power that storytelling holds.
Lynne Elizabeth is the founder of the New Village Press, a book publishing company, so a large part of her life revolves around the art of storytelling. The New Village Press differs from a normal book publishing press due to its emphasis on community. Lynne described her desire to found the New Village Press due to her interest in the “revitalization of distressed communities”. Therefore, it is unsurprising that the press focuses on both the stories of these ignored communities and solutions to social justice issues that are unfortunately extremely prevalent in these communities. Lynne Elizabeth finds these community stories so important due to the fact that she believes that much can be learned from the history of “distressed” communities, mostly the fact that anyone could create more empathy and understanding for those different from them simply by paying attention to and hearing these stories.
To further differentiate Lynne Elizabeth and the New Village Press, even the way that the press creates these stories is distinctive. To begin, Lynne Elizabeth does not simply look for community stories that only focus on the negative aspects. Rather, she strives to publish stories that portray all aspects of the community, with a special emphasis on the joy and positivity in these communities that are hidden from the public eye or outsiders. In addition, the New Village Press does not view all “distressed” communities as the same, but instead recognizes the individuality and uniqueness that each one holds. With this in mind, when publishing stories that reflect on the social justice issues that affect the communities and the inhabitants, the New Village Press does not create “polemic” works that “just focus on the problem” at hand. Instead, the New Village Press avoids “cookie cutter models” and provides “what can be done” through its incorporation of solutions that have been useful and successful in these specific communities.
The main focus of the New Village Press books that describe the “revitalization” of communities emphasize cultural expression, more specifically art. Lynne Elizabeth describes cultural expression as “nourishing to the whole being” and all throughout our conversation, it was extremely obvious that Lynne Elizabeth cherishes art and truly understands and advocates for its power. One way that Lynne Elizabeth demonstrated this passion of hers was through her storytelling of an artist named Lily Yeh. In one instance, Lynne described to me how Lily Yeh, with the help of middle school students, transformed an abandoned factory in Beijing into a “beautiful” school campus for children of migrant workers where art is emphasized. This story entirely epitomizes the beliefs of Lynne Elizabeth and the New Village Press, for it tells of the impact that art can have on the community and how art encourages community engagement and orchestrates community change and empowerment.
The main takeaway that Lynne Elizabeth wishes for her readers to receive from her books is the ability for connection and empathy. Lynne founded the New Village Press because she wanted to share stories she found inspiring. She hopes that readers find her stories as inspiring as she has and that they are “transformative”. Lynne wishes for a connection with the authors and that readers are able to “think about things differently, see other people’s lives, be more compassionate and empathetic” and “see possibilities” from reading her books. Overall, Lynne wants her books to teach all of us the importance we must place on the stories of others and in the recognition of those different from us as humans.
Lynne Elizabeth is an incredible woman who has dedicated her life to story-telling in hopes that she will provide solutions and inspire others. She allows people who are forgotten and often silenced to speak about themselves and share their valuable stories with us. To conclude with the amazing and inspiring words from Lynne Elizabeth herself: There’s so much we can do (to build better communities around us). If I had to distill it, I would say is to open our hearts. Be open hearted. When I feel that our country loses that, loses its empathy, loses its ability to imagine themselves in other people’s shoes, that’s when we get into trouble.