The Working Waterfront

That New England spirit in literature

Islandport Press marks 25 years of publishing

By Dorathy Martel
Posted 2024-07-10
Last Modified 2024-07-10

Dean Lunt founded Islandport Press, a Yarmouth-based publisher now celebrating its 25th year, in his basement in 1999. The press is rooted in New England and suffused with family history.

The company’s logo depicts the home of its founder’s grandmother, Vivian Lunt Davis, an amateur historian who grew up on Frenchboro. The press’s first publication, Hauling by Hand: The Life and Times of a Maine Island, arose from Vivian’s writings about Frenchboro, the island where Lunts have lived for hundreds of years. Hauling’s cover features a photo of his grandfather, Sanford “Dick” Lunt.

Writing, producing, and selling Hauling by Hand was a crash course in publishing. Lunt said, “We used that book to learn about book design, cover design, distribution, sales.” A revised, 25th anniversary edition will soon be released, marking the book’s importance in the press’s founding.

Lunt started Islandport Press in his basement in 1999. He was working as a journalist, but he had concerns about the future of the industry.

“You could sort of see the beginning of the decline of newspapers,” he said.

Needing a job, but not wanting to be deskbound, he weighed up his skills and interests—editing, writing, history. Publishing seemed like a good way to incorporate all three.

Heading north for an assignment for the Portland Press Herald,” he recalls, “I pulled over and sketched out the plan.”

The plan was, and still is, to publish books that “capture and explore the grit, heart, beauty, and infectious spirit,” as the website copy puts it, of New England.

What makes a book a “New England book”? Lunt said it requires “a sense of place, the voice of the place that speaks to it, the jobs, the environment, the people.”

Islandport Press collaborates closely with its contemporary authors—“people with stories and a voice,” Lunt said—to craft books that people will want to read and keep on their shelves, rather than selling them at a yard sale. “We want people to know it’s an Islandport book, not a widget.”

They also publish older books that might otherwise be forgotten.

“We’ve had a lot of success finding great books or classics that have gone out of print and bringing them back,” Lunt said.

“That’s been from day one, finding those gems that just get lost to time.”

Rather than simply reprinting older books, Islandport redesigns them to make them look and feel more modern, and updates the language, when necessary, to increase their appeal to today’s readers.

“A confused reader stops reading the book,” Lunt said.

The Islandport Press catalog includes a wide range of books, including novels by the early 20th century Maine writer Ruth Moore, children’s picture books, art and photography books, memoirs, and mysteries.

Islandport’s mission goes beyond publishing and selling books, however.

“It’s critical for a state to have a literary culture. One of our goals is to maintain that culture,” Lunt said. “Local books, local authors are really important for culture, for heritage. People have to support them.”

He worries about an attrition of the necessary skills to publish quality books, given that training grounds like newsrooms are disappearing.

“It takes eight to 10 people to publish one book,” Lunt said, describing a “community of professionals” that includes the author, multiple editors, proofreaders, designers, and sales reps. “Down the road the problem for this industry is that so many people were trained at newspapers or magazines.” With the number of print outlets shrinking, “Who’s going to train the next generation? Where are they going to come from?

For now, though, Lunt said, “We’re still out there kicking.”

As for the 25th anniversary, it is still a work in progress and partially under wraps. “We’ve got some exciting news coming soon,” Lunt said, alluding to new investments, events, and partnerships.