Tribune Print Share Text

Title

Passager Publishing focuses solely on senior writers

Created date

October 13th, 2016
The staff of Passager Publishing, which specializes in senior authors.
The staff of Passager Publishing, which specializes in senior authors.

The year was 1985, and Kendra Kopelke remembers it like it was yesterday. Not long out of graduate school with a degree in writing, she had been teaching various expository composition courses at colleges in Maryland.

Her true passion, however, was creative writing. One day, while reading an issue of Poets and Writers magazine, she noticed an article about a group of seniors in West Virginia who had taken up playwriting. 

They had, in essence, thrust aside the traditional view of aging and retirement as a sleepy twilight period and embraced an active life of exploration and expression. 

An awakening

It was a revelation for Kopelke, then in her late 20s. She had discovered another facet of the power of writing; more importantly, she had found her calling.

Her first interaction with older writers came shortly after she read that article, when she volunteered to teach a creative writing course at a senior center in Baltimore City. As Kopelke recalls, she entered not knowing what to expect and emerged with a new perspective on writing and aging. 

Walking into the classroom, she saw what, at the time, she perceived as “old people.” But as she worked with them, she quickly realized just how much age and life experience inform an author’s portfolio.

“Working with older writers who had so much passion and wisdom changed my life,” says Kopelke, an associate professor and director of the University of Baltimore’s M.F.A. in creative writing and publishing arts. “Being as young and naïve as I was, they opened my eyes and taught me so many things as a writer. Here I was, their teacher, and I think I was doing the lion’s share of the learning.”

Shortly after, she was instrumental in founding Passager, a magazine that focuses solely on authors over 50. Thirty years later, the magazine is still going strong.

Entry into book publishing

Passager started in 1990 as a journal to showcase the creative writing of senior writers. Given its success, Kopelke and coeditor Mary Azrael added a book publishing arm, called Passager Books, in 2005.

Since then, they’ve produced numerous poetry and short story collections, anthologies, and memoirs by authors whose compositions had previously appeared in Passager magazine.

“In the 1990s, it was somewhat unusual to find people taking up writing in their 80s,” says Kopelke. “Thanks to changing views on aging and improvements in medical science, we’re easily getting work from healthy, vital writers in their 80s and 90s.”

A Sunday in Purgatory

Their latest volume, A Sunday in Purgatory, is by 99-year-old Henry Morgenthau, III. This compilation of his poetry is a perfect example of the depth and experience that senior authors bring to the writing table.

Morgenthau hails from an American political dynasty. He is the grandson of Henry Morgenthau, Sr., the U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during World War I, and the son of President Franklin Roosevelt’s treasury secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr.

But Henry made sure to blaze his own path in life: he graduated from Princeton University; served in the Army during World War II; enjoyed a career as an Emmy Award-winning television producer; and now, nearly in his 100th year, he is a published poet.

“As a television and radio producer, I often wrote scripts,” says Morgenthau. “Writing poetry was very much a delayed vocation. 

“Inspired by Robert Lowell, among others, it has been a way of unburdening myself of a variety of personal and not so personal thoughts, leaving some mystery for my protection.”

Among the topics he explores in his new book are his memories of FDR’s death and his lifelong effort to escape the shadow of his famous family. 

At the encouragement of a friend, Morgenthau submitted his poetry to Passager. Kopelke and her colleagues were greatly impressed.

“We’ve been publishing Henry’s poems in Passager magazine for the last three years,” she says. “One of his teachers sent us his manuscript and asked if we’d be interested in publishing it as a book; of course, we were thrilled to do so.”

And with good reason considering that Morgenthau and his poetry embody Passager’s core mission.

“There’s a strong element of pride that all writers derive from their work,” states Kopelke, “but it’s deeper than that for senior authors. Rather than seeing later life as the beginning of the end, they’re doing something new and meaningful. 

“This creates an enormous sense of satisfaction. That’s what Passager is all about.”

You can contact Passager at editors@passagerbooks.com, or write to Passager, 1420 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21201.

Comments