Meet the (Small) Press

A look at DC-based Paycock


When asked to describe what Paycock Press publishes, founder and editor Richard Peabody demurs. After all, he has nearly four decades’ worth of books to consider.

“The typical Paycock book?” Peabody says. “That’s a tough one. A little bent, a little radical. Could be realism or magical realism. We’ve never had a particular agenda or ax to grind. The right book just seems to arrive at the right moment like a fortune floating up from the depths of the Magic 8-Ball.

“I always want something I can live with after repeated readings. Hope to find some new ripple or shine every time.”

Paycock Press was originally an umbrella outfit to publish Peabody’s acclaimed literary magazine, Gargoyle, which launched in 1976. But when a writer submitted a long story that could stand on its own, the shift to publishing books seemed like a natural progression.

“I like to think it’s all integrated,” Peabody says. “One feeds the other. Magazines often evolve into book publishers.”

Peabody took the name Paycock from Sean O’Casey’s play “Juno and the Paycock,” which he read in an Irish-literature class at American University.

“I fell in love with everything Ireland,” Peabody says. “I took the name partly because it’s a play about strong women and clueless men, and partly because the name Peabody was ‘Paybody’ before my family came to America.”

Though the press’ namesake may be global in nature, Paycock books tend to come from much closer to home, highlighting the many talented writers in and around Washington, DC, where the press is based.

In particular, the press’ Grace and Gravity series — six anthologies with a seventh on the way — has published stories filling more than 2,500 pages by approximately 250 DC-area women. The sheer breadth of work in the series is worthy of academic study, but an even more lasting benefit has been the community that Paycock has helped build and strengthen among new and established writers.

The two publications that most recently appeared in the window of Peabody’s Magic 8-Ball are very different story collections, illustrating the press’ eclectic list and DC bent. The first — Flying Home: Seven Stories of the Secret City by David Nicholson — focuses on the working class in DC that rarely graces the front page of the Washington Post. The second story collection is Open Country, a work of historical fiction set during the Civil War.

“Each is a first book by writers who have DC-area roots or deep connections,” Peabody says. “Despite the obvious differences in time and place, they’re both, at heart, stories about family — the ones we’re born with and the ones we obtain.”

Peabody, himself an acclaimed writer who most recently had his work collected into The Richard Peabody Reader by Alan Squire Publishing, describes Paycock as “too hip for the academics and too square for the underground.”

“I guess we’re now one of the oldies but goodies in the DC area,” he says. “I like to think we still have a lot of energy and space to show off new writers while, at the same time, sharing work by some of the less-known folks who are still kicking. You survive long enough, and people start to take you seriously. We’ve discovered some folks, published these big brick-like books, and had a lot of fun. When that stops, it will be time to quit.”

Hopefully, for the sake of Washington writers and readers, that won’t happen any time soon.

Michael Landweber is the author of We, a novel. His short stories have appeared in a variety of places, including Gargoyle, Fourteen Hills, Fugue, American Literary Review, Barrelhouse, and Pank. He is an associate editor at the Potomac Review.

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