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2/11/2004
Word Warriors Press seeks to give voice to the voiceless: Publisher views words as a weapon of social change
Amanda Fretheim


As a teacher at an alternative high school, Gail Cerridwen watched students struggle with drug problems, abusive families, emotional problems, language and cultural barriers. Some students were new to this country. Others were born here but lived in two different cultures: one at home and one at school. Some were living on the streets.

She also noticed that the books she assigned to her students rarely spoke to their life experiences, neither to their struggles nor to their determination to overcome their challenges.

"When you're addicted to crank, the last thing you want to read about is someone trying to decide who to take to prom," she said.

As the founder and managing editor of a new book publishing company, Word Warriors Press, Cerridwen wants to give voice to the stories and the people who are not usually represented in mainstream publications. The fledgling company's promotional materials and website lay out a big mission: "changing the world one page at a time."

To do that, Cerridwen plans to publish nonfiction essays, memoirs and artwork by young unknown writers in their teens and twenties‹writers like Minnesota native Heather Harrison. Word Warriors will publish Harrison's memoir, Yesterday's Warrior, as its first offering in March. The book is a raw look at Harrison's journey from star athlete to homeless drug addict to young woman in recovery.

Cerridwen, who has a master's degree in English from the University of St. Thomas, has worked as an artist, writer and high school teacher. She never thought she would go into business, but when she was laid off from her teaching job last year, she decided to follow her heart.

"I needed to find something new and something to believe in," she explained. That something was Word Warriors. "I want to give validation to the unheard and invisible people of society. I want to even out the voices. There are great voices not being heard and great stories not being told," she said.

Armed with only her unemployment checks and credit cards, Cerridwen started the press last summer. One of the first orders of business was to find a name for her baby. She narrowed it down to four names, and then she put out a survey at a party thrown by her then 21-year-old daughter. For its spunk and strength, Word Warriors Press won hands down.

Then Cerridwen went in search of a mentor. She asked Kieran Folliard, the owner of Kieran's Irish Pub and The Local in Minneapolis and The Liffey in St. Paul. Folliard is active in the literary arts community in the Twin Cities, and hosts poetry slams and other literary events at Kieran's. He advised her to publish her first book before going to search for investors; that way, she would remain in control of her vision. This spring, she hopes to find people to invest in her vision.

Cerridwen also found support for Word Warriors in other parts of the literary community. Her advisory board includes well-known folks like Carolyn Holbrook, artistic and executive director of SASE: The Write Place, and authors Jonis Agee and Sandra Benitez.

Through word of mouth she found Harrison, a former student at Hamline University. When she saw the title of Harrison's book, it almost seemed fateful that this work would be Word Warriors' debut volume.

"After our first meeting, I knew my baby was in the right hands," Harrison wrote in an email interview. She is currently a graduate student at the University of Southern Mississippi. "Gail was looking for books without any fluff, with unique voices, that told stories that no one wants to tell, which is exactly what my memoir is," she added.

Cerridwen said she was attracted to the book because it tells a story that is often not told. "As horrific as Heather's story is, it's unfortunately very common. What's uncommon is the way she has flourished and completely transformed herself and her life," she said.

But things don't often turn out that way. "[Kids and young adults] struggle and some die along the way, and it makes me very angry because no one's listening," Cerridwen said.

"I have learned a lot from Gail about having the courage to tell the truth and how powerful the written word can be. She's got the fire to fight," Harrison said.

Cerridwen has also hired young artists, friends and family‹even her own son and daughter‹for all aspects of the business. They range in age from a 17-year-old art student to a 26-year-old webmaster. They also assisted her in creating the company's interactive website, www.wordwarriorspress.com. With bulletin boards, chat rooms and impassioned letters from the editor, it's another place where the invisible can be heard.

Word Warriors' next project is a book of uncensored essays by rapper Sean "Slug" Daley of Atmosphere, a local hip-hop group. "He has a depth of soul and a sense of community and responsibility," she explained.

With the first book coming out and Daley's book due in September, Cerridwen is confident about future of Word Warriors Press. "I'm not even worried. I just know it's going to take off. This press has a life of its own."

Yesterday's Warrior will be available for purchase beginning March 13 for $14.95 through Word Warriors' website. Cerridwen is working on getting the trade paperback at local chain bookstores.



PDA Dates February

Thursday 2/12

Panel on corporate certification

Learn how corporations like ING, Target and Honeywell work with certified businesses. Hosted by the Center for Women Entrepreneurs and Women's Business Development Center. 8:30-11:30 a.m. Lurie Besik of Lapidus & Company, LLP, 2501 Wayzata Blvd., Mpls. $45. Certified business owners. Must register: 612-659-7232, www.metrostate.edu/com/cwe/.



Monday 2/16

Metro West meeting

Monthly meeting of the Metro West Business and Professional Women's Group on Monday. Gift ideas from Ann Magnuson of Byerly's Gift Shop. Candace Twedt will perform. 6-8 p.m. Holiday Inn Minneapolis West, 9970 Wayzata Blvd., St. Louis Park. $16 includes dinner. RSVP Terri 763-559-2957 or Sandy 763-425-9010.



Tuesday 2/24

eWomen Bloomington

Regina Barr will talk about "The Ethics of Pricing." Learn how to determine the amount to charge, select a pricing strategy for your business, understand the ethics of pricing and more. 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Minneapolis Airport Marriott, 2020 E. 79th St., Bloomington. $48 for nonmembers; $35 members before 2/19. $55 beginning 2/19. FFI: Kim DeBlieck, 952-854-4154, http://www.ewomennetwork.com/.

Corporate connections

At NAWBO's annual event learn to build strategic alliances and business relationships. 7:30-9:30 a.m. International Market Square, Studio 185, 275 Market St., Mpls. $40, members only. 952-929-7921, www.mollyguard.com/event/8522491.



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