The Open Book in Minneapolis, a center that houses several literature-related organizations, including a publisher and a bookstore, has become an inspiration for similar projects around the country. Among the latest of these is the 1888 Center in Orange, Calif. The literary nonprofit, named for the year in which the city of Orange was incorporated, has been running since 2015, but moved into a modestly sized storefront in the historic town center last July; it was previously operating out of borrowed spaces and founder Kevin Staniec’s home.
“We like to think of this as a ‘mini-Getty,’ ” Staniec said, referencing the Los Angeles museum the Getty Center. “Orange is the sixth most populous county in the United States, but, aside from the chain stores, it has just two independent bookstores that sell new books. Orange didn’t have a literary heart, so to speak, so that is what we were looking to provide.”
The 1888 Center consists of a single open space that can be configured for a variety of uses, from readings and presentations to movie screenings and writing classes. There is a coffee bar and a 32-foot-long wall of bookshelves offering a rotating selection of titles for sale. The 1888 Center has as its genesis some previous Staniec projects.
A graduate of nearby Chapman University, Staniec first established Black Hill Press, a for-profit publishing house focused on novellas, in 2013. He then began publishing an annual literary journal, The Cost of Paper, which was followed by the Summer Writing Project, an online community in which writers craft novellas one chapter at a time and solicit feedback. “With so much going on, we wrapped them all into the 1888 Center,” he explained.
Nearly 600,000 people around the world have participated in the Summer Writing Project, and Staniec’s publishing company, operating now under the 1888 Center imprint, has released some 80 books, primarily novellas. Notable titles include How to Succeed by Failing by Jon-Barrett Ingels, The Big Drop: Impermanence and The Big Drop: Homecoming by Ryan Gattis, and Palms Up by Arianna Basco. “These have sold several thousand copies each,” Staniec said, though he admitted most of the publications have sold in a more modest range, from 200 to 500 copies. The 1888 Center has also launched a reprint program called 1888 Dime Novels, which has published half a dozen pulp books from the 19th century featuring pop culture figures, such as Jesse James and Buffalo Bill.
Among the center’s other activities is overseeing the production of 10 podcasts, including 1888’s own The How, the Why, which features entrepreneurs and creators discussing their creative processes. The center also administers the California Writing Residency Program, which hosts writers for three two-week residencies at a cabin in the mountains of Lake Arrowhead, Calif.
“We aim for the center to be a space for everyone to gather and to learn,” Staniec said. “People have expressed a lot of gratitude since we opened. And we have been getting about 120 visitors a day, which is pretty great.”
So far, the center has been funded through “a combination of grants, some funding from Chapman University, and credit cards,” said Staniec, who has also launched a membership drive. Memberships to support the center are available in tiers priced from $40 (for a basic membership) up to $2,500 (for an associate membership). “While we think it’s a center for everyone, and would like to draw members from all over the world, we are especially proud of our engagement with the people of Orange,” Staniec said.