Interview with Steven M Pomije
As reported yesterday, Pagan publishers Llewellyn have gotten involved in a local conflict over religion in schools. The publisher has publicly offered to donate free material for local Pagan groups to hand out in North Carolina area schools should a controversial new policy be enacted by the school board. This seemed like an unusual move for a publisher that hasn’t been known to involve itself in local politics, so I contacted the company to talk to the man behind this action, publicist Steven M Pomije.
What was the motivation for getting involved in this case? Why this case and not previous skirmishes over religion in school?
Steven M Pomije: Being the publicist of Silver RavenWolf, Christopher Penczak, Dorothy Morrison and in fact, most of our pagan authors, I always keep up on current news regarding the subject. I came across the article and because I had a spare moment (rare, indeed) we decided to reach out to the Pagan community (a handful of pagan churches and covens received a note from me, which was cc’d to the school board) in the area and offering a few free copies of our books as a resource they could use. I thought it might be nice (and perhaps, useful) to offer a few titles to local pagan organizations so that they could donate them on their behalf to the school libraries or use them for educational purposes if THEY so desired.
As a publisher we are committed to the dissemination of information and recognize that indeed there is much misunderstanding in the mainstream community about so-called alternative religions and we think that our books can help clarify some of these misconceptions. We regularly donate a handful of titles here and there to various pagan organizations and festivals as part of our regular publicity and outreach programs. While we are usually approached by pagan organizations looking for donations, this time we were proactive in our approach. The move was definitely more of an educational motive than a political motive. And as a part of a strong and growing community in the vast and colorful panorama we call human spirituality, we are always enthusiastic about the prospects of sharing ideas and knowledge.
Does this represent a political awakening at Llewellyn? Will Lllewellyn be more active in issues that affect minority religions? Can we expect this sort of thing more often?
Steven M Pomije: We support our community as best as we can, when we can, via publishing the books they’re looking for, through donations to festivals, organizations and schools, and such. A large part of our “community” is Wiccan or pagan, and in the current political climate it seems fair to say that simply by being that, or by choosing the faiths we do, we somehow have become “political”. By publishing the books we do, does that make us political? Or unusual? Perhaps to some, but that’s not our intent. Our goal is to publish the very best books we can on the subjects we choose. Point blank. Logistically, we focus our time and resources on that pursuit.
What texts were you thinking of donating should it come to that?
Steven M Pomije: Silver RavenWolf’s Teen Witch and Solitary Witch. Dorothy Morrison’s The Craft. Christopher Penczak’s Sons of the Goddess. Pagan Visions for a Sustainable Future. Thea Sabin’s new book Wicca for Beginners. Joyce and River Higginbotham’s Paganism.
There may be some who might accuse Llewellyn of using this controversy to sell more books, how would you respond to that?
Steven M Pomije: I never approached this as a controversial act, but as an educative one.
Llewellyn is obviously the biggest publisher of Pagan books in North America, has the rise of the “Religious Right” been on your mind? How have you been doing in George W. Bush’s America?
Steven M Pomije: As a publicist I personally am aware of the rise of the Religious Right and my sense is that it is more difficult to garner media attention for some of our books than it was in the past, but I don’t have any empirical data to back that up. I’ve been with Llewellyn for almost two years. I’ve worked in book marketing and promotion my whole career and I’ve been surprised at how resistant some of the mainstream media is to covering our titles. Publicity-wise, it’s a bit more challenging in regards to mainstream media attention, but we’re consistently in the ring, so to speak, and I think we are well-respected across the country because of that.
I’ll be covering this story as it progresses, it remains to be seen if the school board will push the policy through and face not only legal challenges, but a real test of the ramifications of allowing distribution of religious texts in schools.