Melville House Publishing

Melville House Publishing
Founded 2001
Founder Dennis Loy Johnson and Valerie Merians
Country of origin United States
Headquarters location Brooklyn, New York
Distribution Random House Publisher Services
Publication types Books
Imprints Stop Smiling
Official website

Melville House Publishing is an independent publisher of literary fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. The company was founded in 2001 by the husband and wife team of Dennis Loy Johnson and Valerie Merians in Hoboken, New Jersey, a location Johnson jokingly called "the Left Bank" of New York City.[1] In 2007, they were named by the Association of American Publishers as the winner of the 2007 Miriam Bass Award for Creativity in Independent Publishing, popularly known as the "indie publisher of the year" award.[2][3][4]


Neither Johnson nor Merians had a background in publishing. Johnson was a short story writer who had won numerous awards including a Pushcart Prize,[5] but had never published a book; he was probably best known for founding one of the earliest book blogs,[6] Merians was a sculptor who showed her work at several New York galleries, including the Margaret Thatcher Gallery in Chelsea, and the Pierogi Gallery in Brooklyn,[7] and although she studied poetry at the Iowa Writers Workshop, her work, too, had never been collected in a book. In an early interview, Merians told The New York Times that the company was formed as an impromptu reaction to the political climate of the moment that she thought would amount to no more than "an out-of-the-back-of-the-car kind of thing."[1]

In 2008 Melville House moved to DUMBO, Brooklyn, to a location that combines a glass-wall bookstore with their offices, which are behind revolving bookshelves. The opening was on January 19, 2008.[8]


Melville House has attracted well-known authors from larger establishment presses. In late 2007, Johnson announced the company had signed Nobel Prize-winner Imre Kertesz from his long-time publisher, Knopf, with a three book deal. Soon after, he announced Paul Berman had left Norton to publish with Melville House.

The company is known for books of leftist political reportage, titles in translation, and avant-garde fiction. Noted books include the 2003 bestseller Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, by Bernard-Henri Lévy, the first book to disclose the illegal trading of nuclear technology by U.S. ally Pakistan; and Torture Taxi, by Trevor Paglen and A.C. Thompson, the first book on the CIA's rendition program.

Melville House has won several AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Artist) awards for its cover and interior designs.[9] Unlike most small publishers, Melville House has an in-house designer. Until 2007, Dave Konopka designed all of the company's books. He left Melville House when his band, Battles, grew in popularity. Currently, the position is held by the design team of Kelly Blair and Carol Hayes.

In 2016, Melville House published The Making of Donald Trump by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston, which went on to spend four weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers List.[10]


Melville House has also become well-known for publishing books in several series. These include the Melville International Crime Series, which features crime novels from Russia, Kenya, France, and the United States, among other places;[11] the Art of the Novella Series, which celebrates the novella as a "renegade art form" and features classics of the genre by authors including James Joyce, Leo Tolstoy, George Eliot, Edith Wharton, Miguel de Cervantes, Anton Chekhov, Virginia Woolf, Sholem Aleichem, Mary Shelley, the press's namesake Herman Melville, and others;[12] the Neversink Library, which "champions books from around the world that have been overlooked, under appreciated, looked askance at, or foolishly ignored," including works by Walt Whitman, Mikhail Bulgakov, Mary MacLane, James Agee, Irmgard Keun, Charlie Chaplin, Mina Loy, and others;[13] and the Last Interview Series, which collects interviews with prominent writers, including the last interviews given before their deaths, and has featured Jane Jacobs, David Foster Wallace, James Baldwin, Hannah Arendt, Jacques Derrida, David Bowie, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Nora Ephron, Martin Luther King, Jr., Roberto Bolaño, and Oliver Sacks, among others.[14]

Select authors


  1. 1 2 Beale, Lewis. "NEW JERSEY & CO.; When Publish or Perish Is More Than Just Words", The New York Times, July 28, 2002. Accessed October 24, 2007. "What makes us particularly lunatic is that we're starting off with a book of poetry and a book of literary criticism," said Dennis Loy Johnson, who, with his partner, Valerie Merians, is the driving force behind Melville House Publishing, which will release its first offerings in September. "Two big sellers. Absolute sure fire hits."
  2. "MELVILLE HOUSE CO-PUBLISHERS DENNIS LOY JOHNSON AND VALERIE MERIANS ARE NAMED 2007 MIRIAM BASS AWARD WINNERS", Association of American Publishers press release dated February 6, 2007. Accessed October 24, 2007.
  3. "RATTLING THE CAGE AT THE AAP ANNUAL CONFERENCE FOR THE LARGE AND LESS THAN LARGE", ForeWord (magazine), March 14, 2007. Accessed October 24, 2007. "One of the most moving moments of the week came when Dennis Loy Johnson and Valerie Merians, co-publishers of Hoboken, NJ based Melville House received the Miriam Bass Award for Creativity in Independent Publishing at the opening of the conference."
  4. "OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS", MIRIAM BASS AWARD ACCEPTANCE SPEECH by Dennis Loy Johnson, March 7, 2007. "I’m intensely conscious of winning this award in the immediate aftermath of the PGW fiasco .... Let me tell you, there are a lot of publishers out there right now who deserve an award for creativity by simply staying alive. I accept this in their honor, and with thanks to them for what they do."
  5. Pushcart Prize XVIII 1993-1994, "Forrest in the trees" by Dennis Loy Johnson
  6. "..launched as a blog in March, 2001."
  7. Pierogi Gallery
  8. Melville House moved to DUMBO, Brooklyn
  9. AIGA 2006 winners list
  10. New York Times (12 August 2016). "New York Times Best Sellers List, September 11, 2016". New York Times. Retrieved 26 September 2016.
  11. Melville House Publishing (26 September 2016). "Melville International Crime Series Page". Melville House Publishing. Retrieved 26 September 2016.
  12. Melville House Publishing (26 September 2016). "Art of the Novella Series Page". Melville House Publishing. Retrieved 26 September 2016.
  13. Melville House Publishing (26 September 2016). "Neversink Library Page". Melville House Publishing. Retrieved 26 September 2016.
  14. Melville House Publishing (26 September 2016). "Last Interview Series Page". Melville House Publishing. Retrieved 26 September 2016.
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