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Creating sparks, one book at a time: Red Wing teacher talks about nonprofit publishing organization

Molly Sutton Kiefer is a public school teacher but also the force behind Tinderbox. Submitted photo 1 / 2
Launched in 2015, Tinderbox seeks to commit to the career of each of its authors, according to tinderbox.com, and its authors seek to become involved in their communities by expanding the audience for poetry and literary prose. Website image 2 / 2

Molly Sutton Kiefer sat in Caribou, sipping a chai latte and embroidering. As she untangled knots in her light blue thread, she explained why she named her publishing company Tinderbox Editions:

"I love the idea that a book of poems or a book of literary prose can ignite something inside of you."

Tinderbox was launched in 2015 to publish the work of poets and prose writers. Within months of raising money to publish two books, Tinderbox became a nonprofit and was on its way to being recognized as an important part of Minnesota's literary community.

Tinderbox ignited quickly. Sutton Kiefer explained one reason is because she had an online poetry journal of the same name that predates the publishing company. The journal was (and still is) fairly well known in poetry circles. Tinderbox Poetry Journal began as a journal that was published four times a year, each publication inline with the beginning of a new season.

"But then," said Sutton Kiefer, "we got so big so fast that we ended up doing six a year, but then that just started getting more and more overwhelming."

Sutton Kiefer began the journal while she was a stay-at-home mom. "I thought I needed to do a thing to contribute to the world of literature," she explained.

Literature has been an important part of her world since she was young. Her father, now retired, was an English professor. Sutton Kiefer's mother was a French and English teacher. This meant that books were highly regarded in their home.

"We grew up with the message that reading is valuable, that books are valuable objects, that reading is a fine pursuit of your time and your mind."

The love of reading blossomed into a love of writing for Sutton Kiefer when she was in second grade. Her mother gave her a copy of "The Diary of Anne Frank" and an empty journal.

Sutton Kiefer explained, while selecting the next spool of thread to use, that Frank's "situation, of course, is so, so terrible and so well studied, but her writing is what really amazed me and I thought, she can do this thing with language. I want to do this thing with language."

Perhaps it is this love of journaling that resulted in Sutton Kiefer being someone who processes through writing. She explained: "I'm very much so a write in-the-moment person. So If I'm going to write about something like grief or love, I'm going to be most successful if I'm writing about it while it's happening."

This act of writing in the moment led to Sutton Kiefer publishing her full-length book, titled "Nestuary." According to Sutton Kiefer, the delivery of her daughter was very complicated: after 42 hours of labor, an epidural that refused to work and numerous other hiccups, her daughter was delivered via a caesarean section.

Shortly after returning home from the hospital with a new, tiny baby, Sutton Kiefer was contacted by a friend. Her friend informed her that there was a contest for a lyric essay or hard-to-place book. "I thought, 'That's inside of me. It's in bits and pieces, but it's inside of me.' So one weekend my husband took the kids, he set up two monitors and hooked my laptop up so one monitor was research and the other was my manuscript and in a weekend I cobbled the pieces I'd already written, did some research on other stuff that sort of was already bookmarked, put it together and I had my first draft."

That first draft was written in April, submitted to the contest in May, and was accepted for publication in June. This timeline, for those unfamiliar with the writing and publishing world, is basically light-speed. For comparison, the three chapbooks Sutton Kiefer has published each took her about a year to write.

Sutton Kiefer is working on her next book. The embroidery piece will be part of the final product. When she's not embroidering, writing, teaching English at Red Wing High School or hanging out with her family, Sutton Kiefer is wading through 350 manuscripts submitted to Tinderbox Editions. The publishing company has a two-month window every year when it accepts manuscripts. Sutton Kiefer reads each one. Many she does not read all the way through, but she reads enough to understand the tone and feel of a work. If something moves her, she will flag a manuscript and return to it later for more consideration.

Sutton Kiefer and the two other editors of Tinderbox (the three women all live in different states and time zones) are currently planning publications through 2020. If any of the 350 submitted manuscripts are chosen to be published, there is a high probability that they will not be published until 2021.

For more information about Tinderbox Editions visit: www.tinderboxeditions.org.

For more information about Molly Sutton Kiefer visit: www.mollysuttonkiefer.com.

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