Marietta Pritchard: Steve Strimer’s love affair with print continues with Levellers Press

Last modified: Friday, June 20, 2014

AMHERST — Steve Strimer may not literally have printer’s ink in his veins, but he comes about as close as you can get. I first knew him as a lively, funny, somewhat subversive presence at the Gazette in the late ’70s. I was a new editorial recruit, and he was working in the press room and as a backup camera operator in the days before everything was done on computers.

After leaving the Gazette, Steve followed his progressive leanings to co-found a worker cooperative, Aldebaran Printing which became Common Wealth Printing. Then, in 1997, he joined Collective Copies as a worker-owner, where he still works.

But well before all of those career moves, a photo clipped from a 1960 Delaware, Ohio, newspaper shows a 10-year-old Steve already displaying his commitment to print. He sits at a typewriter surrounded by a bunch of other kids. They’re putting out their own neighborhood paper.

I have been a customer at Collective Copies in Amherst pretty much since they opened in 1983. It’s one of the two places in the world – Hastings is the other – where I have a charge account. It is owned and run by smart, engaging, skilled people who have helped me solve my copying problems for many years.

I had known that they were publishing books under the Levellers Press imprint, but I’d thought that consisted of the handful of books on a modest rack near the counter. Recently I became aware of the floor-to-ceiling shelves at the right of the store, and realized that a publishing explosion had taken place.

So I called on Steve, the impresario of this local venture. Aside from the printing business, Steve has had his hand in many local enterprises, publishing his own book about Northampton’s townscape with Richard Garvey, “Paradise Built.” He has also won wide recognition for his work on abolition-era Florence, and is a co-founder of the David Ruggles Center for Early Florence History and Underground Railroad Studies.

But I wanted to talk to him about Levellers Press, which now has an impressive list of 48 titles, with 12 in the pipeline. Levellers came into being in 2009 when Robert Romer, a retired Amherst College physics professor, presented Strimer with a manuscript of a book about slavery in the Connecticut Valley. Romer was clear that he wanted to have the name of a press on his book, and he wanted a “real” book, “not just a manuscript Xeroxed by Kinko’s.”

And Steve was clear that he wanted to publish it. “So,” says Romer, “I nagged him, and he came up with a name.” The name was chosen to fit with what Steve describes as his own “lefty, radical” bent. The Levellers were a group of 17th century English protesters who opposed the new division of the formerly common land. Their protest took the form of cutting down – levelling – the hedgerows that now divided that land.

Romer’s book was Levellers’ first and has sold over 1,000 copies. The average sales for Levellers authors, Steve says, is around two to three hundred. Romer found Steve to be both enthusiastic and helpful, describing him in his book’s acknowledgements as a “friend, colleague, publisher, editor,” who was willing to do things – like footnotes – Romer’s way, “while tolerating my need to occasionally split an infinitive or to begin a sentence with a conjunction.”

There is a selection process for Levellers authors, and those that are chosen get a contract in which the publisher absorbs the start-up costs of layout, design and print. There is no advance, but the author gets 50 percent of the proceeds once the starting costs are paid off.

“It’s a simple, logical deal,” says Steve, “with no wheeling and dealing.” Marketing is on the author, who, he says, “should try hard to sell the book.” Sales of 100 to 150 can usually break even.

The entire process from printing to binding to sales takes place within the Amherst office, where Steve and his four colleagues who comprise Levellers do their work. Steve loves it, just as he evidently did as a kid. At 64, he says, “I’m all about enjoying myself.”

Marietta Pritchard can be reached at


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