Will Nixon reflects on ten years of Bushwack Books

(Cover illustration by Carol Zaloom)

Will Nixon was freshly returned from a Thanksgiving trip to Ohio when he called to speak about his Woodstock Holiday Open House celebration that took place last week.

“The fact that it’s been ten years since Michael Perkins and I started publishing our works through our own Bushwhack Books dawned on me at one point. It seemed like something to celebrate,” the carefully-spoken Nixon said. 

He brought up the bittersweet nature of the endeavor started at the suggestion of Perkins, a much-published poet and longtime Woodstocker (and Woodstock Times columnist) who is now in a Dutchess County nursing home, facing down the challenges of advancing Parkinson’s Disease, but also the shimmer of fond memories associated with his long dive into collaboration.

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He explained how the idea, and subsequent ten year reality of Bushwhack Books, was birthed with the help of Woodstock Times, a fortuitous meeting at the ghostly site of the Overlook Hotel, and an evening of wine, cheese and the poetry of former town resident Hart Crane.

“I had moved to town after five years in Woodland Valley, and knew Michael in passing from his columns in the paper, and his walks around town,” Nixon recalled. “I’d been a big fan of Hart Crane for a while and had uncovered some letters about him while excavating my past (there had been a family connection, through marriage). I went for a hike up Overlook and met the poet and painter Henry Halama, then in his 70s, up at the hotel ruins. He invited me to an evening of Hart Crane fans at his house, a wine and cheese meeting, where the fourth guest never arrived.”

Perkins was there and the two men hit it off immediately, hatching plans to walk across Woodstock (“We made it from Mink Hollow to the other side of Cooper Lake”). More walks continued and the two started writing columns together. Then Perkins brought up the idea of doing a book.

“I still had ideas, fantasies you could call them, that publishing one’s writing involved agents, advances, and publishing houses,” Nixon said, noting how Perkins was not as concerned about old publishing ways, having published so much by that point in his life. “I believe we reached out to several local publishers and then went to Troy Bookmasters, who led us through the process.”

Nixon and Perkins liked the process of making a book of assembled Woodstock Times pieces, Walking Woodstock, which they set up a launch event for at the Kleinert/James Center for the Arts.

“The columns had a following we hadn’t known about. The event was a huge success,” Nixon remembered. “Afterwards we realized that we could keep going.”

Following the publication of Walking Woodstock: Journeys into the Wild Heart of America’s Most Famous Small Town in December 2009, which rapidly became the Golden Notebook’s #1 paperback bestseller for the year,  Bushwhack Books went on to produce The Pocket Guide to Woodstock in 2012, again the Golden Notebook’s #1 paperback bestseller for that year (with a new edition being celebrated along with Bushwhack at the December 6 event), five books of poetry and prose by Perkins (Carpe Diem: New and Selected Poems, Life Sentences: Aphorisms & Reflections, A Splendor Among Shadows, The Pocket Perkins: Brief Writings, and this year’s The Shock of the Marvelous), Nixon’s Acrostic Woodstock, a town portrait in poems, and Perkins’ second collection of Walking Woodstock columns — The Woodstock Flaneur: A Saunterer’s Intimate Portrait of the World’s Most Famous Small Town — in 2018.

Also in 2018, the Woodstock Land Conservancy honored the authors/publishers with its William R. Ginsberg Stewardship Award.

“Two friends. Four legs. Ten Years. Ten Books,” is how Nixon’s characterized he and Perkins’ work together, in their heralded tone that’s half witticism, half understatement, and crisp as an early December day.

How does Nixon feel about having become a publisher as well as writer?

He answered by noting how he’d slipped into the activity, but also the many joys he’s found working with local designers (including illustrator Carol Zaloom and, for the new Pocket Guide, Loel Barr) and so many others (Bushwhack’s long worked with Weston Blelock for distribution help).

“It’s been worth all the trouble, and the great discovery for me has been the joys of collaboration, from the close work I’ve done with Michael all these years to the process of working with others to design the sorts of books we wanted to make. I came to love the process.”

How different a stage — Nixon added when asked “what next?” — from what had originally drawn him to the area in the mid-1990s from a Manhattan married life accompanied by a faulting career in various forms of publishing. 

“I had grown up in the suburbs, had been a Boy Scout and a big backpacker who loved camping and outdoor stuff, and discovered the importance of day hiking while still living in Manhattan,” he went on.

Nixon described an aha! moment while working on a Mother Jones magazine assignment in Ecuador while reading the nature writer Rick Bass. 

“I just thought to myself, ‘I’m going to rent a cabin in the Catskills.’ I just knew this was what I had to do,” he said. “I needed to be out in the woods…when I got to my cabin I just felt a lot freer. I think I just got more serious about my writing. I felt inspired by nature. I felt I was in more control of my life.”

Yes, he noted, this all meant an end to his marriage. But, Nixon again added, “being alone helped.”

Next up came his move to Woodstock, which he referred to as the West Village to his then home community of Phoenicia being the East Village.

Getting back to the “what next? Element of Bushwhack Books, the poet/publisher sighed. We spoke about the joys, brought on as one ages, of simply acknowledging accomplishments for what they are instead of constantly pushing forward to new frontiers. He mentions a recent reading from Walking Woodstock that he did at the Catskill Mountain Club, the sort of thing he used to avoid, and being nicely surprised at rediscovering things he’d written, enjoying the event for its nostalgic elements as well as the point of connection one’s writing can provide.

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But then he added some percolating ideas: possible Pocket Guides to other communities around the area, including his new hometown of the past year, Kingston. Maybe even a new collaboration…

The last point again draws a pause, from myself this time. I think about Michael Perkins, Will Nixon’s writing and publishing partner of more than a decade.

“The Parkinson’s has really taken hold. He’s been in a wheel chair for some time, and now I’m finding it harder and harder to understand what he’s saying,” Nixon had written me as we started this entire celebratory interview process a few weeks back. “But his mind is still sharp. And he’s still good for a great laugh if I can come up with a line worth laughing at. I should see him soon, and I’ll tell him you send your best!”