Open Air Press Publishing Company is a publishing company with a purpose. Its mission? To amplify marginalized voices in society with the goal to illuminate, release, transform and progress.
The company is set to release its first book, Coming Out Together: A Collection of Short Memoirs on the LGBTQ+ Experience, in February or March of 2023. Open Air Press founder Shanon Ronan lives in the Bay Area with her wife and is no stranger to running a local business.
“My wife and I live in San Rafael, so we’re locals,” said Ronan. “We’ve been here for the past 15 years. Prior to starting Open Air Publishing, we actually started a jerky company, Two Chicks Jerky, in this area about nine years ago. It’s LGBTQ+ and woman-owned, and we were happy to bring that dynamic to a more masculine-dominated market.
“Plus, we take part in a giving-back initiative and donate a part of our proceeds to The Looking Out Foundation, which Brandi Carlile and her wife started. Brandi is a big part of the motivation for Coming Out Together, since the idea for the book came from a community of her fans, the people I originally talked to and shared coming-out stories with.”
The idea for Coming Out Together came to Ronan as she was driving out to Red Rocks, CO for a Carlile concert. As Ronan passed through Laramie, WY, her thoughts turned to Matthew Shepard, a well-known figure in the LGBTQ+ community. Shepard, who was once a student at the University of Wyoming, was the victim of an appalling anti-gay hate crime in 1998 in which he was beaten, tortured and left to die.
Upon visiting Shepard’s memorial, Ronan made a silent promise to herself to make his death not in vain and decided to utilize the emotional gravity of his death as a driving purpose to give something back to the LGBTQ+ community.
“Back to the Brandi Carlile concert,” continued Ronan. “The people I met through Brandi’s fanbase are an incredibly supportive and inclusive tribe. During COVID, we came together as a fanbase we affectionately called the ‘Bramly.’ Everyone in the group had their own coming out stories and, as I was driving back from the Colorado concert, I decided to collect these stories to help other people. Then I realized it would make the most sense to form a publishing company, the point of which would be to help those coming out now, to reassure them and let them know there’s a community waiting on the other side.”
Ronan returned from her trip with a mission: to start her own publishing company and share the coming-out stories of the LGBTQ+ community. Luckily, she also found a local publishing mentor in Lawrence Tjernell, owner of Longship Press.
“I originally set out to teach myself everything I could about publishing,” said Ronan. “In the beginning phases, when I was just back from the concert, I went to a local bookstore and bought a bunch of how-to books about starting a publishing company and, by happy chance, was given the contact info for a mentor who taught me how to run a publishing business.”
Ronan states that the goal of her book is to help make those who have gone through the experience of coming out, or are currently going through it, know that they are not alone—that it can get better or that it might just not be all that bad. Some coming-out stories are hard, some ugly and some good, but all are important. In addition, with every book Open Air Press publishes, they will contribute a percentage of proceeds to the Looking Out Foundation, as well as other relevant non-profits, including the Matthew Shepard Foundation, to help further their important work.
The Matthew Shepard Foundation’s mission is to amplify the story of Shepard to inspire individuals, organizations and communities to embrace the dignity and equality of all people. Through local, regional and national outreach, they seek to empower individuals to find their voice to create change, and challenge communities to identify and address hate that lives within schools, neighborhoods and homes.
“Right now, we’re in production and have compiled all of these uniquely beautiful stories that people were willing to share with me,” explained Ronan.
Coming Out Together is currently in its final stages of creation. The memoirs are already written and submitted, and the cover art for the book, painted by Ronan’s wife, Breelyn MacDonald, is the finalized design. Ronan is now working on public relations, sending out copies to drive interest and gathering quotes from prominent public figures to gain traction before the book’s release date.
“I had an amazing event happen this weekend,” said Ronan. “Since I’m in the stage where I’m trying to collect quotes, I reached out to Sara Bareilles to use her song, ‘Brave,’ which she wrote as a love letter for a friend who was struggling to come out. I somehow managed to get front-row tickets to her concert, so we made a poster asking Sara in person if we could please use the lyrics in ‘Brave’ in our book of coming-out stories—she saw the poster right as she was about to start singing ‘Brave,’ read it out loud, said yes and let us record her approval. It was mind-blowing.”
Open Air Press believes that there is immense healing and empowerment in its collection of coming-out stories, both for those brave enough to share their own and to those who read them. By shining the light onto these experiences, Open Air Press hopes to contribute to the positive ripple effects of progress.
“I honestly really hope the book helps heal people,” said Ronan. “From writing out the story and the catharsis that gives to readers gaining first-hand experience by putting themselves in someone else’s shoes to gain empathy. And to let those people going through the experience of coming out now know that they’re not alone and it can get better. I’d be remiss to not acknowledge the people who have been willing to share their stories, and I’m so proud of the bravery people have shown. But also, it’s a personal journey, and it’s okay if you’re not ready yet.”
‘Coming Out Together. A Collection of Short Memoirs on the LGBTQ+ Experience’ is set to hit the shelves early in 2023, just in time for readers to cozy up and read away the last of the cold season. The book features the compelling coming-out stories of 21 contributors. For more information or to pre-order a copy, visit the Open Air Press website at openairpress.com.