Open Air Press manifested on a drive.
On her way out to a Brandi Carlile show at the Red Rocks amphitheater, Shannon Ronan found herself driving through Laramie, WY and reflecting on the Matthew Shepard incident in 1998.
In 1998, Shepard, a 21-year-old gay man, was beaten, tied to a fence and left for dead in Laramie. As a gay woman who had grown up in a small, rural town, the incident was particularly jarring for Ronan. It had happened only a few months after she herself had come out. Years later, driving through Wyoming, the thought suddenly occurred to her to do something impactful for the LGBTQIA+ community—tell the coming out stories.
Ronan and her wife—Breelyn MacDonald, whose art is now the cover for the collection of coming out stories—are major Carlile fans, and during the pandemic became members of a fan group known as the Bramily, a Brandi Carlile Fan Alliance, made up of an inclusive community of members dedicated to change and equity as much as they are to Carlile’s music.
“So many of the people we’ve met in the Bramily have these incredible coming out stories.” said Ronan. “And it struck me that these can go out into the wider world—help to show people still going through it that it’s not so bad, or that it will get better. This is the book I wish I had growing up. ”
Ronan came home from her road trip and set straight to work, creating Open Air Press Publishing without knowing the first thing about publishing.
“I really didn’t know what I was doing—I mean my wife and I do own a business, so I had some experience there, but I was able to bring on a mentor, who I found through a series  of synchronicities, who is really helping me learn the ropes. And he’s the production agent—he’s going to take care of the layout, design, editing, all those things.”
The business Ronan is referring to might already be familiar—Two Chicks Jerky is a popular national brand that also partially germinated on the road.
Ronan and MacDonald had saved up money to quit their jobs to go on a five-month road trip across the country, where they ate, drank, hiked and camped. Ronan had been making jerky already while back home, and received positive feedback. When she and MacDonald came back, they started a kickstarter campaign and spent the first two years working out of their Honda, growing slowly and organically. After the first few years, they partnered with Zoe Meats in Petaluma, which took over their distribution, and things really took off. They’re now in over 400 stores nationwide, and bring a refreshing tone to the jerky world, being a women and LQBTQIA+-owned business.
The mentor Ronan is referring to might also be familiar to some—Laurence Tjernell is the mastermind behind Longship Press, a small publishing company in Marin County dedicated to providing an ongoing voice to poets. Longship publishes Nostos, a literary journal dedicated to poetry, fiction and art, once a year, in the fall.
It’s a pretty symbiotic collaboration. Tjernell’s goal of amplifying the creative voice is echoed in Ronan’s goal to illuminate marginalized voices in contemporary society.
“The whole idea behind the publishing company is to do publishing with a purpose,” said Ronan. “Sharing these stories is an act of empowerment for marginalized communities.”
Once she had the idea in place and support from Tjernell, Ronan put out a call for submissions on social media, printed flyers, and went on foot all over San Francisco, inviting people to share their coming out stories. She sees this as the launch point—the first in a series of memoir-style books built to empower. Ronan wants to help share the stories of previously-incarcerated communities, black and brown communities, and so on.
Open Air is also donating a portion of their proceeds to the Looking Out Foundation, a nonprofit founded by Brandi Carlile, along with Tim and Phil Hanseroth, that seeks and supports causes from arts to health to human and civil rights, perpetually on the lookout for under-represented issues. Another portion will be donated to the Matthew Shepard Foundation, empowering individuals to embrace their identities and diversity with dignity.
Ronan is still accepting submissions for the memoir, the release date of which is yet to be announced, pending both stories and funding. As of today, the Kickstarter goal of $10,000 is at $3,105.
Once they reach a larger fraction of the goal, Open Air Press will be able to pinpoint a release date, and start planning open mic nights, story nights and author readings.
For more information and to submit, visit www.openairpress.com.
I believe the word series was intended here.