Seal Press

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Barbara Wilson and Rachel da Silva (1979)
Barbara Wilson and Rachel da Silva (1979)

Historical Sketch

Founded by Barbara Wilson (now Barbara Sjoholm) and Rachel da Silva in 1976, the Seal Press was one of the most enduring feminist publishing houses to emerge from the women’s press and independent press movements of the 1970s. Over its 25-year history, Seal grew from a small, regional Pacific Northwest outfit focused on local authors into a national mainstay of independent publishing, releasing such best-selling titles as Getting Free; The Black Women’s Health Book; Barbara Wilson’s own mystery novels, including Gaudí Afternoon; and the third wave feminist classics Listen Up, Cunt; and Adiós, Barbie.

Wilson and da Silva printed the first Seal books on a letterpress in da Silva’s parents’ Seattle garage. Beginning in 1978, intermittent NEA grants helped defray costs, but early staffers were unpaid until about 1981, and fundraising persisted on a grassroots level. As requests from authors multiplied, offset printing gradually supplemented and then replaced the labor-intensive manual typesetting. In 1977, Wilson attended a women’s writers’ conference and, inspired by lecturer June Arnold, returned to Seattle to begin to guide Seal in a more explicitly feminist direction. The anthology Backbone: Northwest Women’s Writing appeared that same year and was followed by three further volumes spanning 1977-1982. After the success of Getting Free, Ginny NiCarthy’s self-help guide for abused women, in 1982, Seal entered a period of growth and restructuring that saw the publication of Wilson’s Murder in the Collective, the departure of Rachel da Silva, and Faith Conlon’s official start as co-publisher with Wilson. The press reached out internationally to publish translations of works by Norwegian, Egyptian, Japanese and Korean women, and also began offering titles on health and relationship issues designed specifically for women of color.


Faith Conlon, author Teri de la Peña, and Barbara Wilson c.1992

Throughout the 80s Wilson and Conlon continued to connect Seal with a network of independent feminist bookstores, presses and journals, establishing contacts at ABA and NWSA conferences as well as the first international feminist bookfairs in London, Oslo and Frankfurt. In 1987, Seal won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Special Award for Excellence in Publishing, and the Bumbershoot Bookfair Award for Most Significant Contribution in 1989. This recognition, together with the move to large-scale trade distributor Publishers Group West, helped move Seal into a new decade of visibility, and towards successes like Evelyn C. White’s groundbreaking Black Women’s HealthBook, Barbara Kingsolver’s bilingual poetry collection Another America, and Ellen Hart’s lesbian detective novels. Several themed series developed in the wake of New Leaf (focused on 80s-era domestic abuse titles), including Adventura, about women in sports and the outdoors, and Live Girls, devoted to pop cultural and young feminist issues. Women in Translation, Wilson’s Seal side project on translations of international feminist literature into English, had been initiated as early as 1984, but was incorporated as a separate non-profit entity in 1989. Wilson stepped down at Seal in 1994 to pursue Women in Translation and her writing career full-time, and Conlon continued as sole publisher.

Seal played a large role in the definition and development of third wave feminism in the late 90s, allowing a new generation of women to voice their concerns in anthologies, fiction and manifestos like Yentl’s Revenge, Chelsea Cain’s Dharma Girl, Michelle Tea’s Valencia, and Bhargavi C. Mandava’s Where Oceans Meet. In 2001 Conlon and Wilson negotiated the asset sale of Seal Press to the Avalon Publishing Group, a subsidiary of Publishers Group West. Soon afterwards Oberlin College Library expressed interest in the Seal archives, still preserved by Wilson after the Avalon sale, and purchased them in 2002. The complete archives were moved to their permanent home in Oberlin College Library’s Special Collections. The press lives on today as an Avalon imprint, and most Seal books remain in print.

Scope & Contents

The Archive includes a complete library of Seal Press publications as well as those publications licensed by Seal Press to mass-market and foreign publishers and publishers of anthologies.

Search OBIS for published books in the Seal Press archive

The unpublished Seal Press archive consists of approximately 175 feet of boxed materials divided into twelve series. Most items are paper documents, such as manuscripts, correspondence, book catalogs, photocopied faxes and newspaper clippings. Several series contain photographs and original book art, including sketches, color drawings and paintings. Series I (Publicity) contains DVDs, and Series V (Memorabilia) contains t-shirts and sample type blocks from Seal’s early years of hand-printing by letterpress.

  1. Publicity
  2. Editorial
  3. Contracts, legal documents and business plans
  4. Manuscripts
  5. Memorabilia
  6. Foreign Contacts
  7. Production
  8. Ephemera and scrapbooks
  9. Posters and mechanicals
  10. Slush
  11. Miscellaneous
  12. Financial records
  13. Women in Translation
  1. Publicity
    Scope: 15 feet; 14 boxes
    Contents: books reviews; media coverage; press releases and promotion; book tour plans and records; author/editor biographies and information; sales conference and grant records; book jackets, cover, and art; some catalogs, galley proofs, title order forms, and ephemera. Includes general Seal Press media promotion, 1984-2001. Box 7 contains promotion for Barbara Wilson titles only; boxes 13 and 14 contain audio-visual promotion, including a disk containing pages from the 2002 Seal Press Web site.
  2. Editorial
    Scope: 30 feet; 20 boxes
    Contents: clean and copyedited manuscripts; sample chapters; Seal job searches and applications; correspondence with staff and authors; correspondence with other presses; manuscript queries and rejections; some permissions correspondence and translations grant records, readers’ reports, and reviews. Folders 2-7 of Box 11 are not publicly available at this time.
  3. Contracts, legal documents and business plans
    Scope: 6 feet; 4 boxes
    Contents: photocopies of publishing contracts from 1981-2001, some original contracts, correspondence, newsletters, newspaper and magazine clippings, copyright documents, out-of-print notifications, Avalon correspondence and legal documents, Seal business licenses, Mattel lawsuit documentation, Seal bylaws, business plans, fund-raising documents.
  4. Manuscripts
    Scope: 57.5 feet; 39 boxes
    Contents: Seal title outlines, drafts, front and back matter, galleys, blue lines, editorial corrections by authors, photocopies of faxed editorial corrections, clean master copies, copyedited manuscripts, final manuscripts. Some editorial correspondence, production notes, calls for submissions, photocopied copies of essays for consideration in anthologies, book background research, stylesheets and reader comments.
  5. Memorabilia
    Scope: 1.15 feet; 2 boxes
    Contents: early editorial files, logo ideas, and correspondence. Two t-shirts. 24 relief printing blocks from early Seal publishing, 11 notebooks from 1980s, various sizes.
  6. Foreign Contacts
    Scope: 4.75 feet, 4 boxes
    Contents: correspondence with foreign presses, correspondence about foreign editions, rights and royalties, international bookfair records, feminist and lesbian publishing resources, foreign and U.S. feminist press catalogs, queries about foreign editions of Seal titles.
  7. Production
    Scope: 6 feet, 4 boxes
    Contents: records, correspondence, and bills concerning book design, cover art, photography, typesetting, text, and font specifications. Includes blue lines, billing invoices from printers, front and back matter, extra loose type, galleys, general production notes, picture slides and negatives, queries from artists and graphic designers and their résumés.
  8. Ephemera and scrapbooks
    Scope: 1.5 feet, 1 box
    Contents: four scrapbooks chronicling 1976-1986; includes photocopied media coverage of Seal titles and the press itself, book reviews, correspondence with authors, some photographs and polaroids of Seal Press offices and staff.
  9. Posters and mechanicals
    Scope: 3 feet, 3 boxes
    Contents: original letterpress book pages, blue lines, paste-ups, baseline negative sheets, font specifications, photographs, negatives, extra type, slides, transparencies, original paste-ups, cover and other art, cover art color prints, Seal letterhead negatives. Large foamboard and paper posters of publishing events and Seal titles.
  10. Slush
    Scope: 9 feet, 6 boxes
    Contents: manuscript queries and rejections, 1983-1996. Some reprint queries, author correspondence, and reader reports.
  11. Miscellaneous
    Scope: 3.2 feet, 4 boxes
    Contents: order forms, new titles announcements, themed catalogs, general Seal catalogs 1982-2001, Team Seal meetings notes, correspondence with literary agencies, cancelled anthology projects, some correspondence with authors. Box 4 contains Barbara Wilson’s original office Rolodex with addresses and contact information.
  12. Financial records
    Scope: currently 37.5 feet, 25 boxes
    Contents: unprocessed and unavailable until 2010.
  13. Women in Translation

Inventories compiled by Elizabeth Ehrenhalt, Wallis Adams, and Elinor Anderson

Last updated:
September 04, 2013