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Neil Azevedo, Where Are You?


PUBLISHED: January 31, 2006

Five years ago, when I learned that Neil Azevedo—a former editor at Columbia University Press—was starting a literary press in Nebraska, I was delighted. Even if it was called Zoo Press, I’m a fourth-generation Nebraskan, so I wanted very much to see this venture succeed. And Azevedo initially made some exciting moves. He forged contest partnerships with Paris Review and Kenyon Review, he arranged for distribution through the University of Nebraska Press, and acquired Nebraska Review from the University of Nebraska–Omaha. By late 2004, he seemed poised for a breakthrough.

His upcoming line-up included: a second book by New England Review poetry editor C. Dale Young that was a finalist for the Academy of American Poets’ James Laughlin Award; a book of essays by Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry; and the Zoo Anthology of Younger Poets, edited by New Criterion poetry editor David Yezzi. Azevedo seemed to have cornered the market on talented, young poet-editors. Then, he did something very strange… He disappeared. He stopped publishing books. He stopped answering his correspondence.

But, lest you think that Zoo had gone completely out of business, the press’s website continues to offer updated information on upcoming contests—and instructs people on where to send their money. But apparently they’re not publishing those books either, because David Baker, poetry editor at Kenyon Review and annual judge of Zoo’s Kenyon Review Poetry Prize, has taken the extraordinary measure of posting an open letter on the Kenyon Review website, informing their readers that Priscilla Sneff’s winning book O Woolly City “is still not available; nor is it in production. She has never received the substantial prize money ($3,500). She has heard nothing from Zoo Press for a year. Neither have I. For the past year I have left many emails at Zoo Press’s address and at Mr. Azevedo’s address; I have left phone messages at his home and at the office; I have sent real-mail letters. I have received not a word from him or any associate.”

Neil Azevedo, where are you? And what are you doing with the entry fees submitted to your contest?

9 Comments

Shane Seely's picture
Shane Seely · 13 years ago
I’m dying to know more about this. I read David Baker’s letter, but the web seems oddly quiet about the whole thing. Writers are usually a chatty bunch, aren’t we? It’s hard, in the whistling silence, not to think that Mr. Azevedo is a dirty rat.
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Ted Genoways's picture
Thanks for weighing in, Shane. I’ve tried and tried to give Azevedo the benefit of the doubt, but I can’t think of a legitimate excuse for what he’s done. It’s especially curious that Azevedo avertised on his website this fall (long after he stopped answering David Baker’s e-mails) that Zoo Press was accepting manuscripts for the Paris Review Prize in Poetry (deadline Ocotber 31, 2005), to be judged by “the Paris Review’s poetry editor Richard Howard.” Not only had Paris Review severed its relationship with Zoo by this point, but it had also replaced Howard as poetry editor. The website still says, “we expect his decision by March 2006.” I wouldn’t hold my breath.
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Erin Belieu's picture
Erin Belieu · 12 years ago
I’m relieved that this is all finally coming out and that Neil Azevedo is finally being taken to task. Though it’s been more than a year since I severed all connection with Zoo Press because of NA’s increasingly sketchy business practices, I still can’t get him to take my name off their board members list. Yes, where the hell is Neil Azevedo? My friends in Nebraska say he’s alive and well and out doing readings for his own book anywhere anyone will have him. There is NO excuse for NA’s behavior and yet, given his track record, I suspect he’ll have plenty of them once he’s forced out of hiding. I just want it on the record that I have nothing to do with Zoo Press, haven’t for quite awhile, and wish I never had. Like Ted, as a fellow Nebraskan, I am incredibly disappointed that something so potentially promising turned out to be such a nightmare.
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Lisken Van Pelt Dus's picture
Lisken Van Pelt Dus · 12 years ago
I did receive SOME recent communication, at least, from Zoo Press: my self-addressed postcard acknowledging my manuscript submission for the current Paris Review Prize, stamped with date of receipt. Nevertheless, I can’t say I’m optimistic, given what I’m reading….
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Ted Genoways's picture
If the site was gone, mc, it wasn’t for long. It’s back. Also, the date just passed for the supposed announcement of the Paris Review prize. Of course, that may have something to do with the small matter of Philip Gourevitch’s letter on the Paris Review website, announcing that “the Board of the Paris Review Foundation formally and legally terminated relations with the Zoo Press on March 2, 2006.” Read the whole letter here: http://www.parisreview.com/page.php/prmID/55
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WT Pfefferle's picture
WT Pfefferle · 12 years ago
I’ve tried to write the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office for guidance. But haven’t heard yet. I figure Azevedo is into me for about $200.
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Steven Ford Brown's picture
Ted, interesting that you’re asking the same question Foetry.com has been asking about a lot of contests for some time. Interesting that now we’re on the same page. Legal action does wonders. A liitle sunshine helps in these matters. Why are writers reluctant to get a lawyer and force action? The attorney general of the state should do something as I assume that Zoo Press is a non-profit and has to conform to certain standards. However, based on what I’ve read it sounds like outright theft. Wish more writers would sign on to higher standards for contests and make this kind of behavior a thing of the past. There are other contests out there that are still questionable. And don’t write the Attorney General. CALL them. It would also be easy enough to get Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts involved.
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Patricia Ferrell's picture
Patricia Ferrell · 12 years ago
As the winner of the 2003 Paris Review Prize in Poetry, my book was one of the last 5 to come out from Zoo Press (in the Fall 2004 catalog). This I attribute NOT to the editor and press founder Neil Azevedo, but to the efforts of a)Zoo Press’s office staff of one (until her resignation around early 2005), Caitlin, and b)The University of Nebraska Press for paying off the printer’s bills for our books so they would release them (which I learned from the P&W article last month). This kind of explains why our books slated for Fall 2004 did not come out until March 2005. I would like to say that I am TRULY thankful the books came out, but it’s been very hard to let go of the $5000 prize I was under contract to receive. Randall Mann also did not receive his $3500 Kenyon prize. Poor Priscilla Sneff perhaps got the worst of it; no book and no Kenyon Prize after being led down the garden path by Neil for months. As was John Drury, the announced winner of the 2004 Paris Review Prize. Let me state here, I do not believe Richard Howard as the judge of this prize would ever be complicit in this wrongdoing. I do not know the exact timeline, but I believe it is too close to call to say he was not still the poetry editor at Paris Review when the prize was awarded. As for the new editor at PR, it was I who called to inform him another prize winner had been awarded (I read the announcement in P&W) when I had still not received my own prize from the previous year. Mr. Gourevitch (the new editor at the Paris Review) was ONLY alerted to the situation by my phone call late 2005. Initially, he seemed concerned, but after conferring with his people, he called me the next day to quickly disassociate himself, and the magazine, of any connection with the prize. I might add that I also did not receive even a mention in the magazine, or an advertisement for my book in it’s pages as the winner of the 2003 Paris Review Prize in Poetry. Come on folks, these are very little things you could do to make some right of this. Any hopes I had of launching a poetic career off the momentum of this “first” book, I had to watch die a painful death over the 12 months after it’s release, and ABSOLUTE silence from any attempts at communication with Mr. Azevedo. Not only did it receive zero advertising or editorial support, I was actually BANNED from entering certain contests for first published books because my editor never responded to my many pleas that he make the submissions, which ONLY an editor was allowed to make. No one would make an exception, and now all those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities have passed. Almost everyone I talk to advises me to be happy for what I have and let it go, but that’s kind of hard when you have lived on the poverty line most of your life, and have been writing books for almost 15 years (and entering contests with fees) before one got published. When you screw over poets, you are screwing over the most disenfranchised of the artistic lot. What hope have we to ever earn a living by our art? Especially outside of academia, as some of us choose to remain. This last year has been a nightmare of frustration, impotence, and wasted time. While I am relieved the story is finally coming out, I have to say I am shocked that it took this long. I began trying to communicate and rally with many of the affected parties in the Fall of 2005, but not many seemed to think it was that big a deal, or that any concerted effort should be made to rectify matters. As it stands, in my mind, not only is Neil Azevedo a crook, and probably worthy of a class action suit brought by all those whose money he took, but also the lowest of the low for leading us on, and willfully deceiving us. A press in trouble is understandable; lying, misrepresentation, complete silence, is not. Certainly whining and making excuses as he did in the P&W article only illustrates what his true character belies. I guess he CAN be reached by some people, but only when HIS precious reputation is on the line. Sorry to rant, but I am still mad as hell. I think a lot of other people should be, too.
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