Contemplating a World without Kalimat

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As Special Ideas celebrates its 25th anniversary, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the pioneers of independent Bahá’í Publishing at Kalimat Press, who took the heat, took the risk, and made the sacrifices so that I—and all of you other artists, writers and musicians out there—could express ourselves freely without being told that we couldn’t or shouldn’t.

When I became a Bahá’í in 1974, there was one publisher of Bahá’í materials in the United States. One. Sure, there was George Ronald Publishing in England, but everyone knew that it was owned by a member of the Universal House of Justice, and had been started at the recommendation of Shoghi Effendi, so it was almost as official as the Publishing Trust. The idea of an individual just deciding to start publishing an entire line of Bahá’í-oriented materials was almost unthinkable. Then something amazing happened.

I was working at the Bahá’í Publishing Trust when I first heard about Kalimat Press. The children’s book The Gift had been out of print for several years, and we were struggling to finish up The Secret in the Garden when suddenly, along came—not one, not two, but FIVE new full-color children’s books priced at only $2.50 each. You remember The Black Rose, The Unfriendly Governor and The Scottish Visitor, don’t you? Chances are you either read some of these to your children, or had them read to you as a child.

Later, when Kalimat produced a line of Bahá’í greeting cards, the Trust scrambled to copy them with a line of their own. Kalimat was setting trends, raising the bar, and shaking things up.

By the end of my first year at the Publishing Trust, I looked at what Kalimat Press was doing, and looked at what I was doing at the Trust, and realized that I could probably accomplish a lot more by following Kalimat’s lead and striking out on my own. I gave notice and started working on my own line of Race Unity materials. (Do you remember the “United Doves” campaign?)

This is something I never could have seen myself doing if I hadn’t seen someone else do it before me. That might sound silly now, but you have to remember our mindset back then. We thought printing Bahá’í books was kind of like running the phone company. Only one company had permission to do it. The rest of us had to sit back and hope that they would print what we wanted to read. Once one person shattered that expectation, doors opened for all of us. I could not have been that person. Could you have been?

Even with Kalimat’s example, it wasn’t easy. I was actively discouraged from starting my business, and for the first ten years, I was asked “is this legal?” at every conference I attended. It took about fifteen years before I could support a family on the income. But the ability to use my talents in service to the Cause has made every minute of the struggle worthwhile. Watching others follow in my footsteps is even more inspiring.

With Kalimat Press blazing a trail for publishers, and Special Ideas and Images International creating teaching materials and providing alternative distribution outlets, the last 25 years has brought an explosion of independent Bahá’í Publishing. Instead of one or two prominent Bahá’í authors being given an avenue for sharing their ideas in print, scores of authors, artists, musicians, software designers and movie makers find an outlet for their creative expression through independently produced and distributed materials. Chances are that someone you know has produced something that has been distributed outside of your local community. This is not just a matter of new technology. It is the result of a new way of thinking about Bahá’í Publishing that—believe me—didn’t exist 30 years ago.

Do you have any idea of the impact that independent publishers are having on the Faith? Go look on your bookshelf. Look at the spines of your books. How many of them have a K, a GR, a One World, or even a Special Ideas? If it isn’t Sacred Text (and even if it is) the odds are ten-to-one that it was published by an independent publisher! Ruhi books? That’s right, independent publisher. In fact, every book in this catalog is produced independently!

With teaching materials, the percentages are even higher. Special Ideas, Stonehaven Press, the Dallas LSA, Warwick England, these independent publishers produce the majority of the pamphlets available. Perhaps that’s because we are willing to sell them at prices close to what they were back in 1981! Need an 80¢ prayer book? You wouldn’t have them without independent publishers offering low-cost alternatives.

Then there are stickers, teaching cards, T-shirts, buttons, balloons, jewelry and music. These are almost exclusively produced independently. Imagine your next teaching event without them.

What would Bahá’í Community life look like without these materials?

Specifically, what would the Bahá’í Community look like if Tony Lee at Kalimat Press had not had the courage, vision and perseverance to blaze a trail for the rest of us to follow? If it has been difficult for me, I know it has been even more difficult for them.

In the last twenty-five years, Kalimat Press has continued to serve the community through the publication of scores of books, including scholarly works, compilations, prayer books, children’s books, poetry, historical works, diaries, memoirs, and more. The Bahá’í Community is a better place as a result of their work.

Recently, there has been some confusion over a National Spiritual Assembly decision concerning Kalimat Press materials. While I don’t claim to understand the reasoning behind its decision, I can, I hope, dismiss some of the rumors that have been circulating in response to it.

First, and most important, this was a decision to discontinue distributing materials through official administrative channels. Individuals are still free to purchase and read whatever they like.

I have been told in writing that I am free to sell any and all of Kalimat’s books; that individuals are free to purchase them; and that there are no specific books that have been banned or labeled inappropriate for distribution.

Furthermore, every book Kalimat publishes has been approved for publication by the Review Office of the National Spiritual Assembly [of the Baha'is of the United States]. The Review Office would have halted the publication of any book it considered inaccurate, undignified or untimely.

The rumors that one of their books is written by a covenant breaker, that a book puts Bahá’ís in Iran in danger, that a book was published over the objections of the National Assembly, or that Kalimat Press disobeyed any specific directives of the National Assembly are all false. Period. Whatever specific reasons the National Assembly has for making its decision has not been communicated to Kalimat Press or to me. So I suggest that we stop making guesses about what we don’t know and start focusing on what we do know:

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Namely, that Kalimat Press has served the Community faithfully for a long, long time, and they deserve our gratitude and support. If you like Prayers of Ecstasy, The Diary of Juliet Thompson, The Scottish Visitor, or any one of their other wonderful publications, and would like to see more of the same in the future, then now would be a good time to say “thank you” with a purchase of a Kalimat Press book. Since you can’t get them from the BDS anymore, we will be carrying their complete line. If you don’t see it in this catalog, check on-line or give us a call. We are still getting stock in.