Rich Winters worked in medical publishing for many years, most of it as an executive editor at Lippincott. The publishing company, now known as Lippincott Williams & Wilkins and part of the Dutch conglomerate Wolters Kluwer, is one of the largest in Philadelphia's thriving community of medical publishing.
After his retirement in 2015, he decided it was time to strike out on his own and try something he had long wanted to do. He moved to the family farm in central Pennsylvania to work with his son to produce books. Hey, books grow on trees, right?
Winters calls his new enterprise Two Winters Woods, and one of the things he "grows" there is a series of chapbooks, tiny paperbacks that measure 4" x 5", have a mere 64 pages, and contain the text of psalms or poetry, along with black & white line drawings and blank pages for journaling or note-taking. The books are meant to inspire reflection and to evoke the beauty of nature.
I spoke with Winters recently about his new venture.
Tell us about your work history.
I had a long career in medical publishing, starting at Lippincott in 1979 and eventually retiring from a smaller company in New York in 2015. For most of that time I was executive editor, acquiring medical books and journals. Apart from a little consulting, since then I have mainly concentrated on the farm.
Tell us about the farm. Where is it? What inspired you to go back to it at this point in your life?
The farm is in central Pennsylvania and has several dozen acres in cultivation as well as woodland. I didn't so much "go back" to it — I was raised there and never felt I left. But as I reached "semi-retirement," I wanted to spend more time there, and I wanted to work with my son, who is also interested in farming and horticulture. So it was natural to build my "encore career" around the farm.
You are producing chapbooks, firewood, and walking sticks. Tell us the philosophy behind this, and why you chose this array of products.
We are figuring it out as we go along, but our focus will be on "nontimber forest products." The fields are worked by arrangements with neighbors — hay, corn, soybean, other crops — so we looked to the woodland for our workplace. We have always cut firewood, and we were cutting more than we could use ourselves, so starting to sell some wood seemed a good place to start. The idea really was just to make the woodlands productive in a sustainable way. Firewood, walking sticks, wood "artifacts" that we hope will be useful to crafters, and so forth. We don't mind being very small. The point is that what we present to our customers is produced by us from our own woodland.
Tell us more about the publishing venture. What are your long-term plans? Why did you select these five books for starters?
I always loved the sense of craft in book publishing — of actually making books. So after a life of books it was natural to think of how we could make books from our working experiences on the farm. The readings we selected all encompass imagery having to do with nature, work, daily life, spirituality, and so they seemed to fit our work on the farm. For example, Psalm 104 can be read as a hymn to light, and to life, to the fruitfulness of the world. I was first inspired by this Psalm through the painter Walter Anderson, who literally painted his cottage in response to the celebration in its images. Psalm 102 includes the wonderful images of the pelican in the wilderness, the owl in the desert, the sparrow alone upon the housetop. Those felt real to me. The chapbook of original writing, Quercus Alba, captures the strength and beauty of the white oak and the feeling I have in working out there in the woods with my son, the same woods I wandered 50 years ago as a kid. It resonates.
Long-term, I'd like to add more chapbooks, both additional selections of readings and I hope more original work as well, as time and courage allow. I don't see us becoming very large, and I don't see us turning into a publishing operation in the usual sense. We'll never be recruiting authors. Just like the wood products, the point is that the book line, like the wood products, is what we've been able to make ourselves out of our own woodland. They're products from a small farm, and that's really how I see them.