Two Rivers Press has been publishing in and about Reading since 1994. The brainchild of Peter Hay (1951-2003), one of the town’s most creative champions, the press grew out of his delight in this under-loved town and its recessed spaces. ‘Pete believed in Reading, and his enthusiastic publication of local books and maps can be seen as part of a quiet campaign that a number of us have been waging for years – to prove that the town exists, lives, happens, and is by no means to be confused with Anywhere.’ Adam Sowan.
In an exhibition at Reading Museum in 2004 to celebrate 10 years of Two Rivers, an accompanying book called Charms against Jackals explained the press’s origins:
Two Rivers Press springs from a fine lineage of Reading dissent from the ways of the mighty: from the medieval Grey Friars who built a church to welcome townsfolk excluded by the Abbey, by way of Dr Pordage of St Lawrence, friend of ranters; a thriving and much-persecuted Quaker population; and the 1950s peace group that tended to the needs of the Aldermaston marchers, to a clutch of post-seventies initiatives: Acorn Bookshop, Red Rag, Reading International Support Centre and Reading Between the Lines, still the best town guidebook ever.
There was at that time (1990) a battle royal in progress to save the riverside from road-builders. An army of rebels and residents campaigned vigorously and effectively, wriggling through a maze of legal loopholes to ultimate victory: the Cross Town Route was one road that was never built. … In the guise of local historian, I had produced a microhistory of the free place where Thames and Kennet meet, fuel for the fires of some public enquiry. Pete saw it as the basis of a book and … transformed my humdrum prose into a thing of beauty: Where Two Rivers Meet. And so the press was born.
Nearly two decades of publishing and over 70 titles since its inception, Two Rivers Press has been described as ‘one of the most characterful small presses in the country.’ A significant part of its work explores and celebrates local history and environment such as Abattoirs Road to Zinzan Street: Reading’s Streets and their Names, and Down by the River: the Thames and Kennet in Reading. Bold illustration and striking design are important elements of its work, used to great effect in new editions of classic poems, especially ones with some Reading connection: for example, Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol, and in collections of contemporary poetry from resident poets such as Reading Poetry: an anthology edited by Peter Robinson.
The Press is strongly rooted in the local community and has close links with the University, Poets’ Café, RISC, MERL and other local groups. Its contribution to Reading’s culture won for it a Pride of Reading award in 2008.
“Two Rivers Press says something about Reading that is unexpected. I love the detailing of their books; the artists and writers they work with have a very distinctive style. It is a real treat to have a Two Rivers Press book. They feel like little works of art in your hand.” Suzanne Stallard.