Vending stories instead of snacks

The Head & The Hand Press created a vending machine that distributes books.

Nic Esposito didn’t anticipate a book the size of a bag of potato chips would be his publishing company’s biggest move in the Philadelphia literature scene.

“This is the weird thing about how business projects work—sometimes the thing that you don’t think is going to be the big piece ends up becoming just that,” said Esposito, the founder of The Head & The Hand Press.

“The whole idea of The Head & The Hand came about from two things,” Esposito said. “One is how interesting the publishing world is, and how lacking the publishing world is in Philadelphia. I mean, if you really want to succeed in this business, you have to get into a good M.F.A. program, or go to New York and try to get into the scene there.”

Neither option appealed to Esposito, so he stayed in Philadelphia and started his own nonprofit publishing company. A few years after the birth of The Head & The Hand, Esposito came up with his company’s next “big piece.”

He was joking around about a vending machine company his cousin had inherited and how the business wasn’t what it used to be.

“It was the same thing about books, and he made a joke that we should team up and sell books out of vending machines,” Esposito said. “I thought it was a cool idea so I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

Now, one of Esposito’s chapbook vending machines is located in Elixr Coffee Roasters on the corner of Walnut and Sydenham streets.

The coffee shop tries to “cater to every community,” Elixr manager Tom Cladec said. “The vending machines offer a unique way to do that.”

2011 education alumnus Patrick McNeal’s work, “You Champion,” was featured in the first round of chapbooks.

“Head & The Hand offers a space,” McNeal said. “A physical place, which is very important for writers to come and exchange ideas. Meeting folks from all different walks of life who share that one interest which is literature and writing prose or poetry. They’re just super hospitable.”

McNeal was already a published writer by the time he connected with The Head & The Hand, but was still excited about being featured.

“It used to be my favorite thing when I would have people in the city to be like, ‘Hey let’s go see my book, it’s in this super rad vending machine,’” McNeal said.

Esposito is determined to maintain relationships with his writers and represent their work as genuinely as possible. The Head & The Hand is in the works to publish its fourth series of chapbooks for the vending machines in the spring.

“We try to never call our writers local,” Esposito said. “Because I feel like that connotes that people are less than. I never want to say, ‘Oh, these are stories written by high school kids, or these are stories written by adults.’ Because that implies that they will write in a certain way. It’s hard because we don’t want to put people in boxes. We represent writers of all different ages. We want people to get discovered and hone their craft in the city that they come from.”

Erin Blewett can be reached at

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