The Dalkey Archive Press was an outgrowth of the Review of Contemporary Fiction, and is now part of The Center for Book Culture founded by John O'Brien. O'Brien started the Review in 1981 because the authors he was interested in were not covered by the mainstream of literary criticism. The project went quite well, but he quickly realized that most of the works covered by the Review were not in print, and no publisher wanted to print them. The Review apparently had very little overhead, so in 1984 O'Brien decided to use the leftover money to print a few books of modern literature he felt were noteworthy.
O'Brien didn't think that such a small publishing house printing things like Gilbert Sorrentino's Splendide-Hôtel, Nicholas Mosley's Impossible Object, and Douglas Woolf's Wall to Wall could survive for more than a few years, but survive it did. Within a couple of years, Dalkey Archive had expanded its scope. Along with putting many noteworthy books back into print, the Press began accepting manuscripts for new books as well. Started in Chicago, the Press eventually moved to Normal, Illinois and Illinois State University in 1992. The Press now survives mostly on donations and grants from the Illinois Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as office space provided by Illinois State University. The Press now publishes more than 200 books, and has a really cool program where they will give a copy of every book they publish to the school or library of your choice for a donation of US $1000. When asked what label Dalkey Archive Press should have, "innovative", "Avant-garde", or "experimental", O'Brien agrees with none of them, feeling no one word can really desribe what the Press does. The closest he can come to an adequate description is "subversive". In his own words, "...Dalkey Archive Press was and is a hopelessly quixotic venture."
My first exposure to Dalkey Archive Press was as a student at Illinois State University. I was a chemistry major, but I was required to broaden my horizons in exchange for scholarship money. I took a class in modern world literature to fulfill part of this requirement, and one of the books required for the class was Carole Maso's Ava. I bought it directly from Dalkey Archive Press, then located on campus in Fairchild Hall, formerly the location of Student Health Services. It was just a room filled with boxes of books. It was a humble operation then, and it still is now, but they publish many great books that wouldn't be otherwise. Check them out at http://www.centerforbookculture.org/dalkey/index.html.