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Archive for the 'Small Press' Category

Small Press Conversation: Matt Bell and Steven Gillis

There's a little place in the middle of the country called Ann Arbor, Michigan. It has steadily produced some of the most exciting literary voices for several years. From big names (Charles Baxter) to rising stars (Davy Rothbart, Elizabeth Ellen), the little college town has a knack for producing strong, enduring books.

Two of the most interesting writers that have emerged from there in recent years are Matt Bell and Steven Gillis.

Matt Bell is the author of the new fiction collection, How They Were Found. His fiction has been anthologized in Best American Mystery Stories and Best American Fantasy. He is also the editor of The Collagist, series editor of Best of the Web, and a senior editor at Dzanc Books. He can be found online here.

Steven Gillis is the author of Walter Falls, The Weight of Nothing, Giraffes, Temporary ...


Small Press Conversation: Gina Frangello and Davis Schneiderman


Gina Frangello reads from her new book, Slut Lullabies, at Powell's on Hawthorne this Thursday, July 29, with Zoe Zolbrod (Currency). In our newest installment of Small Press Conversations, Frangello, a writer, teacher, publisher, and editor, speaks with Davis Schneiderman, author of the novel Drain. This conversation happened before Gina and Davis's event in Iowa at "Live from Prairie Lights" on July 22, 2010.

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Gina Frangello: Given that so-called experimental writing has characterized certain major literary movements at least since the modernists, how would you define experimentalism a century later? And why, if writers have been experimenting with form, some finding great acclaim for that in the modern and postmodern eras, going on to be regarded as canonical writers, is formally innovative or avant-garde writing still regarded as a "fringe" part of literary culture? What characterizes the type of experimental writing that is primarily the arena of indie presses?

Davis Schneiderman: Yes, oh yes, it seems that in 1922, a year that some have called a high point for modernism, with a capital M, we could still find a big difference between a writer type such as Thomas Mann with his mountain magic and the surrealists with their automatic writings magnetic fields broken trestles of nightmare trains chugging to Auschwitz not so many years off-then when a dada-collage a screaming poem word a poem life like that of Jacques Rigaut who announced his own suicide and then in 1929 made good on his words oh yes oh yes oh yes.

Oh, no.

Today, it's all modern or postmodern experimentalism.


PM Press Interview

Ramsey Kanaan is the co-founder of PM Press, one of the most interesting small publishers in the business today. Powell's Chris Faatz caught up with him this past month and asked him a few questions.

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Chris Faatz: Ramsey, what are the origins of PM Press? I understand you were one of the founders of AK Press. Could you speak a little about that experience, and how it influenced the founding of PM?

Ramsey Kanaan: For my sins, I am/was indeed the founder of AK. AK is actually named after my mother — Ann Kanaan — though I often used to tell folks me mother was named Kalashnikov. I spent the best part of three decades (I started young — 13) with AK, and when it became more than just me, we set it up as a workers' co-op in the U.K. So pretty much everything I've learned about publishing, distribution, propaganda, writing, editing, co-operative work, running a business, etc., etc., was all done through the rubric of AK.

Most of it was invented as we went along. I'm very proud of what we did with/at AK — and PM was started by me and another AKer, Craig O'Hara. We're now lucky to be able to do even more with PM. Same ends, similar means, just taking in a wider scope of formats, genres, and platforms, to get the ideas out there, and hopefully, folks interacting with them.

Faatz: It's pretty apparent from perusing your catalog and the books you've already published that you operate from a radical, left libertarian, even anarchist perspective. What kind of a market do you find for that kind of material?

Kanaan: Well, there's the market that already exists — largely what is left of "the movement" (however defined) from the '60s, and then the later generations of younger activists, who came up through punk, the alter-globalization movement, and suchlike. The challenge, I think, has always been not only to better inform 'the movement', but to figure out how to get the ideas across to everyone else. In effect, how do we actively contribute to building a movement (however defined) which is genuinely going to take on Capital and the state.

There's no one "correct" path. In terms of ideas, we're exploring all aspects of art, culture, genre fiction, music, video, academic texts, and inspirational manifestos to get the words and sounds and visuals across... and hopefully, to build an audience.

Faatz: Just briefly, how do you define anarchism or left libertarianism for those who are curious?

Kanaan: It'd depend on the audience, of course. To those not well versed in political theory (or practice), I'd define anarchism as the rather common-sense notion that folks are best able to organize their own lives, without the impediments of hierarchy, authority, the state, capitalism, et al. It's a particular form of horizontal, as opposed to vertical, social and economic organization. For the more sophisticated, the snappy response is that it's the self-emancipation of the working class.


Kevin Sampsell Interviews Sumanth Prabhaker of Madras Press

There are small presses popping up all the time but there are only a rare few that make such a distinct and focused entry into the game as Madras Press, run by Sumanth Prabhaker. Their first four books have just been released and they are beautiful and compact little gems. Besides the high production values, what caught my eyes were that two of the books were from two of my favorite writers, Aimee Bender (the hauntingly sweet fable, The Third Elevator) and Trinie Dalton (the wild and funny novelette Sweet Tomb). Rounding out the Madras invasion is Rebecca Lee's dinner party drama Bobcat and Prabhaker's own long tale, A Mere Pittance. Another interesting fact about the press is that each book's author gets to pick a charity that their book's profits go to.

I interviewed Prabhaker recently about his impressive and ambitious publishing venture.

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What are some of the presses you admire most and who has inspired Madras Press?

The books we've thought the most about, more than One Story and more than any of the chapbook presses we've learned about, is the old Penguin 60s series. Those are the hand-sized paperback reprints of classic short stories that Penguin released as part of their 60th birthday party, probably fifteen years ago. Every time I go into a used bookstore, they're the first thing I look for. And it's a funny series to think about, because they're actually kind of ugly, with that Penguin orange all over them, and the type size is uncomfortably small, and the paper stock isn't so great. This may be overly optimistic, but my feeling is that those qualities are not unlike those you might find in academic journals, and reveal a commitment to the stories that's unusual for books that Borders and Barnes & Noble probably tried to market as gift items. And that's part of what makes them so captivating to me. Among our definition of success is the idea of our books occupying the same shelves as those.

Coincidentally, I've also been thinking a lot about some of Penguin's current series — Great Ideas, Great Loves, and there's an adventure one, too. Every one of those books is an absolute marvel to see and hold and read, and it's a little baffling to realize that they come from a huge, old company. I don't know of very many other books that display such an acute understanding of their own personal design and manufacturing.


Interview with Joseph Bednarik of Copper Canyon Press

Powell's own Chris Faatz had a chance to speak with Joseph Bednarik, the marketing director of Copper Canyon Press.

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Chris Faatz: Joseph, when was Copper Canyon Press founded? How many books have you published? What's your mission?

Joseph Bednarik: Copper Canyon Press's mission: Publish poetry well.

The Press was founded in the early 1970s by several energetic visionaries who loved poetry and were willing to tangle with cranky printing equipment to produce beautiful books: Sam Hamill, Tree Swenson, William O'Daly, and Jim Gautney. Since then, the Press has published over 400 books, including scores of translations from a dozen languages. In the past few years alone we've published bilingual volumes of poetry from Arabic, Chinese, Belarusian, and Norwegian.

CF: Copper Canyon is pretty successful as small presses go. Why is that?

JB: I'd suggest very successful, given two recent Pulitzer prizes — The Shadow of Sirius by W. S. Merwin and Delights and Shadows by Ted Kooser — and a number of other awards. The reasons for success include focus, editorial vision, and book design. And an unshakable belief in the power of a good poem. We also treat all our constituents — poets, readers, booksellers, printers, librarians, funders, reviewers, volunteers — with abundant respect. As a result, we have a very loyal readership. In fact, we have readers who decorate their bodies with permanent tattoos of our pressmark, which is the Chinese character for "poetry." That's commitment.


Small Press Conversation: Mykle Hansen and Andersen Prunty

When I took over the small press section at Powell's about eight years ago, I was immediately won over by a colorful little paperback book by local writer Mykle Hansen. Eyeheart Everything was the kind of book that had a strong word-of-mouth following due to its over-the-top humor and biting sarcasm.

Mykle spent the next few years doing the usual Portland things: making zines, getting and losing jobs, breeding, playing weird music, and writing for the local alt-weekly. And then last year he reemerged with a new book, the ridiculous black comedy Help! a Bear Is Eating Me! — which he also podcasted in its entirety. He toured around, doing readings at places where he dressed up in a bear costume and mauled potential readers. Recently, a book containing three of his novellas, mysteriously titled Rampaging Fuckers of Everything on the Crazy Shitting Planet of the Vomit Atmosphere, came out ...


Small Press Conversation: Zach Dodson and Amelia Gray

This installment of the Small Press Conversation features an up and coming fiction writer and her daring young publisher (who is also an up-and-comer in the fiction world). Zach Dodson (aka Zach Plague) started featherproof, a small publishing company, with Jonathan Messinger a couple of years ago in Chicago. Recently, they published AM/PM, a sweetly funny and unpredictable collection of flash fiction by Austin, Texas writer Amelia Gray. The creator of the music and reading series, 5 Things, Gray is also the author of the prize-winning collection Museum of the Weird, which comes out in fall of 2010. Besides being a renowned designer, Dodson is the author of the extravagant and strange novel Boring Boring Boring Boring Boring Boring Boring.

Zach Dodson: Amelia, I know you really well, we just spent two weeks in a van together (for the Dollar Store Reading Tour). I know everything about ...


Small Press Conversation: Chelsea Martin and Brandon Scott Gorrell

Kevin Sampsell notes: Brandon Scott Gorrell is a poet who lives in Seattle, Washington. His book During My Nervous Breakdown I Want to Have a Biographer Present was just published by MuuMuu House. It's full of dryly humorous observations and what you might call postmodern confessional poems. Brandon recently emailed me and asked if I'd submit his interview with Chelsea Martin to our blog. Chelsea is the newest author on my press, Future Tense Books. Her book is called Everything Was Fine Until Whatever. It's a hodgepodge of weird stories, funny lists, confessional bits that make you feel like a voyeur, and some really cool drawings. Chelsea and Brandon are friends and have done readings together. They have one in New York on July 3 at the PPOW Gallery. This is their email exchange.

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Brandon Scott Gorrell: I think that your drawing and writing are equally good, but that your drawings are more accessible to the "general population." Sometimes, I think you should just focus on drawing because, to me, they show a more "immediate talent" (when looked at from my perspective of the general population's perspective), and if your goal is to be an artist, then the more efficient way to achieve that would be to focus on drawing.

Do you ever think "Should I, generally, be an artist or a writer?" and if you do, what is the answer and why?

Chelsea Martin: I learn a lot about myself and about life and about writing by writing. Language is inherently funny because people use it all the time that have no concept of literature. And even people who do still have to use language to do something like ask an employee at Long's Drugs where the denture adhesive is kept. And they have to ignore language when it's trying to sell them a miniature cheese grater. But I think that that is one of the things that make writing so interesting. If you write the right thing in the right order with the right words, you can manipulate anyone who is paying attention. Or you can make someone feel amused and sad and irritated at the same time.

But I like drawing. I really like drawing. It's very engaging and you don't have to think very hard about what you're doing while it's happening. You have an idea and you start and you do it and you're done and it's exciting. There are very few complications, at least in my style and process. But it feels so insignificant. To me, drawing feels like cooking. Like, it's fun to cook something and spend time cooking, and it's exciting to enjoy food. But you're not really achieving anything except some very basic human need. And the enjoyment of it doesn't last very long anyway.

I think what you mean by "more immediate talent" and "accessibility" is that the general population responds more quickly to visual work, because it's easier to take in and has no real time requirement. But I went to art school and no one there thought my drawings were special. Not that that means anything to me. I just mean to say that maybe my drawings seem special to you because they are being displayed in a literary venue.

So, to answer your question, I think I'll keep writing and I think I'll keep drawing.

BONUS REPLY: A COUPLE DAYS LATER: Today I've been thinking that I want to stop writing for a while and just make drawings. I know I said something before that was like the opposite of what I just said. It's easier to feel productive doing drawings. I can lay them all out in front of me and if they look colorful or if they take up a lot of space, it makes me feel good. Writing is sort of never like that. If I open a lot of Word files, it just makes me want to change words or move a sentence from one paragraph to a different one, or to a part of a different story or something. Or I'll look at them and feel disappointed, like I've changed and can't appreciate what I've written anymore. I get discouraged with writing sometimes because I put so much value in it, and am so disturbed by writing that is bad. But since I don't feel passionate about drawings, they seem easier to appreciate, because they're not failing at trying to do something meaningful. They're just a drawing of someone on the couch or whatever.


Small Press Conversation: Shane Jones and Blake Butler Talk about Books, Cats, and Being Called an “Internet Writer”

Shane Jones and Blake Butler have both recently published new books that have been discussed widely in small-press circles. Both Jones's Light Boxes and Butler's Ever are highly original, perhaps even "postmodern," short novels. Jones explores a world where the month of February stretches out for countless days as it wages a war on a town. Butler constructs a claustrophobic and hallucinogenic narrative of a woman trying to escape a house of memories.

Both writers have published a lot in literary journals and on literary web sites — often at the same time. They also have their own (Shane and Blake). I asked them to have a conversation about their writing and publishing experiences.

This will be the first of several small press conversations to come. Enjoy.
— Kevin Sampsell

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Shane: The other day, I was thinking about how I spent years writing bad short stories and thinking that I would never get a book published. It was just a dream that one day I would be holding a perfect-bound version of something I wrote. Now that I have one book out and another on the way, as do you, do either of us feel any different? I'm not sure I do. I might be a bit more confident. I just keep thinking about what I haven't written. I'm going to get a cup of coffee.

Blake: I had heard the "I don't feel any different" statement from people putting out books for years, when all I wanted was to put out a book. It always pissed me off. Because I did not believe it. And I still don't. No different? It's just not the case.

Now, is my life a living, breathing version of The Love Boat, where I could be broken up with by anyone, kicked by anyone, scratched in the face, chewed up, and still feel ecstatic to be alive because I finally put a book in the world (the way I imagined I would feel)? No, I don't feel that way at all. Every day, getting up and going to bed feels mostly like it always did. It's like wearing a new shirt.

But wearing a new shirt can feel really good. And I guess, at the end of the day, I feel like things are at least slightly changed. In the same way, maybe, that someone feels getting a tattoo. There's a slightly different air, and a stroke of thoughts, if no less day-to-day life, still at least a step deeper in something that's always meant a lot to me: books.

So yeah, I feel different, but I would feel different, too, if I drew all over my face in permanent marker and cut my hair.

Do you have any sense of that change? Like a little less uncentered? Even if still totally uncentered?

Shane: "Uncentered" is an interesting way to word it. I think, at first, I actually felt centered, or more confident and sure of things. Now I'm not so sure. I have a strong push/desire to produce more work. To just throw words out into the world. I'm trying to be as honest as possible here. Now that the first book is "out," other books will no doubt be compared to that one, which I don't like. "Well, this book isn't as good as his last..." But that really doesn't matter much.

Both you and I have talked recently about influence from other writers/artists on our own books. A friend of mine, the other day, was saying how he was writing Cormac McCarthy-like stories and felt bad about it, and I said, "nothing is original," and he kind of laughed and got uncomfortable.

I'm not sure I have a question. Do you have any pets?

Blake: I think I felt the same burst of confidence you mention, followed quickly by a return to the normal state of "every day I do the same thing." It's kind of a funny jump, like expecting for years to get baptized and then showing up and finding that they don't even use Jesus's blood, but Evian. Or something. I'm being sort of jokey, but that might be on par.

Sorry, something is wrong with me today. I had a pet chihuahua named Margot, who was the best dog. She went with my ex-girlfriend. Now, Heather and I have a fish I gave her for her birthday this year, a surprisingly active beta who has accidentally been dubbed "Mr. Fishy." He makes bubbles.

Do you find your writing influenced directly by what you happen to be reading at any given moment? I sometimes can look back at things I've written and see somewhat the trajectory of my reading list there, embedded.


Benjamin Parzybok Interview

[Editor's Note: Benjamin Parzybok reads at Smallpressapalooza tonight at Powell's City of Books at 8:15.

Order signed editions of Couch while they last!]

While walking around the bustling booths and hustling sales reps at last year's Book Expo of America in Los Angeles, I noticed two guys carrying around a couch. Upon closer inspection — they set it down in front of me — it was an inflatable couch, made of red plastic. It looked like it might be comfortable in a big swimming pool. One of these guys was Gavin Grant, who runs Small Beer Press with Kelly Link. They were promoting the release of Couch, the funny and fantastical debut novel of Portland writer Benjamin Parzybok. Their giddy excitement about the book was almost unbearably palpable. But a couple of months later, when the book was officially released, it proved to be prophetic, as critics, readers, and booksellers have all fallen under the weird wanderlusty spell of Parzybok's hilarious prose. The story is essentially about three guys (Thom the computer geek, Erik the con man, and Tree the gentle clairvoyant) moving a couch. But it somehow morphs into an epic chase of unexpected tragedy and personal discovery.

Besides writing, Parzybok has been a fount of other artistic ventures like Gumball Poetry (distributing poems in gumball machines), Walker Tracker (for pedometer enthusiasts!), and crazy treasure hunts.

With help from my fellow Powellsian Liz Vogan (also a big fan of the book), a few questions were constructed for this mad scientist/man of letters.

What are some other famous couches in literature?

Last month on Howard Junker's blog (Zyzzyva Speaks), he posted a few pictures of the McSweeney's office, including one entitled "Dave's Lair":

(Dave as in Eggers, I assume.) The first thing you notice is: Dave has a drinking problem! Look at those giant bottles! But from this picture one realizes there are probably a lot of very important couches behind the scenes in literature. And of course, there's no small amount of literature written about the psychiatrist's couch, or after the writer has visited the psychiatrist's couch, none of which has anything to do with my Quixotic object.

What's the most difficult piece of furniture you've had to move?

There is nothing harder to move than a big mattress or futon. We used to joke about "mattress attacks" — where a mattress mover breaks down into manic giggling over the impossibility of moving something so heavy and malleable and with no firm way to hold onto it. Might make a good sequel, come to think of it.


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