Derek White is the publisher of Calamari Press
, a small press that he started in 2003, initially launching with several collaborations of his poems and experiments combined with some of his favorite artists. In 2004, the first issue of Sleepingfish
, an ambitious but more accessible literary journal, was published. More recently, Calamari has released beautiful and enticingly mysterious books by underappreciated writers like John Olson
, James Wagner
, and Peter Markus
. These books are lovingly designed by White, incorporating his love of language and surrealistic collage style.
Before book publishing and writing, White earned degrees in Philosophy and Physics, worked for Napster, and wrote restaurant reviews. His newest book, Poste Restante, offers a fresh take on the flash fiction genre, with stories often reading like strange folk tales or half-remembered dreams.
Your press has put out a group of books unlike any press that I can think of. Was it your goal to forge such a unique identity for your releases?
It definitely wasn't a premeditated goal. I guess I am just trying to fill a niche of stuff that I like or want to see in print and wasn't finding elsewhere. It also came out of the frustration of getting my own work published, finding other publishers that for whatever reason were reluctant to take on works heavy with graphics or experimental formatting, or works that fell outside of the realm of conventional fiction or poetry or were too experimental.
And how does your literary journal, Sleepingfish, fit into all that?
Sleepingfish actually came first. Calamari Press was an extension of that ? publishing longer works from authors and artists that I had discovered through Sleepingfish.
Your own books range from sprawling concrete poetry to your recent book, Poste Restante, a book of fiction and art. Many of the stories seem to have a worldly feel to them as if they were written in other countries. But you note when and where each was written and all were created in America. It gave me an odd sense of disorientation.
No apologies here! I think disorientation is good. The stories from Poste Restante were all seeded directly from dream journals. The listed location is where I had the dream, but the location inside the story is an entirely different matter ? some are places I have been, others are fictitious or they are those strange juxtaposition of places and people that occur in dreams.
When you worked for Napster, it sounded like you were a pretty big part of it. What do you think about the current state of downloading and digital culture?
Well, I started working for Napster when it became the legal Napster, which shared nothing in common with the original Napster besides the brand. And it was just a paycheck for me. I had no stake in it. I am stuck somewhere in the middle of respecting the rights of artists on one hand and thinking all art should be free on the other. I myself like buying music, but I have also witnessed enough of the hypocrisy and greed of big media companies to understand why people would "steal" it. There has to be some middle ground, and it seems like something like Myspace is a viable alternative, being a great promotional tool directly for small bands (why that hasn't caught on with small presses and authors is a whole 'nother question). Most of last year I worked for Comedy Central, so from the experience of working for a content provider (with damn good content at that) it was sad to see so many people going straight to Youtube to watch Daily Show clips (even though they were available, and often taken directly from the comedy central website), but that was the fault of Comedy Central for not making the clips more accessible. A lot could be said about this subject, and a lot has. I only wish that the publishing world had such problems! If there was that much demand for books, even if people were stealing them, I would think that would be fantastic. True artists should not be so concerned with whether they are making money off their art but should rather just be grateful that their art is appreciated or that there is an interest in it. Plenty of good music, films, books, etc. have been made on little or no budget.
Were you at all discouraged, coming from this digital, sort of futuristic kind of work to publishing books? It seems like ebooks and web publishing would be more your speed as opposed to the dusty culture of book making.
I was attracted to books and writing long before I got involved in all of this digital nonsense. I've always been attracted to physical products or objects, whether it's books or records. Not that I hold on to these things, I don't really collect either. I have no desire to make ebooks. To me there has to be a physical product, a book object. An online literary magazine on the other hand, in many ways makes more practical sense (doesn't waste paper, cheaper to produce, can post color art, video, sound, you get instant and vast exposure, etc.) and I've oscillated with that with Sleepingfish, but I am just too obsessed with non-transient book objects. Things that are printed, set in stone so to speak. Call me old-fashioned, and maybe it's from working in and around digital products.
Do you still write restaurant reviews too? What are your favorite places to eat in New York these days?
I haven't written any restaurant reviews in a while. Too hard to make a living off that kind of work. Favorite places in NYC? You can write a book on that! NYC is definitely a great place for foodies, unless you like Mexican (my favorite genre), of which there is none, besides maybe Lupes East LA Kitchen. My favorite sushi (a close second to Mexican for me) place for many years used to be Hasaki, though lately Takahachi has surpassed it maybe because it's just down the street from me now and half the price. When it comes to NY pizza (which I admit I think is a bit overrated), it's a toss up between John's and Lombardi's. Grimaldi's in Brooklyn is good, but at this point a Disney attraction. I could go on really. If you our anyone reading this is visiting nyc and want some specific recommendations, look me up.
If you could make a super writer baby out of two writers' DNA, which writers would you choose?
Damn, good questions. Does it have to be writers? I would think a super writer might be spawned from non-writer parents, like say Thom Yorke and Madame Curie, or Fela Kuti and Diane Arbus. But then again, having such expectations and opportunities already imposed on you just by birthright would probably be debilitating. Bjork and Matthew Barney might be one such pairing, but if they had a kid in reality he or she would likely be a pothead deadbeat or a college republican. Good writers or artists are typically born from rebellion or mutation or contradiction, or are in your words, beautiful blemishes. I don't think it has much to do with genetics. It's interesting though to speculate what kind of progeny would be spawned by Gary Lutz and Diane Williams...