March 13, 2013

Women Publishers' Roundtable: Second Installment

I'm absolutely delighted to bring you the second installment of Delirious Hem's Women Publishers' Roundtable.  Seven small press editors have been sent interview questions about the contemporary publishing landscape. Here you'll find the latest interview question and the resulting conversation.  Enjoy!

Second Interview Question:  Once you decided to start a press, how did you find a specific editorial focus within contemporary women's writing?

Kristy Bowen (Editor, Dancing Girl Press):  It’s hard for me to pinpoint a specific focus since so much of what we publish is geared by my purely subjective likes and dislikes (which vary all over the place.) Genre-wise, we usually say we are looking for poetry, but I find myself very often drawn to more prose-oriented and hybrid work, as well as occasional image-based and vispo projects. Aesthetics-wise, we probably lean a bit more towards innovative/experimental/conceptual work, but I appreciate traditional lyric or narrative poems as well. Some of our pet passions are work that engages the visual arts in some way, as well as work that engages other texts, history, fairytales, other cultural reference points.

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S. Whitney Holmes (Editor, Switchback Books):  We haven’t found a specific editorial focus and that’s really part of what I love about Switchback Books. A lot of the books we publish are winners of the Gatewood Prize for a first or second book of poetry, so we work frequently with first-book authors and, while we read every manuscript for the contest, the final winning book is chosen by a prominent woman poet judge. So each of our books reflects a slightly different editorial perspective. The place where the diversity of our catalog really plays out is when we go to book fairs. Someone who’s unfamiliar with our press comes up to the table and we can just start talking about what they do, who they are, what they like to read, and before long, we can recommend a book from our table that we’re sure they’ll love. That’s part of how we get those books into people’s hands—by publishing a multiplicity of voices and aesthetics.

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Gina Abelkop (Editor, Birds of Lace Press):  Birds of Lace’s editorial focused isn’t quite fixed but is certainly recognizable, I hope. When reading submissions, it is just what makes my heart go harder when I’m reading it, what I hope will make the hearts of rangy but kind weirdos and sweethearts beat harder too. We don’t publish cis-dudes because we don’t. I am interested in printing the work of women and queers who are historically and infamously underrepresented in both the mainstream and the alternative/small press literature and art worlds, and the world in general. Especially those who are upstarts in their own ways ie feminist killjoys, dyke bitches, pissed off fags, shy brilliant darlings, secret geniuses, enthusiastic dressers, friendly sweet perverts.

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Lisa Marie Basile (Editor, Patasola Press):  Patasola Press doesn’t have a fixed editorial focus at all, and we never will. Our writers are all very different, but much of our work deals with what it means to who we are — as women, as Americans, as travelers, sexual beings, as lovers, as mythology. I wanted to publish women whose voices are so purely their own—and if they’re all different, even better. I publish voices that aren’t afraid, that aren’t apologetic, are urgent and bold and bloody, even if in a silent way. We also like to consider work by first-time authors, and that’s really important for us. We’re so tired of seeing the same names over and over. There are lots of people who don’t get the time they should be demanding because they don’t have publication credits, or whatever, and it’s important to really read their work too.

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T.A. Noonan (Editor, Sundress Publications): Do we have a specific editorial focus? I mean, I’ve noticed that we have a general preference for works with a strong narrative current, but I think that’s because our editors enjoy the stories that writers have to tell. That said, we don’t have a very strongly defined aesthetic. In terms of its books—full- and chapbook-length—Sundress is most invested in poetry, but our Flaming Giblet Press imprint works with prose, hybrid, and experimental texts, especially ones that are challenging because of their form, subject, etc. Our journals do their own thing. And then there’s the Best of the Net series, which showcases work from dozens of online journals. We end up representing a lot of different voices, aesthetics, and experiences because we have so many different projects, editors, judges, etc.

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Erin Elizabeth Smith (Editor, Sundress Publications): I'm with T.A. here.  I don't think I ever went into it with a specific focus in mind.  Our first book, Especially the Deer by Tyurina Allen, Julie Ruble, and Mary Beth Magin, was part of what we then called The Artemis Project, which published women 25 and under.  Looking back on the collection, there's definitely no hinge to the aesthetic between the work of the three women involved.  Similarly, the work in our more recent collections ranges from T.A. Noonan's experimental narrative in verse to Marcel Brouwers' ode to travel and wordplay.  Our forthcoming books deal with issues as various as fairy tale retellings, miscarriage, meditations on place, and bisexuality.
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Kristina Marie Darling (Editor, Noctuary Press):  Although Noctuary Press was initially conceived of as a press that specializes in cross-genre writing, I definitely agree with you all that diversity is important when making editorial decisions.  I mentioned earlier that Noctuary Press attempts to fill a gap in the existing publishing landscape, and to reprenset writing that takes place at the peripheries of existing genre categories, writing that might otherwise be excluded from public discourse.  One of the most important aspects of our editorial mission is to showcase the diversity inherent in contemporary cross-genre writing by women.  Although most of our books are written in hybrid genre prose, they engage with such diverse subjects as murder mysteries, coming of age stories, and algebra word problems.  For me, learning about the diversity of aesthetic approaches within contemporary women's cross-genre writing has been one of the most rewarding aspects of running a woman-centered press.   

Please check back for the third installment, which includes a discussion of the editors' own creative work!

March 11, 2013

Women Publishers' Roundtable

I'm thrilled to introduce the Women Publishers' Roundtable, a conversation with seven inspiring and innovative small press editors.  This feature will appear in several installments, each of which will include the editors' responses to a different interview question about the contemporary publishing landscape.  So without further ado...

The Roundtable Participants:

Gina Abelkop (Pisces) swims in the river and lives with a pug (also Pisces) named after Ava Gardner. Her first book of poems, DarlingBeastlettes, came out in 2012 from Apostrophe Books, and recent work can be found or is forthcoming in Gigantic Sequins, Radioactive Moat, and Ghost Proposal.  She edits Birds of Lace Press and blogs here.

Lisa Marie Basile received her MFA from The New School in Manhattan. She is the author of Andalucia (Brothel Books) and Triste (Dancing Girl Press). Her forthcoming chapbook, war/lock, will be released by Hyacinth Girl Press in 2014. Her work can be seen in PANK, kill author, La Fovea, John Hopkin's Doctor TJEckleburg Review and elimae, among other reviews. She is the founding editor of Patasola Press, and an assistant editor for Fifth WednesdayJournal. She's also managing member of the Poetry Society of New York, which produces the Annual NYC Poetry Festival.

A writer and visual artist, Kristy Bowen is the author of several book, chapbook, and zine projects, including the forthcoming beautiul, sinister (Maverick Duck Press, 2013) and girl show (Black Lawrence, 2013). She lives in Chicago where she runs dancinggirl press & studio, devoted to paper-oriented arts and publishing work by women writers/artists.

KristinaMarie Darling is the author of twelve books, which include Melancholia (An Essay) (RavennaPress, 2012), Petrarchan (BlazeVOX Books, 2013), and (with Carol Guess) X Marks the Dress: A Registry (Gold Wake Press, forthcoming in 2014).  She edits Noctuary Press.

S. Whitney Holmes is the Executive Director and Editor of Switchback Books, as well as an editor for The Offending Adam. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, Gulf Coast, Barrelhouse, and others. Her chapbook, Method of Loci, is available from dancing girl press. She lives in Chicago.

T.A. Noonan is the author of two full-length hybrid collections, The Bone Folders and Petticoat Government, as well as the chapbooks Dress the Stars, Darjeeling, and Balm. Her work has appeared in Ninth Letter, Verse Daily, RHINO, specs, Phoebe, Harpur Palate, and many others. She is the Associate Editor of Sundress Publications and oversees its Flaming Giblet Press imprint. Currently, she lives on Florida's Treasure Coast with her husband.

Erin Elizabeth Smith is the author of The Fear of Being Found (Three Candles Press 2008) and The Naming of Strays (Gold Wake Press 2011).  Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Mid-American, 32 Poems, Zone 3, Gargoyle, Tusculum Review, and Crab Orchard Review.  She teaches a bit of everything in the English Department at the University of Tennessee and serves as the managing editor of Sundress Publications, the Best of the Net Anthology, and Stirring.


First Interview Question:  What is your press's mission? When starting your press, why did that particular mission seem urgent to you?

Kristy Bowen: 
The dancing girl series was initially an offshoot of wicked alice, the online journal of women-centered writing I had started in 2001. Since my educational background , both at the grad and undergrad level, had very much been centered around writing by women and the literary establishment’s historical gender imbalance, it was sort of an obvious route, to create something that explored those traditions and interests. In the intervening years, it’s become even more obvious that the gender imbalance, no matter how far things have come, is alive and kicking here in the contemporary lit world just as much as ever. So I think the mission has become more actually more urgent as time goes on.

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S. Whitney Holmes:  SwitchbackBooks is a nonprofit feminist press publishing and promoting collections of poetry by women, including transsexual, transgender, genderqueer, and female-identified individuals. I must interject here that I did not start the press—Switchback Books was started by three ambitious and talented Founding Editors: Brandi Homan, Hanna Andrews, and Becca Klaver. That said, the urgency of our mission is in the numbers, as Kristy mentions. Women writers are consistently published and reviewed less frequently than men (sometimes only ¼ as often), and many major publishers’ catalogs only reflect 30% women writers. And this is despite the fact that we know most readers are women! That’s why it’s so important to me and to our Founding Editors that the mission says “publishing and promoting”—we aren’t really getting anywhere if we’re just “publishing.” We need to make sure that we’re providing as many readers as possible the opportunity to encounter the diverse voices our catalog has to offer. The most urgent part of our mission is getting these books into the hands of readers.

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Gina Abelkop:  Birdsof Lace began in 2005 when I was lucky enough be in Amy Mattison’s feminist poetry class in which I was getting to read really smart, weird, funny, brutal and beautiful poems several times a week. It felt urgent, to make that kind of work available to whoever on earth may be able to find their way to it, needing it or wanting it or just fantasizing that it existed. Participating in the printing of literature that played, in some way, in the realm of fantasy. Work that does funny things to the brain, makes it behave differently, sometimes in tiny insistent ways and sometimes like a flower-rotted mallet to the head. The mission has remained the same: to print work by women and queers that drags your guts merrily through the sea, gives you flowers/takes them away, is generally playful and sly, generative. Birds of Lace likes vile, un-funny and thoughtful humor.

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Lisa Marie Basile:  PatasolaPress began in early 2011 because I wanted to promote writing about identity. I knew female writers who deserved to be published, and I felt moved to take part in my small way. It had always been on my mind—I knew I wanted to promote women in the arts. When I saw VIDA’s Count, I wasn’t surprised, but I was saddened and angered. The urgency was also to create a place for writers to explore identity and location. I believe gender falls into these genres as well. We’re interested in publishing work that takes a deeper look at what it means to be who we are. We definitely want to publish emerging female poets as well. In traveling, I met so many women who were emerging poets and writers in the 2010-2011 years while starting my MFA at The New School, and when I met Rae Bryant, whose voice is, to me, feminist, unique and tremendously beautiful, I knew I wanted to start with publishing her book of short stories.

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Erin Elizabeth Smith:  When I founded the press in 2000, there weren't nearly as many journals/presses on the internet as there are today, and very few of them focused on women-centric writing.  What I wanted to do with Sundress was to create a space that wasn't specifically “by women, for women,” but rather a press that had what I considered a feminine aesthetic.  Poetry that wasn't obsessed with solely the clever, but rather a mix of head and heart.  It was early 2000, and the writing world was still having a little bit of a Language Poetry hangover, and I felt that much of the poetry that I was reading seemed more interested in a Lynchian motif of cool rather than writing that made you hurt or wonder or spark.  I wanted Sundress to do something like that. 

I think someone founds something literary (press, journal, anthology, etc etc), it's ultimately about creating a place that would publish their own stuff.  You don't edit an anthology of fairy tale poems if you don't have some Cinderella sonnets somewhere in your closet.  So maybe in some ways, I wanted a press like me. 

Now, we still want those same things, but we also revel in publishing first books, publishing books by authors you don't know yet, by poets who are disenfranchised in some way, whether that's social class, gender, age, education, region, etc.  Those books that book contests forgot.

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T.A. Noonan: I can’t speak to the early days of Sundress, but having been a part of the press (in one form or another) since 2006, I’ve seen the effort Sundress has made to publish and promote female writers. Like Kristy, Erin and I both found ourselves deeply invested in feminist and gender issues, writing by women, and the prioritization of male authors over female. The press, therefore, became a way for us to combat that imbalance. A lot of this work takes place in Stirring, the flagship journal of Sundress, and Kristy’s wicked alice. I think as we’ve gotten older (one hopes that means wiser and smarter, too) and technology has made it easier to publish more excellent work in print and online, we’ve had tremendous opportunity to do the work of righting the balance. Of course, that means a greater responsibility; the urgency is there because there are so few excuses.

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Kristina Marie Darling:  I started Noctuary Press in the fall of 2012, and was definitely inspired by some of the other presses that are represented at the Women Publishers' Roundtable.  I imagined Noctuary as keeping a record of, and bringing visibility to, women's writing that takes place at the periphery of existing genre categories.  So much of the time, writing that's not easily categorized as "poetry," "fiction," or "nonfiction" is excluded from public discourse, and more often than not, the writing that's excluded is women's writing.   I wanted to offer a tangible public space for innovative women to work across genre categories, but also to interrogate these notions of genre, and to explore the gender politics inherent in these genre categories.  For me, this mission seemed especially urgent because there are so many presses publishing cross-genre work, yet much of this work is merely rebellious, and doesn't engage with the notion of genre in a meaningful way.  With that in mind, I saw Noctuary Press as filling a gap within the existing small press landscape. 
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Please check back for the next installment, which will include prizes, vispo, and fairy tell retellings...