Posts filed under ‘Small Press Spotlight’
For this Small Press Spotlight, we are featuring an interview with the three editors of Projective Industries, a small press that publishes beautifully designed, handmade letterpressed chapbooks. We would like to thank the editors for the interview and hope you will come visit our small press table, showcasing unique publications from Projective Industries as well as many other presses locally based in New York City.
Can you tell us a little bit about the history of Projective Industries? When did the press first get started?
Kate McIntyre: Stephanie, you founded it in 2008, right? I became part of it in 2011 because I wanted to learn more about bookmaking, and wanted to be more involved in the small-press poetry community. It was after that that we started letterpressing the covers. Stephanie and I took some classes in letterpress and other printmaking techniques (on the simpler end of the printmaking spectrum) at Spudnik Press Cooperative in Chicago—which is where I’m from, and where Stephanie lives now. I moved to New York a little over a year ago, so now we’re a sort of transcontinental press—last year, while Stephanie was living in Tokyo, we were international! And Karen joined this summer, which is so wonderful.
Stephanie Anderson: Yep, the poet Sam Amadon and I founded the press in the summer of 2008, as we were leaving New York. (I went to Chicago, Sam went to Houston.) I think it was partly founded from the desire to keep in touch with our literary community in New York, which was starting to disperse. But I was also in love with the handmade, with letterpress — I had taken the Center for Book Arts’ emerging writers letterpress seminar, and I was much inspired by Ryan Murphy, who showed me his tabletop Kelsey, on which he made his beautiful one-off chapbooks. Of course, I didn’t manage to acquire a letterpress until 2011 or so, when a brilliant stroke of luck (and the poet Adam Weg) brought me one.
How did you arrive at the name, “Projective Industries”? Does the work you publish reflect what Projective Industries means to you?
KM: Well, Stephanie came up with the name, so her answer is the originary one. But I can tell you my own associations with it. I like the idea that we are an industry; that one thing chapbook-making does is make labor visible. And I like that it’s plural; we’re not doing just one kind of thing, either aesthetically or materially. And, while “projective” recalls Olson’s “projective verse” for me, I like to think that we’re projecting a little farther than that. The work we publish tends to be quite experimental, and the idea that the press is itself about launching (projects or projectiles, take your pick) and about futurity, rather than stasis, is important to me.
SA: I love Kate’s associations, and agree with them. Sam is to be credited with the name itself, I think; he and I made several lists — one column of which was the generic words we could have in the name, like “Books” and “Press,” and I was rather smitten with “Industries” because it emphasized the making of the objects and potentially gave us the freedom to make or do or create things that weren’t books, per se. But the “Projective” was purely Sam, and he was thinking of Olson. I also like the “project” embedded in there — and we do tend to publish chapbooks that are projects, in one way or another. The industry of the poet AND that of the bookmakers.
Karen Lepri: I’ll simply add that for me, the newcomer, “projective” includes the flashing up against a white background, a cinematic element that depends on the reader to organically take the work in and see-feel-hear it. Also, industries–plural! I imagine this multiplicity of makings, of processes that begin in other texts, conceits, forests, fields, threads, needles and so forth.
Above: Obvious Metals
By Leora Fridman
1) Can you tell us a little more about how Apogee came to be?
Apogee was founded in 2010 by members of a student group for writers of color and international writers in Columbia’s Graduate Writing Program. The idea for Apogee sprang from the group’s mission, to create a space for underrepresented writers to gather and discuss issues of race, class, and sexuality in writing and in society. The founders of Apogee (Zinzi Clemmons, Melody Nixon, Aaron Shin, and Jenny Ohrstrom) believed that this mission would be best served by producing an annual publication featuring writers of color and marginalized perspectives–a space to honor quality work that is often disregarded in mainstream publications.
In the three years since Apogee’s founding, the organization has taken on a life of its own that is much bigger than the journal itself. While our efforts are still heavily focused on the production of the publication (we released Issue Three in print in May 2014, and will release Issue Four, an online-only issue, in fall 2014), we’ve expanded our activities to regular readings, co-sponsorships with other organizations, and an active blog. It’s all about community building–finding ways to celebrate diverse voices, while making room for the often difficult conversations about social justice and identity politics. We’re currently in the process of becoming a nonprofit, which will expand our capacity for projects and events for the public benefit.
2) I was so pleased when I saw that Chinelo Okparanta had contributed to this issue (her Happiness, Like Water was one of my favorite books from last fall). I also loved the poetry of Christopher Soto and James Ducat. Issue 3 covers a wide variety of narratives across visual and written media. How is it organized, and how do the pieces work together?
We were incredibly excited to feature Chinelo’s work as well. Our fiction editor, Scott Dievendorf, recognized Chinelo’s work as special not only for her amazing narrative voice, but for her layering of small details in rich and important ways. To take an example from the story we published, “Ife Adigo Market–1978,” she allows the girl’s names to represent not only their characters, but the life of the characters before the ndi ochas came, and how the characters have changed since their arrival. This nuanced use of language, while nice on a technical level, also cleverly captures something about identity, especially in a colonial context, as it collects multiple meanings into a single subject. The multiplicity of identification, in self-perception, social perception, interpersonal perception, cultural representation, and so forth, is one of Apogee‘s many interests.
When crafting an issue, we try to create balance in both content and form–bringing together diverse perspectives and subjects, along with diverse structures. Christopher Soto’s and James Ducat’s poems both break the mold in diction and structure, which is something our editors seek in poetry. Ducat invokes jazz (“when ze says it, ze means it/shoulders to the sea”); Soto invokes hip-hop (“i hope that heaven got a gay ghetto/where my qpoc family don’t feel shame”)–both bring their original voices. The prose, poetry, and art in Apogee speak to each other through a shared interest in challenging or interrogating the status quo, and through an urgency to name something: colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, one’s own identity.
3) The remembrance of José Esteban Muñoz, with the Rebecca Sumner Burgos piece and the reprinting an excerpt from Cruising Utopia, created a very powerful moment to end the issue. Could you tell us more on how it came to be a part of the issue?
Originally, our Nonfiction Editor, Cecca Ochoa, had been planning to solicit an essay from José Esteban Muñoz himself for Issue 3. Muñoz passed away in December of 2013, just as solicitations were getting underway. Like many people who followed his work, Cecca was devastated by the loss of such a brilliant voice. Muñoz worked above the boundaries of disciplines by crossing the studies of queerness, gender, culture, performance, and art in his writing, and in doing so, created a new language of ideas to navigate all of them. Apogee approached New York University Press about the possibility of reprinting a selection from Muñoz’s book, Cruising Utopia, and they generously agreed. (Cecca wrote about the selection, “A Body: Approaching Aviance” in a blog post here.) A friend of Apogee, R. Erica Doyle, knew Muñoz personally, and passed the word along that we were reprinting his work in Issue 3. Rebecca Sumner Burgos, a performance artist and close friend of Muñoz, offered to take on what must have been a very painful task, and write an essay to accompany the selection. The entire staff was stunned by the power and incredible beauty of her essay.
4) At least from Issue 2 to Issue 3, there was a major design change from magazine size to something more like other lit journals. Is this negotiated with each issue, or is this the form readers should come to expect? What else can we look forward to in future issues?
We had a different designer for each of the first two issues, but for Issue 3 we’ve brought on Ingrid Pangandoyan, a talented print and web designer, who has worked on giving us a unified aesthetic across all media. Ingrid will continue working with us on future issues. Rachel Eliza Griffiths’s photography (featured on the front and back covers, as well as in the color insert of the journal) also has a big effect on Issue 3’s design. Her bold use of color and composition gave us a really strong aesthetic. While we can’t say we’ll never change our format, we do desire to fit in somewhat with the format of other literary journals on newsstands. Also, the format of our first two issues was very expensive to produce. We didn’t sell them in bookstores, so cost wasn’t as much of a consideration. The new format is more cost effective, and thus more affordable for our readers to buy.
5) Where can people find out more about Apogee?
Our website has a dynamic blog where we engage with issues of identity politics and social justice, not just in literature and the arts, but in the wider society. Copies of Issue Three are also available for $10 on our website. We’re currently accepting submissions for Issue Four, an online only issue. You can learn more about our submission guidelines here: http://www.apogeejournal.org/submit/. We have a Facebook page, as well as a profile (which can be found by searching “Apogee Journal”). Facebook is where you’ll learn about all our great events, and is generally the best place to stay posted about Apogee-related news. And we live on Twitter @ApogeeJournal. We love new friends and followers!
Questions by Cody
Don’t miss Apogee Journal’s Open Mic event at Book Culture’s 112th Street location on Friday, October 17!
1) First of all, tell us a little bit about your name. What’s the connection with the fairy tale, and what’s the story behind that extra “e”?
A: A very fitting start, as our name is a source of constant explanation. The name arose when the original founders were in college, and it has a bit of the feeling of a band name that is chosen on a whim, and ends up dogging the group for years. If you wanted to look at it more seriously, the reference to the fairy tale could be seen as a statement of position in relation to the poetic canon and the publishing industry at large. It is our goal to never become that beautiful swan. A couple other things about the name: in recent years, some members of the collective have taken to favoring the nom de plume UDP over Ugly Duckling Presse; the abbreviation brings a pleasingly material and abstract flavor. Also, we make it a point to never call ourselves Ugly Duckling, it is always Ugly Duckling Presse. We are rather insistent on that fact.
As for the famed ‘e’ on the end of our name…the closest specific reference is Kafka- or K-Presse, a small German publishing house that a number of the founders were taken with. The ‘e’ denotes the fact that our range of activities/interests extends beyond just publishing and just poetry; it tells you that we care about criticism, performance, essays, and fiction; it tells you that we are interested in the event as a source of poetic activity beyond the page.
2) Ugly Duckling has been around in one form or another since 1993. Based on the history of the press available on your website, it seems like a remarkable success story–a xeroxed college zine spawns one of the most well-known independent presses in Brooklyn–and it all took place during a time when publishing as an industry was experiencing a much-publicized downturn. How do you account for the success of the project over the past two decades?
A: It’s rather inexplicable isn’t it? But it goes to show the power of dedication, and it speaks to the virtues of a loose-knit collective as an organizational principle. Seriously, our capacity for inefficiency becomes a virtue of longevity, as well as ulcers for our office managers. It all comes back to one premise: the love of the book and of collaboration. UDP grew out of that premise, and we continue to refine and repurpose our rules and guidelines to suit it. Everything must go back to the premise.
Also, the very smallness of poetry has allowed us to carry on. At this small size, it doesn’t take much to grow. Or, perhaps—speaking of fairy tales—you can think of UDP, and of poetry in general, as the tortoise. It is never going to move fast, is never going to sell those huge numbers, but it endures, it keeps pushing forward, borne on by the passion of its participants. That’s the thing: small numbers, big feelings.
3) It’s no surprise after reading about some of the publishing experiments that UDP has undertaken that the press began as a zine devoted to absurdist literature. Here are some phrases I pulled off your website: “an accordion book in a custom-made felt pajama top”; “from subversive postcard art to teabag-size magazines to zines printed on tree bark”; “‘LAPA’ by Daniil Kharms–UDP’s first paperless book–is performed during a snowstorm”; “a readable ice-cream sandwich.” To what extent is this type of innovation part of UDP’s raison d’etre, and has it become easier or more difficult to pull off these kinds of experiments as the organization has expanded?
A: This type of innovation is the zest in UDP’s drink. It is the rug that ties the room together. UDP believes firmly that the boundaries of the book can and must be tested by prodding them with this absurdity. That being said, our efforts have shifted over the years to a concentration on the type of material we publish, as opposed to big, crazy gestures like our Anti-Readings (ooh, we miss those so much). Now, this tendency is more likely to emerge in the decision to publish a piece that would have no chance at another publishing house. Or in our decision to take on big projects that stretch our capacities, such as the Emergency Index periodical, which is unwieldy, but wonderful, and, we think, a vital project. Or the Digital Proofs Program on our website.
UDP has always had a love affair with the event, and so this attitude to innovation manifests in our approach to readings and fundraisers. As regards the latter, our Ready Made Flea was almost more concerned with affording a unique, enjoyable experience for the community than it was with raking in the big dollars. But it ended up being so much fun! When it comes down to it, UDP will always choose absurdity.
4) Poetry in translation is a big part of UDP’s catalogue. Can you say a little bit about how the press goes about commissioning those translations, choosing which poets to publish, and how closely you work with the original poets?
A: Translation is one of the crucial planks in our platform, along with bringing out emerging voices and uncovering important lost works. A number of our editors are translators, so they bring personal experience and a deeper scholarly perspective to the decision making process. Our Eastern European Poets Series is a great example (it now has 34 titles). It was spearheaded by Matvei Yankelevich, who is the series editor. He works through his own interests, and his own knowledge of that milieu, to decide what will come out under that series, and if possible he works directly with the author, as in the case of Tomaz Salamun’s Poker, and On The Tracks of Wild Game. In a situation where the author is deceased, he works directly with the translators to determine the size and scope of the project. This is how Vsevolod Nekrasov’s I Live I See came into being. (Bela Shayevich and Ainsley Morse are two of the most wonderful writers/translators/performers in the world!)
UDP editors have a very wide latitude in determining the types of projects they engage, so every case is different. However, there is a consistent ratio of projects begun because an author/translator approached us with a proposal, and projects begun because an editor pursued an idea.
5) It seems like interns and volunteers are an integral part of Ugly Duckling Presse. How do you seek out interns, and what level of involvement do they have in your organization?
Interns. Are. Essential. We love our interns, and we couldn’t do this without them. Applications mainly come from university students in the US and abroad. Interns conduct many of the day-to-day operations of the presse, from social media to shipping; in these they have a large degree of freedom and responsibility. UDP is keenly aware of the potentially exploitative nature of internships—many collective members were former interns themselves—so we take care to make sure that the internship is a positive and meaningful experience. Funnily enough, this often comes in the form of giving interns more responsibilities: drafting press releases, reading submissions, typesetting, proofing. This is the work that the type of person who wants to intern at UDP is interested in doing, and so our goal is to make sure that there is real learning happening. And it goes both ways, being open to interns having a voice means that we hear new perspectives. Trying to cut down on the hierarchy (all editorial work at UDP is unpaid), and focusing on creating an atmosphere where everyone is working together to achieve the common goal of making the books happen.
6) Say a little bit about the economics of UDP. How do you keep the business viable? You have 501(c)(3) tax-exempt (nonprofit) status. What exactly does that mean, for anyone who might not know, and how important has it been for the press?
A: If you abandon the idea of big profits, your organization can live for years. Anyone interested in pursuing a small-press poetry venture would do well to mull that advice. It’s about subsistence, focusing on recouping expenses, and being dogged in tracking them down.
It’s not possible to talk about the economics of UDP without saying that we can only afford to do it because the labor is volunteer-based; the editorial work and day-to-day tasks are spread among the group, which make it a part-time labor of love rather than a job. In some ways, this is problematic and we’re not quite sure how sustainable it is. But there’s no way to explain our functioning without making this clear.
Nonprofit status relieves us of the burden of having to pay taxes on the merchandise that we sell. It is also an important organizational status that grants us validity in the eyes of the state. It allows UDP to exist in a word. There’s a stack of paperwork in our files as thick as the bible that is necessary to document and confirm this status.
UDP draws revenue from four main different sources: Our direct sales (sales through our website), sales to bookstores (through distributors like SPD and to partner bookstores like Book Culture (Thanks Book Culture!)), subscriptions (around 80-100 per year + 5-10 libraries), and grants. (Our largest supporters are the NEA, NYSCA and the DCA. They have supported us consistently for years and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.) Grants make up between 35-50 percent of our operating budget in any given year, and those grants are only available because of our nonprofit status. So without it, we wouldn’t be here talking.
Nonprofit status also helps us innumerably throughout the year, by cutting down on things like office and events expenses; it is also an important ideological marker, which conveys a double message: 1) that we are basically wards of the state, meaning that we are not a business, and that our concerns are allowed to be other than profit-pursuit, and 2) that we are hard-nosed realists, who understand the mechanics by which an impractical venture such as ours can circumnavigate the vagaries of the market, i.e. we do what we have to do to get by.
UDP is a volunteer editorial collective, and as such has no one unified voice or set of opinions, even about itself. The answers to these questions came from editor Michael Newton, and they are his opinions about the Presse.
50% off some great Ugly Duckling Presse titles at the 112th street store!
1) What would you say is the mission of the Cahiers Series in general?
I think this is quite well described on the dust-jackets of the cahiers themselves where we say: “The ambition of the series to to make available new explorations in writing, in translating, and in the areas linking these two activities.”
To that I could add that our ambition is to publish texts which other publishers could not satisfactorily put out, because the relation of words to image is too intimate and complex (as in cahier no.14 with László Krasznahorkai and Max Neumann), or because the text refuses to fit comfortably into a single genre (as in cahier no. 9 with Simon Leys or cahier no. 21 with Anne Carson).
2)How long have the Cahiers been around? Could you say a little bit about the history of the imprint?
At our institution, the American University of Paris, we host a remarkable number of interesting guests and events. I came to realize after some years at the university that little trace remains of these events after they’re over. When it was proposed by our university president to start a Center for Writers & Translators, I thought it would be good to generate a publication that celebrates the many interesting people who pass through, and to commemorate the events we organize. This was at the origin, but very quickly the project became more ambitious, mostly because at that time – in 2007 – I met Ornan Rotem of Sylph Editions. It was he who gave a shape to the idea of a publication, and from the outset, with Cahier 1 by Richard Pevear, gave it a very distinguished and distinguishable layout and design. Since then we have collaborated in order to ensure that each cahier fits in with and at the same time expands the series.
3) For me one of the most impressive things about the series is simply the content. You’ve got writers like Anne Carson and László Krasznahorkai working together with artists like Max Neumann and Thomas Neubolt. You’ve even published the work of Nobel Prize laureates like Elfriede Jelinek. In one sense it seems like only a smaller press would take the initiative to make collaborations like this happen, but in another it seems like a miracle that a small imprint like yours has the resources to reach out to artists of such quality and diversity. Can you say a little bit about how you’re able to bring these artists together?
The answer is to be found, I think, in the first part of your question. It is precisely because we are a small operation, because we delegate no tasks at all, that we are able to speak to the writers and artists that matter to us.
One of the gambits of Ornan Rotem, from the outset, was to do precisely what big corporate publishers cannot or choose not to do: make every cahier something worth owning, something that cannot be substituted by any technological device or support. Another was to make sure that we work with artists and writers (and translators) whom we admire and trust. Daniel Medin and I have a large circle of acquaintances, and we always find a way to get in touch with artists and writers who interest us. Most cahiers take a year or two to develop, since of course, this not being principally a commercial venture, we cannot expect our contributors to drop everything just to work for us. However great the celebrity or notoriety of a writer, s/he is approachable if one goes about it in the right way. For me, the right way means as directly and simply as possible.
What ensues, if there is interest, is a complex and often quite lengthy dialogue, as we see which artist might link well to which writer; and that is before we really get on to the editing side, which – because of the exigencies of the brevity that the cahier-form imposes – can be rather arduous and exacting. Then there is the designing proper, after which further discussions, and so on. What one needs for this sort of venture is above all: several sets of good eyes, a lot of editorial experience, and a good sense of what it means to collaborate.
Now that the series has been going so long and is achieving so much recognition, certain aspects are of course simpler, since it could be said to have “proved itself”. However, when faced with a very long text that wants to become a cahier, the essential editorial challenges remain those they were at the outset…
4) What about the design of the series? What made you choose the chapbook format, and how do you go about deciding how to incorporate the art with the text?
The choice of format and design is the doing of Ornan Rotem of Sylph Editions. He has explained something of his design philosophy in various articles that are available, and I would not dare to summarise it here. But you can derive its elements from any of the cahiers: clarity, consistency, design governed not by flashiness or gimmicks but by respect for the text; consideration given to every aspect of the finished work, from the colours, to the typeface, to the dust-jacket, to the choice of paper and ink, to the printing method, right down to the scent the cahiers give off when they come out of their boxes.
Ornan is someone who does not like to repeat himself, and for whom design becomes interesting precisely at the point where most publishers’ designers give up: which is to say where it becomes difficult, where a new solution has to be found. An example would be, again, no.14 with Max Neumann’s terrifying Animalinside. For that cahier Ornan had to devise a whole new printing method to face the challenge of the intense black that Neumann uses.
As for how the images get paired up with the texts, that can come about in various ways, though the principle governing the choices doesn’t really vary: not to illustrate the text but rather to provide it with a parallel “text” against which it can shine the more brightly. Occasionally, an author comes with an idea in mind. More commonly Ornan proposes an artist or I do, or Daniel does, and then we see where that idea takes us…
5) As succinctly as you can, could you walk us through the process of putting out an edition of the Cahiers Series, or is each project different?
- At least one year before a cahier needs to appear, contact an author and see if s/he might be interested in collaborating in the series.
- Invite the author to submit texts that might possibly work in cahier form.
- Choose one or several texts and try to edit them into a shape – with the author’s help – that can fit the series.
- While doing this try to find an artist whose work might complement the texts; contact the artist and see if this might interest him/her; gather possible images.
- Begin, with Ornan Rotem and Num Stibbe of Sylph Editions, to put together the cahier in its text and image.
- Go through about 20 proof versions, trying to get it all right, appealing at this point too to our trusted band of readers who help us.
- Write the jacket and belly-band material.
- Print the cahier – this is all done by Sylph Editions at Principal Colour in Kent, England.
- Daniel Medin ensures the publicity is already working for the cahier.
- Ensure distribution of the cahiers through our distributor, Chicago University Press.
- When possible, host the author for a launch party at the American University of Paris, and on occasion organize an exhibition for the artist at our university gallery.
- Send out complimentary copies to readers and reviewers, follow up on reviews, give the cahier as full a life as possible.
- Deal with foreign publishers who would like to publish foreign editions of the cahiers.
I may well have left out a few stages, since much of this has become a bit automatic by now. But what I should stress is that it all has to be done in a way that is both personal and personable. By far the most important thing to me is that author and artist be pleased both with the process and with the result. It is because this has – to the best of my knowledge – always been the case, in all the 23 cahiers published to date, that there is so much good will towards the series. And it is because we bring satisfaction that authors and artists are happy to go on helping us.
6) On the one hand we’re always reading about the death of print, yet on the other I think small presses are having something of a moment. Certainly some of the most interesting work being put out right now is produced outside the bounds of the larger publishing houses. Can you reflect on the challenges of remaining economically viable as a small imprint in what would seem to be a tough time for publishers?
We have been fortunate from the outset to have the backing of the American University of Paris. The sums involved are not enormous, far from it, but the consistency of support is absolutely vital, especially when working on a project like the cahiers where the lead-time between having an idea and seeing the cahier completed can be two or three years or more. But even with institutional backing one gets nowhere unless one has an original idea to which one feels a real commitment.
I really do believe that there can be more to publishing than the highly standardized forms that one sees in the shops. I was fortunate in that at just the right moment I met Ornan Rotem who was able to find a form for that belief, and for his own foresight that it was crucial to make objects that have an intrinsic value as objects, even before a reader gets going on their textual contents.
The real challenge, then, is one not least of time and commitment. Doing what we do is immensely time-consuming, and the cahiers could be compared to icebergs, where only a tiny fraction is visible of the work that goes into them. If this is true of any book, it is particularly true of the cahiers where the range of expertise required to make them as good as they are is really very broad. To put it very crudely, one has to love what one is doing, at every step of the way; one needs a little luck; and in the end one has to hope that the public is ready to appreciate something that – ideally – does not too closely resemble anything they have had in their hands before…
Dan Gunn, Paris, March 2014