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A lead up

Tomorrow morning, early, I’ll get on a plane to go to New York. Whereas I grew up in a city, I’ve been in small town Midwest for the past five years or so, and the whole concept of New York is overwhelming. It’s a city. I mean a real city, with arts & food, etc. To add to any pre-existing anxiety, I’m supposed to go hobnob with “big” people. As it is, I can barely stumble out a few words to someone like Ben Marcus, who’s a nice as heck guy.

But that’s not my point. At the PEN “celebration,” which is titled “Crossing Over” this year, I’m slated to participate in a panel discussion with my co-winners Uwem Akpan (Oprah’s new book pick) & Juan Felipe Herrara (who’s won a NBCC poetry prize), NBCC president Jane Ciabettari, & Norton editor Brendan Curry about “crossing over” in genre & how this leads to critical & commercial success. Little, Brown published Uwem’s book, and Juan is published by university presses. I’m obviously small press. Many of the proposed discussion deals with our experiences working in these different types of presses. Jane has one question in particular about the role of small presses. Yes, I’m in the world of small press, & yes, my books are all small press & I serve as editor for two small presses, but what is the ROLE of small press? I’m proud to represent small press, don’t get me wrong, especially for an event that is bound to generate publicity, but I have to admit, I’m nothing but nerves about this. So give me some advice, Big Other. What role do YOU think small press plays? Of course, I have my own conception (both ethical & aesthetic) of the role of small press, sure sure, but I’d like to open a dialogue about this! Tell me your thoughts!

& if you’re free, please come support me & small press! The event is tomorrow at 7pm at Housing Works.

12 thoughts on “A lead up

  1. Late, probably ten, depending on Amtrak and with Amtrak it’s usually late. When are you there till? I’m reading with Barry Graham on Sunday night. Sunday?

  2. Some quick thoughts:
    Some people might define what the small press is by comparing it to what the corporate presses are doing and, since the bottom line of the corporate press is money, would therefore concentrate primarily on differences in distribution, marketing, and publicity strategies, and contracts, copyrights, and all that. And while I think all that is interesting and useful, I’m much more concerned with aesthetics, philosophies, and content, so the easiest way of answering this question for me is to take a look at my favorite small presses and looking at what they do. Forward-thinking presses out there, like McSweeney’s, Featherproof, Les Figues, Coffee House, Starcherone, Publishing Genius, Two Dollar Radio, Dalkey Archive Press, FC2, and The Melville House Art of the Novella Series, share trends like idiosyncratic design, iconoclastic, language-driven voices; they expand and challenge forms and protocols; mediate imbalances in publishing, providing exposure to more women, people of color, and writers from the LGBT community; and promote under-promoted forms like poetry and short fiction like novellas and story collections particularly flash. Speaking of shorter forms, Essay Press publishes single essays, works too long for journals, too short for major presses. It’s an approach that other presses take. Sometimes small presses serve archival purposes like Dalkey. They often act like curators, putting together distinct works whose form and content play off each other.

  3. Hey Lily, Bring a coat! Chilly here. It should be a terrific evening, and I know you’ll bring a lot to the table. FYI I spent the summer on a five acre organic farm in Sonoma County, CA, and just returned yesterday from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, in the rural Blue Ridge Mountains, so NYC seems pretty “big city” to me right now, as well. See you tomorrow!

    ps if you need it, details of the event on the NBCC board blog, Critical Mass…

  4. I think they serve two important functions. The first is as John says above: give voice to underrepresented and/or avant aesthetics or contents. Essentially, small presses serve small interest groups.

    But secondly, and I think of equal importance, small presses serve as centers for community building. They act as outposts in grass-roots movements of literature that’s seeking audiences, growing readership, entering dialogue, establishing trend, and discovering identity. This does not mean that it’s a necessary stop on the way toward big press publication. But it can be an essential germinal stage for the production of new form, new voice, new text–above all, new community (as created by reader, author, publisher, editor, etc etc etc).

  5. Jane: thanks for the advice! I’ll definitely bring a coat & I’m so very very excited about this!

    John: Yes! I agree.

    Shya: I like your emphasis on community. Whereas I am often critical about the closed circuit of small press (we read, write, review, etc. each other, often in sometimes problematic ways), I love the community that is built, at sites like these & htmlg.

    Thanks, all!

  6. Small Presses worship the word, first. Larger presses worship elsewhere, and then might/might not get to the word. The word is the word.


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