What’s Right & What’s Wrong #1: Reb Livingston

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(This is the first in an interview series: What’s Right and What’s Wrong with the Small Press World ?)

QUESTION ONE (Rauan Klassnik):  What’s right and what’s wrong with the small press world?

ANSWER ONE (Reb Livingston):   There’s a lot that’s right.  There’s thousands of gatekeepers and thousands of others sneaking in the side.  I like that.  I like that on an almost daily basis I stumble across a magazine, press or website I never heard of before.  Try as I might, I can’t keep up.  That’s good.  Nobody should be able to keep up.  I like that the traditional publishing tower is beginning to topple.  It’s time to start over.  Tear that shit down.  I’m waiting for someone to radically change how literature gets to readers.  Or what it means.  Or something I can’t even comprehend at this very moment.  Yes, it’s changed a lot already this past decade and changing right as I write this, but I’m talking about something few of us can imagine.  It’s going to come from an individual or a small group of people.  That’s the only prediction I feel comfortable making.  It’s not going to come from Amazon or Random House or Conde Nast (snort!) or a university (which these days are run more and more like wannabe corporations, despite some of the fabulous people they employ as teachers and staff).

I like that much of the indie publishing community supports one another.   I love how individuals freely share information on the how-tos of publishing, like Shanna Compton’s DIY Publishing Cooperative (currently on hiatus) or how Mathias Svalina started a blog-store, Press Press Press for indie publishers to announce their new titles.  Blog magazines like PANK, What to Wear During an Orange Alert and of course HTMLGIANT bring attention to all kinds of things going on in indie publishing.  There are indie publishers starting book review sites like Eileen Tabios’ Galatea Resurrects.  Countless individuals generously contributing to this gift economy.

That said, while the current indie scene certainly offers opportunities to many marginalized writers ignored by “mainstream” or “academic” outlets, it still manages to marginalize other writers, large, notable, important groups of writers.  Sometimes it seems like it’s just swapping one set with another.  I find it curious that the same characteristics we disdain in “big” publishing are often repeated in our own projects or in our own methods of support.  I’d like to see a broader and more in-depth consciousness in indie publishing overall, which is really saying I’d like more people to be more conscious and thoughtful, because it doesn’t operate by organizations or corporate machines, but by a mosaic of individuals, who, for the most part, have really wonderful intentions.

Speaking of intentions, one thing I don’t care for is those who enter the indie arena not because they want to participate in or create something unique and important, but as stepping stone to get their foot in the door somewhere “better.”  Of course people can do what they like and who the fuck am I to say they shouldn’t, but it strikes me as the wrong spirit, the wrong reason.  Notice in your question you wrote “small press” and responded with “indie.”  I don’t believe that one has to remain “small” or “unknown” to be independent.   If an indie press publishes a book that is wildly successful, they don’t become less independent in my eyes.  I’m not saying that writers who accept offers from “big” presses are sellouts or donkey-fuckers.  Rauan, I will attend all your fancy cocktail parties celebrating your Pulitzer in 2013 (after the apocalypse).  I like seeing indie writers reach large audiences and make money.  I like seeing indie publishers benefit.

My problem with the “stepping stone” mentality is that it lacks respect for independent literature or publishing.  It has nothing to do with artistic freedom or creativity.  That mentality approaches it as a “starter-home” that one hopes to quickly grow out and into something bigger or a first wife one trades up for the trophy with the giant knockers once one makes VP.  If you’re attracted to things like prestige and legitimacy, then get a job in the mailroom and fight it out with the other rats.  I knew a guy who started an online magazine.  While he was always proud of the finished product, he never really seemed into the day-to-day responsibilities, didn’t want to be bothered with it.  As his unpaid staff grew, I asked him why he kept with it, considering he always portrayed it as one big hassle.  He said his goal was to eventually be listed in the masthead as the “founding editor” and not have anything to do with what he considered mundane.  Or maybe he’d luck out and a university would someday take his magazine under its umbrella. This guy was in his early 30’s and already strategizing how to become emeritus (i.e. “withdrawing from active life” i.e. retiring i.e. becoming a statue that nobody pays much attention i.e. becoming the surface for birds to poop on).  That’s where his heart was–I found it all quite depressing.  All that misdirected energy.  What a miserable code to voluntarily live by.  I always hoped his heart would grow and he’d reconsider his purpose for being here.

See, I’m talking about individuals and there will always be individuals I take issue with and individuals who I absolutely love and admire.  That’s what’s both right and wrong with indie publishing.  THE FUCKING PEOPLE.

QUESTION TWO (Rauan Klassnik):  at awp 2009 (chicago) you said that men go to strip clubs so they can “take it up the ass.” do you still stand behind this statement? or?

ANSWER TWO (Reb Livingston): When I made that statement, I was enjoying myself, being silly.  It’s how I pass the time at AWP.  In fact, I doubt I would have remembered saying it the next day if you hadn’t made such a big deal about it.

It’s been my experience that when men go out of their way to disprove something I’ve said, or insist I’m “crazy,” it’s when I’m getting close to the truth.  So let it be known, Rauan, I’m on to you.

Reb Livingston is the author of GOD DAMSEL (www.goddamsel.com), YOUR TEN FAVORITE WORDS (www.yourtenfavoritewords.com) and co-editor of THE BEDSIDE GUIDE TO NO TELL MOTEL anthology series. She’s also the editor of No Tell Motel (www.notellmotel.org) and publisher of No Tell Books (www.notellbooks.org). She blogs at www.reblivingston.blogspot.com