Talking with Sarah McCarry about The Guillotine Project
Tell me about the Guillotine Project.
Guillotine is an ongoing series of handbound chapbooks with letterpress-printed covers, and each chapbook is a single essay. I’ve been making zines for years, and had wanted to take the leap and publish other people’s work for a while, but wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to be doing. And then last year I sort of stumbled into the opportunity to publish the full version of Vanessa Veselka and Lidia Yuknavitch’s conversation about violence at the Believer blog, which I had loved and found completely brilliant, as well as my friend Bojan Louis’s talk about genocide and book-banning in Arizona.
I love how beautifully constructed these chapbooks are. Could you say a little about the design of the books themselves?
That’s a dangerous question–I could talk to you about printing for the rest of the week! The covers are printed from both handset type and plates; if you’re not familiar with letterpress, printing from plates means that the cover is designed by computer, and then the file is made into a plate, and printing from handset type means I am assembling pieces of metal or wood with individual letters on them. All of the digital aspects of the design are collaborations with my friend Bryan Reedy (http://bryanreedy.org), and all the letterpress is me. I work from plates sometimes for convenience, but I love working with handset type best, because your design has to happen within a set of extremely literal constraints: like, am I going to run out of letters in the font I want to use, will everything fit in the press bed. And I find the obsessiveness of the whole process very appealing. There are plenty of wonderful places online for radical work and I’m not anti-digital at all, but I personally am very attached to the book as an object, and the idea of making the object as beautiful as the work inside it.
Another thing I love about this project is its focus on “revolutionary nonfiction.” What does that term mean to you? Or, perhaps, what does it look like, sound like, or feel like to you?
To me it means work that feels necessary or challenging, that is demanding the world be remade in a better way. I’m really interested in people who use the lens of the personal to tell a larger story, and I’m very invested in supporting work that’s explicitly queer, feminist, anti-racist, anti-colonial. Punks and weirdos, setting shit on fire and rioting in the streets, all that good stuff.
Judging by your Recommended Reading list, I feel like I share many literary interests with you: Dodie Bellamy, Sylvia Plath, Clarice Lispector, Kate Zambreno, etc. Presuming these interests inform, at least in part, your decision making process when selecting works to publish, how would you describe your aesthetic?
Well, I am having a bit of a New Narrative moment in my reading life, as is probably obvious from that list. In general I’m always very drawn to writing that is risky and personal. But, I mean, I love Raymond Chandler, too, and I read a lot of mystery novels and science fiction and memoir and very gleefully trashy gothic things. I like plot, I know that is a shameful thing to admit in public. Basically I am all over the place, in terms of the things that I read–the only thing that is absolutely not interesting to me is, like, The Marriage of Two Middle-Class White People Is Dissolving, How Sad. My focus with Guillotine is narrower, and very explicitly comes from a desire to promote and support the work of people whose writing or histories or lives have been marginalized. Work that is uncomfortable or challenging or angry, or all of those things. Which is obviously a kind of writing that is important to me, too.
Sarah McCarry blogs at The Rejectionist, and this summer St. Martin’s Press will release her novel All Our Pretty Songs. Head over to The Guillotine page to order Special Editions of these works of revolutionary nonfiction!!!