Monthly Archives: March 2016

“I Crave The Impossible”: Honoring the Life and Work of Jim Harrison

jim harrisonIf you think of the late, great Jim Harrison and the first thing that pops into your head is a grizzled old woodsman, you’re not wrong. Before he passed away on March 26, Harrison was the kind of man whoquite literallygreeted guests with a sign saying “DO NOT ENTER THIS DRIVEWAY UNLESS YOU HAVE CALLED FIRST. THIS MEANS YOU.” He was the grandfather of poetry who was always ready to help you chase his stoic advice with a flask full of vodka. It seems only appropriate that his writing contains the same brash enthusiasm, the same stubborn insistence of living life exactly as he intended to. In his lifetime, Harrison published a staggering 33 works of fiction and poetry, from short stories to a children’s book. His writing draws from the other hats he wore: fisherman, outdoorsman, and food critic.

Though it was Harrison’s fiction that garnered him the most fame, he identified first and foremost as a poet. His first poetry collection led to a teaching position at SUNY Stony Brook. It’s difficult to imagine the rough-edged Harrison in a button-up, teaching to a flourescent-lit classroom, and Harrison politely resigned after a year.

After leaving his teaching position, Harrison hopped around the country almost as frequently as he wrote books of poetry. He hopped around publishers, too, until he landed at Copper Canyon Press in the late 1990s. The 1998 publication of The Shape of The Journey, a book of new and compiled poems from his previous works, was the beginning of a relationship between publisher and poet that would last the rest of Harrison’s life. With Copper Canyon, Harrison published eight more poetry collections: Braided Creek, Darkness Sticks to Everything, In Search of Small Gods, Songs of Unreason, Saving Daylight, Letters to Yesenin, and Dead Man’s Float.

Restless, Harrison spent his time oscillating between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan, chasing the warm weather and the wildlife that was drawn out with it. Like Thoreau, who Harrison is often compared to, Harrison’s writing draws deadmansfloatfrom the natural world that he so adored. He saw a bear feeding on a migrating moth and wrote of god. He ate a too-green apple and wrote, in his last book Dead Man’s Float, “Nature gets bruised, injured, murdered in bed.”

In Dead Man’s Float, Harrison mused on nature, on the fleetingness of time and the unreliability of his own memories of youth. He wrote with unflinching honesty of his own ailments of aging such as shingles and gout. His poetry is lustful and gritty and honest.

Wherever you are, Jim Harrison, we thank you for your work, for your pain, for your endlessly beautiful art.

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Not a Dirty Word: What We Can All Learn From The Feminist Press

fp-logoIn 1970, activist and professor Florence Howe founded The Feminist Press in the dim light of her living room, with a singular goal in mind: the press would produce textbooks and volumes of critical theory for the brand-new field of women’s and gender studies. In addition to new works, Howe wanted to fuel the second-wave feminist movement by reprinting out-of-print feminist classics, from Zora Neale Hurston to Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Now, the press is its own feminist icon, and this week the American Bookseller’s Association highlighted them in a Small Press Profile.

The Feminist Press’s commitment to social justice on all fronts, not just the literary, is backed by its powerful history of executive directors, including Gloria Jacobs, the former editor of Ms. magazine. Jennifer Baumgardner, the current publisher, is determined to maintain the revolutionary momentum towards equality that The Feminist Press is known for.

“We are really alert to the voices that may be so marginalized that a mainstream press either wouldn’t know to value them or know how to handle them,” Baumgardner told the American Bookseller’s Association. “And then, secondarily, we’re a nonprofit publisher with an educational mission, so we try to build social justice programs and platforms around the books that lend themselves to it — which is a lot of them — to essentially shift the culture.”

What does that look like in practice? One example is a project called “The Corrective Canon,” in which authors from marginalized and intersecting identities take on literary classics by dead white men and reclaim them for a new, contemporary canon. The first volume of this project was published this spring. Sarah Schulman’s The Cosmopolitans is a queer retelling of Balzac’s Cousin Bette. The Cosmopolitans has been in bookstores for barely over a week, but the novel is alreadyreceiving explosive attention from the media. It’s been praised by the Slate blog Outward, Ms. magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and dozens more. The April/May 2016 issue of Bookforum gushed that Schulman’s novel is “an extraordinarily radical and risky experiment that seizes on what you thought you knew about the period . . . only to chop it up and reassemble it in jarringly unexpected shapes.”

The Feminist Press also believes in activism for all ages. Thedeath is stupidir children’s book series, “Ordinary Terrible Things,” intends to give children an age-appropriate lens through which to comprehend things like abuse, death, and divorce. The second book in the series, Death Is Stupid, discusses mortality with kids in a way that leaves out unnecessary sugar-coating and condescension.

Going forward, Baumgardner says we can look forward to more of the same – which, in this case, means more consistent metamorphosis.

“We need to keep lifting up some of the most important feminist voices writing today, rather than just the people you are used to hearing from,” Baumgartner says.

Keep pushing, Feminist Press – we’ll be here to devour every word!

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Chart-Topper: Why You Should Be Paying Attention to Tyrant Books

tyrantTimeOut New York bills itself as the “Ultimate Guide to New York,” with lists upon lists of restaurants, museums, theatres, and every other kind of destination imaginable. What collection would be complete without a list of indie publishers, who embody the same spirit of innovation and grit that New York is known for?

Two Consortium publishers made the list of New York City must-sees: Akashic Books and Tyrant Books. (Check out our blog post on Akashic Books, Carrie Fisher, and the brilliance of editor Ibrahim Ahmad here.)

“Like most tiny publishers,” the TimeOut article says, “the scrappy, decade-old Tyrant Books is a reflection of the tastes of one person.”

In this case, that person is Giancarlo DiTrapano, who takes pride in championing “bold and idiosyncratic voices.”

In 2009, DiTrapando began the publishing company in the footsteps of his literary magazine, the New York Tyrant. The Tyrant, Giancarlo says in an interview with DazedDigital.com, was “like putting together a mixtape.” Tyrant Books is the Grammy-award-winning album. From year to year, Tyrant produces contributions to the literary world that earn its spot on independent press round-ups all over the internet, from a Flavorwire list in 2013 to Culture Vulture’s list of “10 Small Presses to Check Out in 2016.” “Giancarlo DiTrapano,” the Culture Vulture round-up, in which Tyrant Books was featured as #1, said, “has proven that indie houses can still publish some of the best things arounpreparationd.”

The critics agree. 2014’s Preparation for the Next Life won the 2015 PEN/Faulkner award for fiction. The L.A. Review of Books gushed about Hill William. Us was the star of Oprah’s Summer 2011 reading list. DiTrapano’s commitment to publishing books with jaw-dropping prose, books that challenge, books that astound, pans out year after year.

So what’s next for Tyrant Books? DiTrapano says, “2016 for Tyrant is going to make Tyrant’s 2015 look like Tyrant’s 2004, when it didn’t even exist.”

We can’t wait to see what this looks like.

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What is Obscenity? The Story of A Good For Nothing Artist and Her Publisher

KoyamaPressIn their “In Print” section, Rookie Mag (a webzine made by and for teenagers) likes to feature their favorite books, collections, chapbooks, and more. On March 11, blogger Rachel Davies went one step further, and highlighted not just one title but the entire collection of Koyama Press. Davies says she was astounded by “the originality found in the press and the variety of work published—something that I don’t think would be possible with bigger publishers. Koyama Press seems to be founded on a need to foster creativity, whether the authors are newcomers or thoroughly experienced.”

Creativity and originality: that’s certainly the motto of Koyama Press, or, as they put it, “We at Koyama Press are proud of our inability to be easily pinned down.”

Want proof? The first title of Koyama’s 2016 season is What is Obscenityobscenity: The Story of a Good For Nothing Artist and Her Pussy, which publishes May 10. It tells the story of Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi, also known as Rokudenashiko, who was arrested in 2014 in Japan on charges of distributing obscene materials. Rokudenashiko, which roughly translates to “Good For Nothing Woman,” started making dioramas on top of 3D molds of her vagina in the late 2000’s as a joke. Rokudenashiko soon realized that she was one of the only ones laughing: many people took offense to her lighthearted depiction of genitalia. She responded by upping the ante.

Vagina cartoons, plastic models, stuffed toys named Mancho-Chan and Miss Pussy, a full-sized costume—all lead to her magnum opus, which in turn lead to her arrest:  a two-meter long kayak to be 3D-printed from a scan of her labia. As you might expect, vagina-shaped kayaks are expensive, so Rokudenashiko decided to crowd-fund her project. She raised enough money to make her boat (and paddle it around!), but the buzz surrounding it landed her with obscenity charges, a trial in Japan that is still dragging on, and a fine of up to $20,000. Not one to be scared off, Rokudenashiko will be touring North America this year to promote her book and continue producing revolutionary art.

What is Obscenity is the type of title you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else except Koyama Press:one part art book, one part biography, and one part feminist manifesto. We can’t wait for it to be released!

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Publishing Unbound: The Fearless Audacity of Feral House

feral houseAre you looking for boundary-pushing literature to simultaneously shock and delight you? Feral House might just be the publisher for you.

On March 11, Heathen Harvest featured an interview with Adam Parfrey, the founder of Feral House, in which they discussed the press’s beginnings, its mission, and its continued challenging of the taboo.

Prior to founding Feral House, Parfrey was no stranger to the publishing world. Fresh out of college, he helped found three different magazines, covering everything from graphic arts to “outsider” books. Parfrey followed his interest in fringe books to create his own publishing house, dedicated to shattering notions of what is or isn’t appropriate for literature to discuss. The publisher only produces books that it deems “feral”wild, dangerous, challengingenough, but it’s not enough to write shocking material. The books have to be well-written.

“That’s the biggest problem with these issues,” Parfrey says. “People think, ‘oh, I’m going out on a limb because it’s about Satanism’ or ‘it’s about murder’ or this and that, but then these books are not so great. . . . The subjects have to be approached in an intriguing way.”

Still curious to what Feral House is really all about? Look no further than their 2015-2016 season. 

Late October 2015 brought about the timely rdeath confettielease of Disco’s Out… Murder’s In by Heath Mattioli and David Spacone. This book is an uncensored account of the violent lives of the La Mirada Punks, also known as “L.A.’s Deadliest Punk Rock Gang,” and their notorious leader, Frank the Shank. Death Confetti, which releases June 14, is a collage of Jennifer Robin’s unapologetic musings on her life in Portland, from its ’90’s grunge emergence to its current hipster-haven reputation. Robin is neither delicate nor meek in her exposure of Portland from the inside out in this raw and riveting portrayal.

That’s the Feral House approach in a nutshell: delve without flinching into the gritty.

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#YesAllWomen: A Women’s History Month Round-up

In math and science, literature and art, in every field imaginable and in every era, women have been shaping history. Too often, the achievements of women from Ada Lovelace to Bessie Coleman are shoved under the rug, hidden from the history books and credited to men. In a time when women (especially women of color) are still underpaid and underrepresented, even the toughest of the tough need a reminder that anything is possible.

In honor of their spectacular accomplishments and important histories, we’re featuring a round-up of books celebrating women all around the globe. From prose-poetry depicting a magical island of matriarchy to a feminist alphabet book (for you and your kids), there’s sure to be something for everyone in this week’s Bookslinger!

quotasWhy Women Need Quotas (Biteback Publishing), by Vicky Price, is a hard-hitting argument for socioeconomic gender equality in the United Kingdom. According to Price, an economist, the United Kingdom has a poor record on gender parity, both in Parliament and in business, where most companies are run by men. The United States and Scandinavian countries have quotas for women in top jobs, but it’s time to take the change to Britain and get tough on sexism.

Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreadirtyriverming Her Way Home (Arsenal Pulp Press), by Leah L. Piepzna-Samarasinha, is an intersectional, tragicomic memoir told with wild abandon. It tells the story of Piepzna-Samarasinha, a queer disabled brown femme poet and abuse survivor, as she navigates the dirty river of the past and, as the subtitle suggests, “dreams her way home.”

feministutopiaThe Feminist Utopia Project: Fifty-Seven Visions of a Wildly Better Future (The Feminist Press at CUNY), edited by Alexandra Brodsky and Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, is a groundbreaking collection of essays, interviews, poetry, illustrations, short stories, and more. Over fifty cutting-edge voices, including Melissa Harris-Perry, Janet Mock, Sheila Heti, and Mia McKenzie, invite us to imagine: what does a truly feminist world mean?

Men Explain Things to Me (Haymarket Books) is the menexplaincritically-acclaimed essay collection from Rebecca Solnit, including the title essay (first published in the L.A. Times) which went viral, spawning fierce arguments and coining the term “mansplaining.” In this book, Solnit takes on the conversations between men who wrongly assume they know things and wrongly assume women don’t. With scathing wit, she elaborates and uncovers why men still explain things to her.

africanamericanwomenAfrican American Women (GILES), a collection of photographs from the National Museum of African American History and Culture, with a foreword by Lonnie G Bunch, is the third book in the NMAAHC’s “Double Exposure” series. This volume contains stunning photographs which demonstrate the dignity, joy, heartbreak, commitment, and sacrifice of women of all ages and backgrounds, from midwives at work in the rural south to students jailed for civil rights protests.

Almond Garden: Portraits from the Women’s Prisons in Afghanisalmondgardentan (Daylight Books) is a collection of photographs paying homage to women prisoners in Afghanistan and exploring the corruption in the country’s prison system. Over four years, photographer Gabriela Maj traveled across the country collecting portraits and stories. Almond Garden is a “reassuring portrait of the resilience of these powerful women,” according to Vice UK.

Why God Is A Woman (BOA Editions, Lwhy godtd.) is a collection from celebrated prose poet Nin Andrews written about a magical island where women rule and men are the second sex. It is also the story of a boy who, exiled from the island because he could not abide by its sexist laws, looks back with both nostalgia and bitterness and wonders: Why does God have to be a woman? Andrews creates a world both fantastic and familiar where all the myths, logic, and institutions support the dominance of women.

RadAmericanWomenRad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History… and Our Future! (City Lights Publishers) by Kate Schatz, illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl, is a New York Times bestselling alphabet book of everyone’s favorite feminists. The list of great women spans several centuries, multiple professions, and 26 diverse individuals. Author Lemony Snicket raved, “This is not a book. This is a guest list for a party of my heroes. Thank you for inviting us.”

Find out where to buy Why Women Need Quotas, Dirty River, The Feminist Utopia Project, Men Explain Things to Me, African American Women, Almond Garden, Why God is a WomanRad American Women A-Z, and many more books here at the Consortium website.

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