Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Charles Alexander

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in the publishing industry, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

Charles Alexander is the founder and prime mover behind Chax Press, a nonprofit publisher and studio.  As he describes it on the website Chax “publishes writing that does not take things for granted — things like “what is a poem,””what is an author,” or “what does it mean to read?”  Walt Whitman said, “Reading is a gymnast’s act.”  We strive to make books that reward such exercise in stunning ways.”

Whether working with handset type, Vandercook proof press, carved wood blocks, linen threads and fine papers, or with computers, Chax Press books celebrate the changing shape of American poetry by presenting experimental works with humanist commitment.  Chax also brings its work to the public in ways other than in books, sponsoring poetry readings, writers- and artists-in-residence, exhibitions, and more events that encourage a public investigation as to the nature and importance of contemporary poetry and book arts.

Chax Press was founded in 1984 in Tucson. More than 50 books have followed between then and the present, including several published during Chax’s three years (1993-96) in Minneapolis, where Alexander served as Executive Director of Minnesota Center for Book Arts.

In general, Chax Press publishes experimentalist works that share a strong humanist commitment. Chax Press chapbooks are published in small editions and mix desktop publishing technologies with hand bookbinding practices and, at times, fine art papers.

I’ve known Charles Alexander for many years and love the work he has done with Chax.  I thought it would be extremely rewarding to talk to him about modern publishing and his vision of books and readers, especially now, when the current talk about digital publishing dominates our environment.  Anyone who has set type, printed pages and made paper by hand for a living is certain to possess a valuable perspective on the literal relationship between word and eye that still is so important to the work of publishers in any environment.  Charles and I had a great time talking about Chax and its wonderful work.

The Chax website is well worth a visit, as is Charles’ blog, and if you find yourself in Tucson, go see the Chax Press facility, which is a wonderful and central hub of the Tucson poetry and arts community.