David Wilk talks with John O’Brien of Dalkey Archive Press

January 26, 2016 by  
Filed under Publishing History, PublishingTalks

Dalkey4Publishing Talks began as a series of conversations with book industry professionals and others involved in media and technology about the future of publishing, books, and culture. As we continue to experience disruption and change in all media businesses, I’ve been talking with some of the people involved in our industry about how publishing might evolve as our culture is affected by technology and the larger context of civilization and economics.

I’ve now expanded the series to include conversations that go beyond the future of publishing. I’ve talked with editors and publishers who have been innovators and leaders in independent publishing in the past and into the present, and will continue to explore the ebb and flow of writing, books, and publishing in all sorts of forms and formats, as change continues to be the one constant we can count on.

It’s my hope that these conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing and writing, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

The latest in this series of interviews with publishers and editors is my talk with another old friend, John O’Brien, founder of Dalkey Archive Press and the Review of Contemporary Fiction. The journal began in 1981 and the press was launched in 1984. It’s a remarkable and singular enterprise, committed to publishing internationally as almost no other American publisher. Today the press and journal are based in Victoria, Texas through the auspices of the University of Houston at Victoria, and in Dublin, Ireland, with offices at the Trinity University.

If you are interested in the history of the press as explained by John himself, there is an excellent descriptive piece about Dalkey on its own website here. John places the Review (RCF) and the press (Dalkey) as coming literally from his own interest in writers of substance who were and still are not often included in the mainstream of literary culture. In that way, John and his publishing have always been self identified as outsiders, but of course through his own critical and publishing efforts, and other circumstances, no small number of the writers that have either been covered in RCF or published by Dalkey (or both) have reached a meaningful level of recognition and significance over these many years of the his work.

It is no small thing to have been at this work for so long, and so well. The internationalist tendency here is a strong one, from Luisa Valenzuela to Wallace Markham, to Flann O’Brien and many others, John has helped introduce an incredible range of writers from all over the world to North American readers, and vastly expanded the literary landscape for many of us. His commitment to a range of American writers like Paul Metcalf, Gilbert Sorrentino, Doug Woolf and many others, has been nothing short of heroic.

Writing on the Press’ own website, this is what John says about his goals for Dalkey and RCF: “I wanted the Press to define the contemporary period, or at least what I saw as what was most important in the contemporary period. Further, I wanted these books permanently protected, which is why from the start the Press has kept all of its fiction in print, regardless of sales. And as with the Review, I wanted the books to represent what was happening around the world rather than more or less being confined to the United States. Like the Review, Dalkey Archive Press was and is a hopelessly quixotic venture.”

In 2011, Dalkey Archive received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critics Circle, and in 2015 John O’Brien was made a knight in the Orde des Arts et des Lettres for his contributions to publishing French literature abroad. Not bad for such a “hopelessly quixotic” operation.

John and I have many interests in common and count each others as friends and fellow travelers in literature and writing. Having this conversation about RCF and Dalkey, programs I believe have incalculable value to our literary culture, was a true pleasure for me, and one that I will always treasure.

Length alert: this is a longer conversation than most (68 minutes), but I hope will be well worth the time spent in listening. Thanks!647362dalkey logo

David Wilk talks with Doug Messerli of Green Integer

Messerli-Douglas_Ch-Bernstein_12-10-06_NYC_72dpi Publishing Talks began as a series of conversations with book industry professionals and others involved in media and technology about the future of publishing, books, and culture. As we continue to experience disruption and change in all media businesses, I’ve been talking with some of the people involved in our industry about how publishing might evolve as our culture is affected by technology and the larger context of civilization and economics.

I’ve now expanded the series to include conversations that go beyond the future of publishing. I’ve talked with editors and publishers who have been innovators and leaders in independent publishing in the past and into the present, and will continue to explore the ebb and flow of writing, books, and publishing in all sorts of forms and formats, as change continues to be the one constant we can count on.

It’s my hope that these Publishing Talks can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing and writing, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

Douglas Messerli is an old friend in poetry and publishing – I’ve known him since sometime in the late 1970’s. He’s one of the most prolific writers and publishers I know of, with an encyclopedic mind and a scope of interests that is virtually unmatched (and how much he writes and how well…it is hard for me to fathom how he does so much and is so consistently intelligent and perceptive on so many subjects!)

Although his writing is inevitably interwoven with his publishing work, this conversation is mainly focused on Doug’s efforts over the years as an editor and publisher. So we talked about his first publishing projects, Sun & Moon (magazine and books), La-Bas (magazine) and then his more recent work with the highly prolific Green Integer. It’s a wide ranging conversation reflecting Doug’s broad interests in writing, art, and publishing, and his always deeply engaged intellect.

Doug, his partner Howard Fox, and Green Integer are strongly identified with Los Angeles and the literary and art scene there. But the influence of his work extends worldwide. The level and intensity of engagement with readers, writers and artists reflects an intentional process on Messerli’s part – he invites the reader to participate in every aspect of his creative process, both in writing and in presenting the work of innovative writers and artists across a wide range of aesthetics and backgrounds, generations and geography. That’s why, for a long period of time, Messerli ran a public gallery and salon in Los Angeles to reach beyond publishing, and why Green Integer is so thoroughly digital in its publishing model.

His is a decidedly modern, globally engaged effort that is unmatched in contemporary publishing.

Length alert: this interview is almost exactly an hour long. It went by really fast for me, and I hope you find listening to Doug Messerli as interesting as I did.

The Green Integer website is exceptional. Go there now for an incredible array of interesting, complicated and challenging writing with a deeply international and avant garde focus.

A nice bit of Sun & Moon history here at SUNY Buffalo’s archive.

And a wonderful collection of free PDFs of La-Bas here at the incredibly rich Jacket2 website.

I love Doug’s essay on Bob Brown (a poet I first heard of through Jerry Rothenberg) on a website I recommend visiting right away –Hyperallergenic.

And to extend the conversation further, here is an exceptionally interesting interview published on Harriet, the blog of the Poetry Foundation (which recursively enough is entitled: Republished Douglas Messerli Interview on Green Integer Blog).gi_86

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Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews CLMP Director Jeffrey Lependorf

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.

Jeffrey Lependorf has an unusual perspective on publishing.  He is the Executive Director of two nonprofit organizations: both the New York City based Council of Literary Magazines (CLMP) and the Berkeley, California based Small Press Distribution (SPD).  CLMP provides support services to and advocacy for literary magazines and independent literary presses, while SPD provides distribution and sales services to the same general constituency (though not always the same presses and magazines).  Both organizations have been on the scene for many, many years and their identities and services have changed significantly over time.

While the overall publishing industry has undergone sea changes in physical retailing and wholesaling that have created challenges for commercial publishers, those changes have caused massive disruption for hundreds of smaller literary presses and magazines, mostly by reducing their retail viability and forcing them to look for other means of reaching readers, including innovative approaches to digital publishing and direct to consumer sales.  Independent presses and magazines may be quietly creating some incredibly valuable and interesting approaches to connecting with readers that could provide long lasting benefits for them, and models for larger publishers to emulate.

In this conversation, I took advantage of Lependorf’s unique perspective to discuss the past, present and future of independent literary publishing, both books and magazines, as well as some of the digital initiatives they have undertaken, and the specific activities of both the organizations he operates.  It’s worth visiting both the CLMP and SPD websites.  If you’re interested in what independent publishers are doing, CLMP has alot of information; if you’d like to see the books and magazines (and ebooks) that independent publishers are producing, visit SPD, where, it is important to note, you can browse and buy thousands of unusual and important publications directly (even though they also distribute to retailers like Amazon, B&N and many independent bookstores).  Support independent literary publishing by buying their books whenever you can.

By the way, Lependorf has another career as a composer and performer whose work I also admire.  Amazing stuff from an amazing person!

ALERT: this is another relatively long podcast, just over 43 minutes, but I believe it’s well worth your time.