David Wilk talks with Anne Kingsbury and Karl Gartung about Woodland Pattern

May 11, 2015 by  
Filed under Publishing History, PublishingTalks

Woodland Pattern exteriorPublishing 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 they believe publishing might evolve as our culture is affected by technology and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics.

I’ve now expanded the series to include conversations that go beyond the future of publishing.  I’ve spoken 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 book publishing and writing, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of book publishing as it unfolds.  This new interview reflects my interest in the history of independent literary publishing, an area in which I have been active for a long time. And this particular conversation reflects some longstanding personal relationships as well.

Woodland Pattern is a nonprofit literary arts center founded by artist Anne Kingsbury and poet Karl Gartung in 1979. It has been an incredible resource for readers and writers during all that time, committed to community and the arts in a way that may be unique in America. I’ve known Anne and Karl since before they started Woodland Pattern, and we have long shared many interests in writers and writing that we admire and are inspired by.

Anne and Karl chose the name for the place from a passage in (the extraordinary) Paul Metcalf’s wonderful and neglected book, Apalache, that describes the woodland culture of native Americans living south of Lake Superior – they had “pottery but not agriculture.” Karl and Anne’s extreme dedication, hard work, and commitment to their founding vision is at the heart of the institution, but of course over nearly 40 years, its work has been furthered by dozens of volunteers and now paid staff, as well as hundreds of writers and artists and of course thousands of supporters in its community.

The center houses a bookstore with over 25,000 independently published literary and arts titles otherwise unavailable in Milwaukee – or anywhere else it would seem. Woodland Pattern has always made inventory decisions for noncommercial reasons. As they say about themselves: “as booksellers and as presenters of art and literature, we want people to know that there is more than what you see at your chain book store, more than you are taught in school, more than what is reviewed in the papers. We hope to act as a catalyst, putting readers together with small press literature.”

Their space now also includes an art gallery where they present a wide range of exhibitions, artist talks, readings, experimental films, concerts and writing workshops for adults and children.

Anne Kingsbury is also an incredible artist whose work can be found in museums, galleries and private collections. She too is an American original. Karl Gartung is a poet who has worked full time as a truck driver (and union leader) for more than 35 years. His commitment to poetry lived in daily life is inspiring.

Woodland Pattern has also been a leader in promoting writers from Wisconsin, most notably, Lorine Niedecker, a Wisconsin native from nearby Fort Atkinson whose work, rooted and grown in that place through years of hard work, is finally being recognized as among the finest poetry of our era.

I am in awe of the work that has been accomplished over the past 35 years by Anne, Karl and everyone else at Woodland Pattern. They have made the acts of curation and presentation of art and literature in many forms into a lifelong effort.  They engender and foster great art and connect living artists to communities of individuals, not as consumers, but as active participants in the work itself. This is brilliant, and should be celebrated for the depth and breadth of the work the organization has supported for so many years.

It was my great pleasure to speak with Anne and Karl about Woodland Pattern and their work and lives while they were visiting New York in spring 2015. As you can tell when you listen, this was a conversation among old friends with much shared history and common interests that I hope will inspire many of you to visit Woodland Pattern in Milwaukee (or at least their website here until you cam get there in person).

Woodland Pattern Book Center is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit organization.

Here is their inspiring mission statement: “Our goals are to promote a lifetime practice of reading and writing, to provide a forum and resource center for writers/artists in our region, and to increase and diversify the audience for contemporary literature through innovative approaches to multi-arts programming.”

Note on length: 46 minutes!Woodland Pattern interior

LorineGartungAnne Kingsbury