By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
EquatorBooksOther local indie presses may aspire to be the City Lights of Los Angeles, but Venice’s Equator Books is one of the few that operate, like the beatnik mecca, as a bookstore-cum-publisher. “It’s a throwback, because all the old great bookstores in Los Angeles published,” says publisher Michael Deyermond, who adds that former Black Sparrow publisher John Martin provided advice and encouragement. With only three titles in print — novel The Egotist, story collection Happy Holly by Equator co-publisher Philip Fracassi, and a novel by New Orleans journalist Michael Patrick Welch — the press’s literary-fiction catalog is in its infancy. Still, the 3,500-square-foot bookstore-gallery-reading space is just begging for a few good writers to “Howl” about.
Red Hen's Kate Gale </a><A HREF="index.php3?iyear=05&inumber=28&eid=36932&iimage=sm28wls13.jpg" TARGET="_top"> Red Hen PressIf poetry is dead, it’s certainly leading an active afterlife. “We felt L.A. needed more of a literary voice,” says Kate Gale, explaining the inspiration for Red Hen, the city’s most active poetry press (offering 20 titles a year). “As a publisher you can complain about what your city doesn’t do for you, or you can decide what to do for it.” Hence, the nonprofit press’s contribution to L.A.’s poetry culture: awarding $10,000 annually in literary prizes, producing a heavy schedule of writing workshops and publishing the estimable LosAngelesReview. Like many poetry publishers, Gale is hunting that elusive game, a more mainstream readership. Unlike many poetry publishers, she’s finding poets who just might have the right stuff, such as African-American poet Doug Kearney. “His work has mythic underpinnings, but it’s somewhat ghetto. So when he gets up, he’s got music in there, opera and hip-hop and rap,” says Gale, who believes publishers need to support, not impede, a new crop of less-academic poets. Regarding this generation gap, Gale quotes her favorite lines of her favorite poem, by Philip Larkin: “ ‘They fucked you up your mum and dad/They may not mean to but they do;/ They give you all the faults they had/And add some new ones just for you.’That works for families and communities, literary and otherwise,” she says.
GorskyPressAt the next Gorsky Press reading you attend, beware the flying bottles and chairs. The publisher, which culls many of its authors from the zine world, often holds readings at the most seemingly unliterary of venues, punk rock shows. “A big brawl erupted at one of them in Texas,” recalls Gorsky’s gleefully anti-establishment editor in chief, Sean Carswell. “Well, it’s not like Barnes & Noble is opening its doors for us.” Oblivious to the indifference of chain bookstores, the press treads where larger publishers might not, such as the juvenile corporate prank letters of Rev. Richard J. Mackin’s DearMr.Mackin.That Gorsky author and former zine writer Jim Ruland managed to win an NEA fellowship last year for his forthcoming short-story collection only serves to prove Carswell’s thesis: Books are really just glorified zines, anyway. GreenIntegerGreen Integer sounds like a superhero, and is, to those who lament the disappearance of foreign poets from their bookstore’s shelves. Douglas Messerli operated the highly regarded Sun and Moon Press for 35 years, publishing Paul Auster’s and Russell Banks’ first novels. After Sun and Moon closed because of financial difficulties, Messerli started Green Integer in 1997 and puts out 30 to 40 titles a year. Why then focus on unprofitable poetry translations? “It’s important for Americans to understand what’s happening outside the confines of their own culture, through the perceptions of other writers,” says Messerli.
He recently published a trio of new Paul Celan translations, an anthology of international poetry translations, and plans on bringing forth an untranslated Balzac novel. Balzac may not save the world, but as novelist Jonathan Safran Foer recently opined on KCRW’s Bookworm,apropos the war in Iraq, “I wish we would send fewer diplomats and fewer soldiers and more translators.” Seismicity's Guy Bennett and Paul Vangelisti </a><A HREF="index.php3?iyear=05&inumber=28&eid=36932&iimage=sm28wls21.jpg" TARGET="_top">
Otis Books / Seismicity EditorsWith their independent funding, university presses are an ideal venue for avant-garde fiction — or would be, says Seismicity publisher Paul Vangelisti, if enough funding were there. “In the last 20 years, literature has been suffering greatly,” says Vangelisti. “There was interesting publishing being supported by the NEA, but when Reaganomics took hold, it suddenly started drying up.” Fortunately, Seismicity Editions, a project of Otis College of Art and Design’s graduate writing program, has located an unlikely source of capital: the French government, which has paid for the publication and translation of several works by French authors. But the press, which Vangelisti says serves as “a suitable and dignified form of publicity” distinguishing Otis from myriad other MFA writing programs, isn’t neglecting American writers. Seismicity recently published Ken McCullough’s story collection LeftHand,which won a Minnesota Writers award, and is co-publishing urban theorist Norman Klein’s Freud,ConeyIsland,andOtherEssayswith UC Irvine. BabyTattooThe plot of Baby Tattoo’s forthcoming kids’ book, Gris Grimly’s Lemony Snicket–esque LittleJordanRay’sMuddySpud,might seem based on the challenges of starting a small press. A boy tries to sell his family’s last possession, a dirty potato, only to find himself forced to trade it for an old sock and a host of other useless items, never quite managing a profit. But for the publishers of Baby Tattoo, husband and wife Bob and Rani Self, business hasn’t been quite that tough. “I’ve been able to build a successful publishing company by treating L.A. like it’s a small neighborhood,” Bob Self says. “If you look at Grimly’s WickedNurseryRhymes,I found a noteworthy illustrator here in L.A., got a blurb from Clive Barker and found a distributor just up the street. It’s interesting that people see L.A. as unnavigable, when it’s all here.” The challenge, according to Self, is having the persistence of Little Jordan Ray. “Big publishers can afford to do some books they don’t believe in. Small publishers have to believe in their books,” he says. To that end, Baby Tattoo isn’t overly obsessed with genre. In addition to three children’s books already in print, the press has published Justin Jorgensen’s ObsceneInteriors,an art book offering satirical commentary on the sometimes unfashionable background décor of online personals ads. “All our books are of strong artistic merit,” Self sums up his catalog — not referring, we hope, to the rubber plants and Naugahyde couches. AngelCityPressFor a town as obsessed with images as L.A. is, classic urban histories such as Mike Davis’ CityofQuartzor Robert Fogelson’s TheFragmentedMetropolistend to be short on pictures. Fortunately, the catalog of the 13-year-old Angel City Press supplies the missing visual aids. Titles like SantaMonicaBeach:ACollector’sPictorialHistoryand WilshireBoulevard:TheGrandConcourseofLosAngelesbelong as much on the coffee tables of dedicated L.A. historians as on those of their California-dreaming friends back East. That’s no accident, according to publisher and ex–L.A. Timesreporter Paddy Calistro. “The press came out of the realization that New York publishers give short shrift to Southern California,” says Calistro, who thanks local organizations such as the L.A. Conservancy and the L.A. Public Library for availing their rare-photo collections to her authors’ cleverly packaged scholarship. Who was Gaylord Wilshire? What was the District Attorney’s Office like in 1850, back when it was a one-man operation? If you give these “high-quality nonfiction gift books” away as suggested, you’ll never find out.