Interview with Lucy Wilkinson, Founder and Editor-in-Chief
How did death of workers whilst building skyscrapers start?
I started the small publishing press, death of workers whilst building skyscrapers as a platform to self-publish my first book, blues not worth bad skin in 2017. From there, more writers got in touch and I developed relationships with them, editing and publishing their work.
Before death of workers, I had finished a degree in film studies whilst working at Close-up Film Centre. After that, I took a couple of years out as I had suffered from a very bad bout of depression. I think those years in between shaped me in so many ways. I’d worked in a cafe in Manchester for a year and a half until I realised how abusive the environment was. I remember the manager saying to me once, “We just want more from you”… “More?! More of what?!” I thought. The only positive of that job was the fact a bookshop joined on to it. Only part because of the books. I actually met my best friend, Christopher Cohen there. He shaped a lot of how I picked myself up to start writing more again. He discussed things with me. He wanted to talk about ideas, anything. I almost felt like a child again, which was a nice feeling after being swept along this “adult” world. His support was the push that I needed to crawl out of my anxieties and write something. His whole way of interacting with me inspired me completely. And his attitude is somewhat included in the press’s ethos: his intense ability to empathise and understand people. I wanted to help give people that push to help them express themselves, especially those of us, stuck in hand-to-mouth-whatever-jobs. I applied for a masters in Curating and I hated it. I put the effort in to make sure it was not a waste of time. Wasting money I can handle, wasting time, I couldn’t. From that, I grew some resilience. All my experiences so far have given me back bone.
So, a year goes by, a book in a drawer, and I sat outside Aldi at a bus stop in Edgely. The price to print that book was too high and I turned to my sister: “I think I will just make the book myself.” And I did. I went home and taught myself to book bind. I built the website. I walked into bookshops and asked them to stock the books. I wanted to do everything myself. I did not want to rely on anyone. During this time I worked in a bar to fund the books. All of this, for me, goes far beyond the self, this is about wanting to add to the world, but not in a capitalistic sense. For me, this is one of the affects of small press publishing.
Tell us a bit about death of workers. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
The premise of death of workers is built upon the disappointments of so-called “reality,” sharing work that is challenging, experimental and against convention, searching for human spirit and voice that is not controlled by the media.
Can you give us a preview of what’s current and/or forthcoming from your catalog, as well as what you’re hoping to publish in the future?
Currently, we have a range of books, chapbooks and broadsides in stock—to name a few, we have our most recent book publication a collection of poems, Housing Haunted Housing by Oscar Mardell (2020). In his own words: The story of a utopian/ modernist project gradually falling into decline and ruin—or at least, obscurity and disregard. Chapbooks currently in stock, we have Karolina Fedorowicz’s Smoke carried by the south winds coming from the city (2020) and Teddy Duncan Jr’s An Absolute Study (2020). This is the first chapbook from Orlando, Florida based writer, Teddy Duncan Jr, which experiments with collage writing, fragmentation and objectivity, bringing into questions “so-called reality.” Forthcoming, we have been working in a large project that has took over a year and a half to complete, a selection of writings by Canadian based artist, AL Razutis, “Yes” “You” “Can,” reflecting the broad range of his interests and abilities, written over decades of his migrations in media and reflecting his restless soul which can never be contained by any academic or single artistic discipline. He joins a host of other revolutionary art authors who commented, created, delivered manifestos of the soul. In addition, I am also humbled to announce a chapbook project I am working with beat writer Brenda Frazer. We also have two more publications planned for release in July, Tohm Bakelas’s collection of poetry, Even the Spiders and Despondent and Stephen Emmerson’s Pett Level. All our books are handmade on recycled paper.
We used to ask, “What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?” We’re still interested in the answer to that, but we’re even more interested to know what you think needs to change.
There are a lot of small press publishers doing important work. We work really hard, and also, a lot of the time, we do it full-time, without a salary alongside other commitments. It’s a role you take out of pure passion. There needs to be more support and funding available for small presses to develop and function in order to be able to pay people fairly. I think this is of political importance. Imagine the work people could do in small press publishing, if they could dedicate the time they give up to their “alongside commitments” to make the rent? I can answer that—a lot more important work.
How do you cope? There’s been a lot of conversation lately about charging reading fees, printing costs, rising book costs, who should pay for what, etc. Do you have any opinions on this, and would you be willing to share any insights about the numbers at death of workers?
All our books are priced differently according to how much it cost to make and then x3. That’s why our books’ prices are strange. In this way, I am able to set aside 35% book production, 40-45% bookshop commission, 10% artist/writer royalties, 10% back to the press. Any access money, for instance, if I sell directly off the website or at fairs, goes into developing the press and buying new equipment. Nobody at the press (myself included) takes a salary yet—I hope to change this in the future. In the first year, we made a ridiculous loss, but I was expecting that because of the outlays you commit to when starting. Since 2018, we have made a small profit which has enabled us to develop the press and make more books.
Do you mind talking a little about the name of the press—how it came about and what it means?
The name of the publishing press, death of workers whilst building skyscrapers (always in lower case), came about from a short story I wrote when I was 18. After I decided to self-publish, I needed a name for the publishing press and then it came to me. It wasn’t until recently that I realised that the image of death of workers whilst building skyscrapers, was a journey that my brain had fixated on—the famous photographs of workers building the skyscrapers of New York City. 42 workers died building the Empire State building. I just never understood why capitalism asked workers to give up their lives for it. Then I realised there was a much darker reason why the fixation of this image had remained in my brain: It was because when I was about 4/5, I witnessed a dead body after it had fallen from a tall building outside my primary school. The adults didn’t explain it to me, but I remember just knowing it was suicide, and that is an intense feeling for a young child. I had more questions than answers, and I didn’t even ask them because I didn’t want to upset the adults. Bottling those questions can play a toll on how you start seeing the world. It made me quite cynical from a young age I think. But expression (not only in myself outwards but by other people inwards) has always enabled me to find optimism. The name of the press embodies this sort of optimistic cynicism.