This is the forty-fourth in Entropy’s small press interview series, where we ask editors about their origins, their mission, and what it’s like to run a press. Find the other interviews from this series in our Small Press Database here and under the Resources tab at the top of the page.
Interview with Tim Kinsella, Publisher
How did Featherproof Books start?
Featherproof was started in 2005 by two homies Zach Dodson and Jonathan Messinger. I can’t tell you much about that because I wouldn’t meet them until a year after that when I found myself playing Zach in badminton at a BBQ in Dan Koretsky’s backyard. Zach was beating me real bad and I was pretending to be fiercely competitive, but he didn’t get my subtle humor and just thought I was a dick. I first heard of Featherproof when my mom bought me Messinger’s book for Christmas around that same time and I figured I wouldn’t like it cuz I figured if my mom knew about it then it probably wasn’t cool. So either I am now as uncool as my mom or my mom was cooler than I knew.
Tell us a bit about Featherproof. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Oof. I dunno. Honestly if time is an illusion, as we all know it to be, and the ultimate victory of the internet is “collage,” then I guess it’s OK to sum up our influences, aesthetic, and mission as collage. Not that we aspire to be the internet. But when considering a new title, we take the entire back catalog into account and think, “Hmm, maybe we could use a smudge more of something like this over here” or “Oh, it’d be nice to have a little something like that” and upon that book’s release it foregrounds that aspect of the press, but soon enough it recedes to an equal relative weighting to the rest of the back catalog and contributes to the collage.
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?
Our newest release is our biggest seller to date—The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic by Jessica Hopper. Isn’t that insane that that’s true? It’s blowing up—getting coverage in Time and Newsweek and MTV and Entertainment Weekly and shit. We can hardly keep up!
Next fall we have an amazing debut novel by Mairead Case called See You in the Morning. It’s the story of a love triangle of teenagers with a trans narrator and it is beautiful and makes me feel like I have feelings.
Also we have Erratic Fire, Erratic Passion: The Poetry of Sports Talk by Pasha Malla and Jeff Parker. It is a collection of poems made out of the speeches of professional athletes. It has amazing artwork by my friend Nathan McKee and I’m not even a follower of sports at all—I know like literally zero—but as a fan of Human Beings and Struggle and Transcendence and Redemption and Hope etc. that shit is beautiful.
Beyond that we have a novel called Tennessee Highway Death Chant by JDK Goodman. It’s one of those every sentence is perfect kind of books, surreal but not gooey, in the spirit of John Barth and John Hawkes.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
I like objects a lot. I use all kinds of objects to try to see my own reflection in. And I spend the immense proportion of my time in silent rooms alone, so books help. When I think back on my life, pretty much any moment not alone in a room seems sensational and even wild to me and a lot of these moments were indeed thrilling. But most of the truly happy moments of the expansive time alone in silent rooms involved books. If we can somehow facilitate that exchange with anyone—that immersion—that’s a life well invested in—it’s meaningful work! In terms of “right now” and “independent” presses, I dunno. I feel an affinity to so many small presses, but I’m not interested in the scene as a scene in any way. As a historical moment, there is something romantic and revolutionary in just the act of making books as opposed to websites or tiki drinks.
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 Featherproof Books?
Oh geez it’s a totally impractical pursuit! I mean of course no one would ever get into this for the money. But more than that, far as I can tell, “The Arts” has always been about creative math, whatever the discipline. You can imagine making the thing, whatever it is, and do the math in a way that makes it seem impossible or you can do the math in a way that makes it happen. I don’t have kids or a wife or a savings account or anything like that, but I also have no one to tell me no! I made $15k last year and I guarantee that my standard of living is equal to that of an 18th century king! In fact I have running water and a toilet and a microwave and all kinds of shit that would’ve seemed like Magic then! And I get to eat sushi sometimes! With the help of my friends Jason and Naomi and Zach and Bob and our interns Cassandra and Sydni and the support of this amazing community here—Roosevelt University and MAKE magazine—that all want to help in whatever small ways they can, these books somehow materialize and I get to sometimes eat sushi! What a world! Anyone that’s “coping” with running a small press should probably go find a job at the advertising agency or the bank. It’s an incredible privilege!
After the recent torch-passing at Featherproof, what do you think will change?
We’re doing 4 books / year. Jason and Naomi and me are all new to Featherproof in the last 18 months and we’re psyched to get all our operating procedures streamlined. Before we were all working together Featherproof was doing 1-3 books / year but now there is a clear division of labor and symbiosis. We’re diversifying with poetry and essays, like I said. I dunno man. We’re very lucky to love what we do.