Interview with Kathy Goodkin, Co-Editor
How did Gazing Grain Press start?
Basic info: Gazing Grain Press was created in 2012. Our name comes from a line in Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death.” We publish chapbooks and ephemera, such as mini-chaps and broadsides. We accept poetry, prose, and hybrid-genre work through our yearly contests, and book reviews/web content year round.
Our founding editors, Alyse Knorr, M. Mack, and Siwar Masannat, as well as our current editorial circle, are all alumni of George Mason University’s MFA program. The press arose from our founding editors’ observation that the publishing world lacked explicitly inclusive feminist presses. There were (and are!) many excellent presses promoting women and LGBTQ writers; GGP’s contribution to the field was meant to be an explicit invitation to feminists of every gender and sexuality to consider (and/or challenge) what constitutes feminist work.
From 2012-2015, we exclusively published poetry chapbooks and ephemera, via a yearly contest. Our contest was also open to hybrid work, which compelled us to have conversations about genre and whether “hybrid” was broad enough to cover all the work we’d like to publish. In 2015, we added a prose contest (also open to hybrid work), and plan to continue running two contests and publishing at least two chapbooks a year.
Tell us a bit about Gazing Grain. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission? And 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?
The aesthetics of our editorial circle range widely from traditional lyric poetry and narrative prose to innovative and hybrid forms. Our influences as publishers are therefore varied, although we all owe a big debt to earlier 21st century feminist presses like Switchback, Bloof, and dancing girl press for promoting feminist work.
The diversity of our aesthetics is one of our strengths as a press; we’re prepared to recognize and publish writing that employs a wide range of idioms and formal vocabularies. We talk a lot about what it even means to call writing “feminist,” and are open to work that makes us ask that question.
I think we all like the idea that the chapbooks, miniatures, and broadsides we publish can speak to each other across genre and aesthetic. Our catalog is one snapshot of literature through the lens of contemporary inclusive feminism, or inclusive feminism through the lens of contemporary literature.
Our mission continues to foreground inclusivity and intersectionality. Our editorial circle is unique because it’s non-hierarchical and geographically dispersed; our editors and interns live and work in 9 different states. This structure requires a lot of communication and collaboration, which we view as intrinsic to the mission of inclusive feminism.
We’ve also been fortunate enough to have incredible judges for our yearly contests to help us bring our mission to material reality. Some our past judges include Brian Teare, Dawn Lundy Martin, Cathy Park Hong, Natalie Diaz, and Amber Sparks.
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.
As small press publishers, we’re interested in the ongoing question about the value/purpose of the physical book/literary object. Our first run of all forthcoming books will be hand-sewn, and our editors and interns make several labor intensive miniatures every year. I think many of our editors are drawn to the idea that literary objects can be special and ephemeral, that we can produce something tied to a very specific cultural and physical moment.
But we’ve also recently run into questions about how to navigate ongoing demand–we’ve been in the fortunate position of selling out of some titles and having to decide whether and how to give continuing access to work that’s resonating with a lot of readers. I guess this is not so much what needs to change, but what is changing, and what we need to talk about. We believe that the book as object is important, that the ephemeral quality of small-press book objects is part of what makes them special. The question is how to balance that with our desire to promote our writers as much as possible.
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 Gazing Grain Press?
These conversations are the reality of publishing, absolutely. GGP is lucky to be sponsored by Fall for the Book, a huge literary festival hosted by George Mason University every fall. Our sponsorship provides a couple stabilizing financial factors for the press. Perhaps most exciting is that we have the capacity to pay for a book release event for our contest winners every year, including covering travel costs for writers traveling within the continental US. Fall for the Book sponsorship also helps us cover the cost of paying judges honoraria.
Even with this stability, however, we do charge a reading fee for our contests to cover the costs of printing. Our contest fee is $15 flat, or $21 with a choice of the winning chapbook, or a book from our catalogue. We’ve had many conversations about how to balance our stated mission of inclusivity with our need to charge a reading fee. These conversations have lead to our including both the less expensive flat fee and the slightly more expensive (but with book) options. We also currently sell all chapbooks for only $8, which we hope allows more people to buy and read them.