Interview with Rebecca Elliott, John Wilmes, and Anne Yoder
How did Meekling Press start?
In 2012 Rebecca and John were graduating from the MFA program at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago, and were unsure of what to do after. We had a lot of talented friends making work that we loved and that took real risks, but their work was also unexpected and surprising in a way that’s not easy to categorize and so wasn’t necessarily having an easy time finding a home. We were used to making things, having studied in a process-based program where we were surrounded by other artists and makers—we often had artists in our writing classes, and we took classes in letterpress, book arts, performance, art history, too—all of which expanded our sense of what we could do with words and their repositories.
Rebecca was a whiz at both conceptualizing and actual bookmaking and so we thought, why not make the books ourselves? In this way we could wed words + physical form, which is something that writers often don’t think about enough (and there’s often not a place for them to do this either). Also, we wanted the authors to be involved in the process, to become collaborators on the project. We work with our authors to conceive of the physical/digital framework that best suits the book or project. To create a space to play with words and form, a space that’s fresh with possibility is largely what attracts us. We try to think of ideas or arrange for encounters just to see what will come of them. In this way it’s all a great experiment. We have studio sessions where we’ve paired a writer and artist in collaboration. And we formed a division of Continuing Education, our performative arm. This came out of a desire to hold readings, parties, create a community, but also we wanted to break from the obligation and propriety and, well, repetition that often comes with readings. We hold a live TALKS series each fall where our lecturers read/perform/lecture on a subject of their choice. The only stipulation is that it must in some way be fictional. Our recurring but more sporadic Distance Learning series is transmitted over the interwebs.
And our letterpress! We can’t not mention our letterpress! There’s a heft to it that like an anchor grounds our operation. The hundred-year-old press that we happened upon and raised funds to buy is our spiritual (psychic?) center as well as the physical centerpiece in Rebecca & Nick’s apartment.
Tell us a bit about Meekling Press. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
We are low-scale and DIT (Do It Together!) and we keep it this way by staying low-scale. And we are opposed to a way of bookmaking where success is measured by maximizing profit and output. We very much want our books to be read and shared widely, but we see the process of making books and growing the press as an organic one, one where we can stake out our own corner of literature + art, where we can try on what seems like the most absurd idea possible and everyone agrees that this is exactly what must be attempted! Such is the case with The Meekling Review, which we are currently reading for. It’s a very serious journal of literary criticism, about books that don’t exist! Perhaps they will in the future? The Review will be filled with criticism, artwork, and other experiments. We are partial to whims. In this and all things we’re conjuring the dadaists and pataphysicists and absurdists and iconoclasts. Our VIP autographed portrait wall would be filled with the likes of Alfred Jarry, Franz Kafka, Clarice Lispector, Hilda Hilst, Anne Carson, Lydia Davis, Anne Carson, Inger Christensen, Robert Walser, Daniil Kharms, Bohumil Hrabal, Elfriede Jelinek, Thomas Bernhard, Kenneth Patchen, William Carlos Williams, William Gass, Bernadette Mayer and Vito Acconci’s 0 to 9. We are excited by work that pushes boundaries or even collapses them, that turns our expectations on end. We are as delighted to publish a single sentence as we are in publishing a novel-length work. What matters is language, playfulness, openness to the encounter, the way it creates a space that’s very much its own. In this way we envision the process of bookmaking as creating a physical space for the words, where the book is not just a repository or vehicle for these words but is considered just as essential to the work. The materials at hand (whatever we can afford), the printing process, and the text itself are the major influence on the aesthetic of our projects.
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?
We’ve just wrapped up our first foray into chapbook making with our Chill Horizons series, comprised of seven books, ranging from poetic experiments to nonfiction essays to fiction investigates metaphysical. Each book came with limited edition artwork paired with the book. We paired a few artists with writers, but mainly we asked the writer to select an artist who they’d like to collaborate with. We’d like to set up more studio sessions where we pair writers with artists or writers with writers, have them meet for an afternoon, a day, with a set of constraints to see what they’ll create. We also hope to collaborate with other presses and we’re fielding pitches for longer books and collaborative projects and broadsides. Next up, of course, is the aforementioned Meekling Review, a single-issue quarterly review filled with imaginary poetics and made-up people. It takes not being serious very seriously.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
What has *always* been exciting to us is basically doing things on our own terms. It’s pretty possible to do that right now without a ton of money, which is very cool. Don’t you think? The joy of making things and collaborating on projects with interesting people, the freedom to create things without asking permission.
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 Meekling Press?
Loaded question! Coping is hard, on all fronts. Basically our money is small potatoes in general, and every project is funded by the previous project and by some custom letterpress printing (wedding invitations, broadsides, etc). We don’t have enough money to pay our authors in anything but copies of the book, and hugs. (Please don’t ask John for a hug; also, Rebecca feels a little uncomfortable. But Nick will. Anne welcomes hugs, sometimes.) We don’t charge reading fees and it would be upsetting if we ever had to, and we probably will not ever have to. We only print as many books as we think we can sell, and because we do most of the printing and binding in-house, we just make more as we need them. Keeping things on a small scale lets us be flexible. Our general overhead costs are minimal because we do just about everything ourselves, and we have a good community of friends that volunteer their time. We are all writers who also have day jobs. If you want any more details on this, please ask Rebecca, she is happy to share any knowledge she can.
Can you say a little more about The Meekling Review?
The Meekling Review extends our general want to bring some levity and goofiness to literary endeavors. As such, it is likely to be branded as one in a series of quarterlies, while it is in fact planned as a one-off. There’s a lot of pretending going on in it. It is an object of a very a specific kind of fiction. It’s also written anonymously, with made-up bylines. FUN IS VERY SERIOUS. If you want to advance your literary career, we’re probably not going to be able to do that for you. We are publishing stuff because we like it and we like to do it.