Interview with Bianca Stone, Editor
How did Monk Books start?
I started the press back in 2010 with my friend, the poet Adam Fitzgerald, because we really wanted to publish some letters of Mark Strand’s! In the end I talked Mark into letting us publish a small collection of his gorgeous collages and prose poems, and that became Mystery and Solitude in Topeka. We started big. Adam and I very much wanted to make chapbooks with art and poetry in them. Eventually Adam and I parted ways and Ben Pease, my husband, (and whose chapbook Wichman Cometh we published) took over. There was a few times I thought it would die, honestly, especially between the editorial switch! But we’re stronger than ever now.
Tell us a bit about Monk Books. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Again, we started out with a huge interest in the combination of poetry and art. But really it’s turned out to be more a focus on poetry we really care about, from poets we find really fascinating, and underrepresented. Our mission has evolved over the years, and now that Monk Books is incorporated with our other project The Ruth Stone Foundation, it’s becoming very much aligned with that mission. The Foundation strives to connect the writers and artists it supports with the community at large, especially to “empower women and foster leadership through creativity, writing, and publishing.” We’ve become very concerned with providing safe spaces and opportunities for women. For the poetry we like it raw and real and surprising.
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’re beyond excited to be launching what will be the backbone of Monk from now on: the Ruth Stone House Reader, a yearly publication, debuting this spring, with four phenomenal poets: Cathy Linh Che, Carolina Ebeid, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, & Jennifer Tamayo. After a launch of the Reader in NYC, each poet receives a $500 honorarium to be used for a short residency in Vermont.
Also, our newest full-length is a debut poetry collection, KING OF PAIN, by Christine Kanownik. And it’s fabulous. We’ll also be publishing Simone Kearney’s chapbook Days, along with some of her artwork fall 2016.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
I think what’s so special about it is that a small press is more concerned with the authors and the poetry than it is about anything else. A small press can fill a space where something is missing in the publishing world. In other words, it’s a place for genuine expression of creativity happening right now, that might get lost in the big guys. I really love how much camaraderie and support there is in the small press world. And there’s conflict, absolutely, (as we’ve seen with the Mongrel Coalition…“DECOLONIZE OR DIE | DECOLONIZE TO LIVE”) and the discussions that ensue are incredibly important, on a larger scale. It excites me that we’re able to discuss these issues in our world, be held accountable, even if we’re minute in the grander scheme of the country. These intense discussions and “calling out” of problematic happenings in the publishing world keep it honest and constantly observing itself. I think we all want to do things with a good intent, a good heart, and we’re tired of (white/male) privilege in its deep-seeded practices of repression. There’s still so much work to do, and there’s so many great people who are energetically participating in change in the small/independent press publishing orbit.
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 Monk Books?
It’s very hard, but doable, if you stick with it. A few times we thought we wouldn’t make it—spending our own out of pocket money every time. But we got lucky in the past few years, with some private donations. That little bit made us able to get slightly ahead, rather than behind, and now we can rely on the sales of books. I mean, we barely break-even, but that’s fine. As long as we can still make books and afford to go to AWP, we’re happy. It’s a constant learning experience: the number of books you print, where you print them, what sorts of paper you use, if you’re going to do things by hand or having everything outsourced (usually it’s some sort of combination of the two, although Monk has almost always perfect-bound printed its chapbooks), promotion, etc. We make 200 copies of chapbooks, and for our new full lengths, usually between 300-1,000. It’s extra tough to store them in NYC…our apartment has book boxes in every possible storage space. I’m still learning a lot about the best way to print books and save money.