Interview with Chris Campanioni, Co-Editor
Last year, PANK changed hands from founders Roxane Gay and M. Bartley Seigel to you, John Gosslee, and Ashley M. Jones. How has book publishing become a part of the new PANK?
When PANK re-launched, we had a lot to think about; a lot to do. More things to do than think about, I think. Overwhelming anxiety; what to do first? We wanted to put all of our immediate energy into putting out the best re-launch issue that we could; so we focused on submissions, we focused on recruiting readers, we focused on soliciting the writers we admired most, we focused on wording a really provoking, provocative call for submissions. We were really fortunate to have a great base of support and community; to have inherited so much love from Roxane and M. Bartley.
But sometime in the summer, sometime after the re-launch spring issue, we started talking—Ashley M. Jones, John Gosslee, and myself—about reviving some other aspects of PANK, some of the other aspects and programs which made it so great, namely its publishing arm. We like the idea of [SMALL BOOKS] with big heart, and that is sort of how we positioned our first call for chapbooks this past summer.
Tell us a bit about PANK Books. 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?
So we are extremely excited—I’m personally very giddy—about our first two chapbooks; we didn’t like to think about our small books submission process as a contest or a winning/losing sort of thing, but out of all the many, beautiful, weird, loving manuscripts we received, the two that made our editors’ heads spin most were After the Death of Shostakovich Pere by Maya Sonenberg and You Could Stop It Here by Stacy Austin Egan.
Both books are so different from each other, which sort of is a statement about our aesthetic: uncategorizable. If it moves us, we want it to move more people, and we want to use our platform to represent the unheard stories; stories that wouldn’t have an opportunity to be read and loved with other, more traditional or less risk-taking platforms, editors, and publishers. And I think we are really fortunate to have three main editors with such cultural and geographic diversity; we each have very different, sometimes intersecting interests and I think what brings us together in deciding an identity for PANK, the kind of work we want to produce at PANK, is the stuff that transcends a specific culture or milieu: hybrid in form and content and aesthetic and aspiration. We want to remain fluid—always.
Not long after announcing our first two [SMALL BOOKS] we announced our call for our [BIG BOOKS], which encompasses longer, larger manuscripts. I don’t like the literary marker “experimental”—because it assumes an option, a choice. In reality, normative cultures define what art is and what artists do as “experimental” but it’s just a different reality. You are either representative to your reality, or not.
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.
In one of the creative nonfiction courses I teach at Pace University, I usually start off the semester by discussing just how open the publishing climate is today compared to twenty, thirty, forty years ago. More editors of color and from underrepresented communities are curating more great publications that weren’t even possible before the Internet. I’m a big believer that a lot of the democratic opportunities in publishing have been made possible by the Internet, but as we know, there’s still so much shit happening every day—the $250K advance to hate-monger Milo Yiannopoulos from S&S?—that makes me believe we need to use the Internet much better; we need to start to really dismantle publishing hierarchies and also continue to foster our own communities. I’ve been fortunate to have a voice in several different Latino lit/Latinx panels; one discussion that Numéro Cinq moderated last year really situated itself with the oft-repeated problem of “no/hardly any writers of color on X list” (plug in New York Times Book Review, London Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, etc.) and I think even that’s changed from last year to now, slowly but surely. But implicit in that notion of “list-recognition” is the kind of on-the-ground work all editors are responsible for doing in terms of seeking—and really seeking—real diversity in their publications’ pages. And, strange as it sounds at the dawn of 2017, that also means breaking down the hierarchy between print/online poetry, academia/alt-ac poets, etc.
When Sherman Alexie made his selections for Best American Poetry in 2015, among his ten commandments were:
As part of the mission to represent the totality of American poetry, I will read as many Internet poems as I can find, whether published at popular sites or in obscure emagazines that have nine followers; and I don’t want to fill the damn book with poetry professors. I really want to choose some poets who work outside of academia. But I also don’t want to bias myself against any poems because they happen to be written by poetry professors, so I will not read any biographies or contributor notes about any poets.
This is a good start. I mean, in the end all the talk about “lists” obscures the real issue anyway which is real representation, not “diversity” as tokenism or flaccid keyword, not a series of names and books reduced to numbers. I suppose I’m saying we should care less about lists in general and more about literacy and language. A safe harbor from stereotype is the nuance and weird beauty/beautiful weirdness of human voices and that’s where I see PANK going, along with the best literary citizens and small presses of our community.
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 PANK Books?
We try to put out a product—without thinking about it as a product!—that retains the quality and the signature and the tradition that PANK was always known for, while doing our best to usher in new voices and push everything further. We are pushing. To that end, we are entirely financed by our tip jar submissions. We’d like to keep submissions free and rolling throughout the year, and throughout the beginning and for most of the re-launch, that was the case. If we had a larger staff—it’s just us three, plus our five fabulous readers and Gabino Iglesias, who is a review editor superstar—we could have the time to read 24/7 for the online and print magazine (we are always open for PANK’s blog). I still truly believe one of the many factors that are holding back luminous, underrepresented voices from having a voice in our literary and publishing climate is the cost of submitting. Two or three dollars is two or three dollars many of us don’t have. So I’m a huge proponent of free submissions when submissions are open, and we still—and always will—adhere to that policy.