Interview with Caryl Pagel, Editress-in-Chief
How did Rescue Press start?
Rescue Press was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the late winter of 2009 about a mile in each direction from Woodland Pattern, Lakefront Brewery, and Lake Michigan as a response to the existence of Marc Rahe’s stellar and then-unpublished book of poetry The Smaller Half. Rescue is in many ways the living embodiment of an almost two-decade-long conversation between the poet Danny Khalastchi and myself (we met as undergrads at UW-Madison) about form and variation and grace in publishing; we had a vision of a press that wasn’t tethered to a single aesthetic or mission but was instead flexible, roving, collaborative, curious. Our first full-length book was Rahe’s and we followed quickly with Shane McCrae’s chapbook In Canaan and Madeline McDonnell’s collection of three short stories, There Is Something Inside, It Wants to Get Out. From the beginning we wanted to edit and publish multiple genres—including those that didn’t exist or were misplaced or mistaken or perhaps hadn’t been invented yet—and have since put out books that are traditional in spirit and also those that could be described as “a faux scientist’s research findings,” or “a memoiry novel-in-shards” or “a peripatetic ode explosion.” We currently run two series—the Black Box Poetry Prize, a contest for full-length manuscripts of poetry, and the Open Prose Series, edited and curated by Hilary Plum and Zach Savich, which is dedicated to “nonfiction, fiction, or sui generis prose”—and are working on a third, the EP Series, which will focus on tiny collections of short stories.
Tell us a bit about Rescue Press. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
We aim to remain fluid, open, human. The Rescue you see now may or may not resemble the Rescue of the future. We’re interested in work that celebrates darkness, humour, hybridity, gesture, bewilderment, and limits. We are inspired by strong women and visionary literature, by writers who think about art, by ritual and asymmetry. Rescue is currently located in Iowa City, Chicago, and Cleveland—we are diehard Midwesterners—and the crew these days includes our Creative Director Sevy Perez and our Editorial Assistants Alyssa Perry and Zach Isom.
Our mission goes like this: “Rescue Press is an independent publisher of chaotic and investigative work. We publish work by activists, artists, craftsmen, list-makers, philosophers, poets, scientists, writers, and creative thinkers of all kinds. We’re interested in collections of artwork, comics, essays, experiments, how-tos, interrogations, manifestos, notes, poetry, stories, and anything else that transforms us.”
If you are looking for a single book from our catalog that represents our literary and artistic aesthetics I would suggest The New Census: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, edited by Lauren Shapiro and Kevin González, which was published in 2013 and includes the work of 40 poets we admire paired with census-like stats that reveal their collective hungers, secrets, and measurements.
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?
Next year’s catalogue includes three books of poetry (Sara Deniz Akant’s Babette, Dot Devota’s The Division of Labor, Melissa Dickey’s What Were Woods) and the third book in the Open Prose series, Erik Anderson’s Estranger.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
Our brilliant Creative Director, Sevy Perez, has us paying more attention to art and design than ever before, which is very exciting. Have you seen what he did with Christian TeBordo’s Toughlahoma? The cover is a commissioned Bosch-esque illustration (by the talented Ben Mackey) of anxious apocalyptic nudes (Tough/Rough/Uglahomans) running through the arid mountains in both color (outside cover) and black-and-white (inside cover) with little inside jokes and images from the linked stories. It’s the sort of visual work that makes TeBordo’s already amazing and bleakly hilarious fiction (aka “history, scripture, goddamn dithyramb, and public relations campaign all in one”!) even stranger and adds whole levels of complication, not to mention…well, you know, vibe.
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 Rescue Press?
Wouldn’t it be neat if everyone reading this right now went and bought a book from a small press?
Or, I don’t know, screw it, don’t. Art and money have historically had a contentious relationship and there are some bizarrely liberating aesthetic consequences to that fact. To me, more disheartening than people not buying books is the fact that writers aren’t reading enough. If you are submitting your work to a publisher you should have read, at minimum, three of their books. When it comes to Rescue I don’t care if you’re buying them or stealing them or getting them from the library, if you want us to commit to your work you just should know what our authors are up to as well as be prepared to have nerdy conversations with all of us about Dante and Didion and Niedecker and Baldwin and Michaels and Guest and Sebald and Hijinian and Rankine and Miles and whatever’s on the best-sellers list at SPD. There is more to small press publishing than money (thank god!), but that “more” is a smart, sustained, and inquisitive literary conversation (which is almost always evident in someone’s writing).
As for the technicalities of our budget, we have traditionally employed a pay-what-you-will reading fee and that works okay. We’re also lucky to have generous authors who give readings and chat with writers and teach and make other art and in general take pride in supporting their books. We’ve never done fundraising, but we might. We’ve never charged a mandatory reading fee, but we could. We’ve never married rich, but sure, anything’s possible! Let’s hope!