Interview with Kelly Dulaney and Todd Seabrook, Editors
How did The Cupboard Pamphlet start?
The current editors own nothing of The Cupboard Pamphlet’s beginnings: it was not yet ours; we were not yet involved. What we know is this: The Cupboard Pamphlet began as a series of anonymous and free pass-around pamphlets published by Dave Madden and Adam Peterson at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. It quickly evolved from this iteration into what it is now: a publisher of chapbook-sized prose works. In 2014, Dave and Adam slipped away to take on other projects and The Cupboard Pamphlet fell into our clutching hands.
Its ours, now. Its ours, forever.
Tell us a bit about The Cupboard. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
We exist for prose works.
Our objective mission is to publish chapbook volumes of writing that embrace the liminal. We don’t discern based on genre or subject matter—we want writing that expresses depth, cross-genre possibility, and emotional vigor. We like works that engage in some level of strategic play with regards to structure and language; we like writing that inhabits its own textual body with weight and force; we like autopsy reports, 17th century maps, Calvino, and poker bluffs. We’ll read anything that stinks of earth.
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?
Our most recent titles are Brad Aaron Modlin’s Surviving in Drought and Jennifer A. Howard’s You on Mars: Failed Sci-Fi Stories, both of which deal in terrible futures and marital yearning and the strange story structures we might come to know as normal when all the world is salt. We can’t recommend these titles enough. Come Fall, we’ll publish Alex McElroy’s Daddy Issues, about attempts at existence in the wake of patriarchs, and Danilo Thomas’ The Hand Implements, about violent tool use in the rural mountain towns of the West.
Something about our recent editorial choices feels timely.
We want to continue to publish strange and timely chapbooks. One day, when the world is rich and our pockets are lined with silk, we’d like to produce Artist Books, with cutaways and colors and folds. We won’t have that ability for some time, but it’s a distant dream and future goal.
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.
Literary communities excite us. We like the ways in which small presses come together to support each other via bookfairs, readings, reviews, and cross-promotional social media. We like to read widely and are grateful for the opportune doors that other presses open that we may pass through.
That said, the small press world can be insular and perhaps a touch myopic. In the current political climate, many are wondering how the small press community can have a practical influence. The small press world should ask itself: Who is our audience and what is our purpose? Are we for the world at large or are we just for a select AWP/MFA group? Our perennial arguments—the merits of the MFA, the paid submissions debate, what is the real point of AWP—are creating an ever-more closed system of writing, one which recursively creates the need for such arguments. We’d like to see more openness from small presses. We’d like to see an engagement with other mediums, other artists, and other people outside of writing community so as to make sure we don’t lose perspective on what our use and influence to society is. We can and should continue to debate issues that affect the small press community, but we shouldn’t fall into a mindset that such arguments are necessarily foundational.
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 The Cupboard?
We cope by shifting shape.
The Cupboard Pamphlet was once very economical: our titles were tape-bound; our readers were friendly subscribers; our writers were unpaid. But our books fell apart. Our readers forgot to resubscribe. Our writers were wonderful but neglected. To cope, we standardized our layout designs and switched to perfect-bound bound books. We made more of an effort at bookfairs and developed supporting swag items to sell (handcrafted cupboards, crass tote bags). We have raised our book prices in increments, from $5 (then) to $10 (now), which helps to offset printing costs and readings. We also charge a contest reading fee. All of this makes us feel bad. To cope, we reward subscribers, who receive four books for $20 (the old price) and who may submit any work to us at any time.
We editors do not take any income from The Cupboard Pamphlet; all money is meant for making books, promoting books, and paying authors. We are lucky to be able to do what we do without pay. We are lucky in our literary and artistic friendships: our authors aid us at bookfairs and conferences; our contest judges provide us promotional attention through social media and other outlets; experimental animator Ian Bawn makes delightful book trailers on our behalf.
Still, funds are difficult—we are always two volumes away from a burn-down. So we’ll shift shape again, Kickstart our endeavors, and expand our offerings via bookstores. We promise that it will be really cool, though.