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Interview with Erin Segal, Publisher, and Julie Cho, Creative Director
How did Thick Press start?
We, two old friends (Erin Segal and Julie Cho, a DC-based social worker and an LA-based graphic designer) found ourselves in the California desert. We were talking about an unpublished multi-vocal manuscript that had emerged from a storytelling group Erin facilitated with four senior citizens. We decided that Julie should turn the manuscript into a visually interesting book. It quickly occurred to us that the book (now called Recuerdos de Nuestro Pasado) could be the inaugural title for our own press. It also became clear that starting a press would give us the opportunity to explore our ideas about care and collaboration.
Tell us a bit about Thick Press. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Some words we like to throw around are: generosity, materiality, love, emergence, multitexuality, book-as-object, pleasure, vernacular, and hybridity. When people ask about our influences, we talk about utopian organizations like the Black Mountain College. We also talk about the Kitchen Table Press, a feminist press from the 1980s. But we don’t want to be pretentious! We just want to make and share unusual books that explore caregiving, justice-seeking, and community-building. And we do all that in service to creating a more caring world.
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 upcoming title is an artistic self-help book called selfcarefully. It’s already available from our website, but the official publication date is November, 2019, when it will be distributed by Small Press Distribution. For that project, we collaborated with a self-care coach, Gracy Obuchowicz, a graphic designer, Maria Habib, and a risograph printer, Erica Federhen. The book consists of 30 vignettes about caring for oneself in a rocky world, in the context of one’s interconnectedness. We also have plans to publish a hybrid book containing conversations between hospice workers and Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, a young writer. The conversations are interspersed with brief passages about Rachel’s daily life. The poignant conversations between Rachel and the hospice workers are already available in the form of a book, emerging, our zine-like series of booklets that we bind with a rubber band and sell at printing cost from our website.
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.
Books are slow objects that invite introspection—but they can also create community. We feel energized by the community and collaboration we see around independent literary and artist publishing. This feels very different from the competition that infuses mainstream publishing. If we could change one thing, we would love to see more cross-pollination between literary presses and artist publishing practices.
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 Thick Press?
Theoretically, because it isn’t our livelihood, Thick Press functions as our little slice of utopia. This works for our zine-like series called book, emerging. (These are collaborative, authorless, photocopied in runs of 25, bound with rubber bands, and distributed by us for printing cost.) But when it comes to our heftier titles, we can’t possibly make the numbers work without seeking grant funding or crowdfunding to cover printing and design fees. (We are grateful to be eligible for some grant funding through our fiscal sponsor, Fractured Atlas.) We believe that foundations and governments should support socially engaged art, literature, and design—and we wish there were more funding opportunities for hybrid work like ours.