Interview with Genevieve Kaplan, Publisher
How did Toad Press start?
Toad Press began mainly because we wanted to contribute to the literary community in a different, additional way. Not just writing, but participating in the process of championing and promoting literature. It helped that I had taken book arts courses as an undergraduate and in grad school, and I loved thinking about the little book, the simple pamphlet, as a form for publishing. The chapbook in particular, has always held an allure for me—I like its accessibility, its ephemerality, its likelihood to be ignored; I like that it isn’t a book and doesn’t seek to be one. I like that the chapbook is flimsy, cheap, and limitless. I like that the chapbook is easy, and that it comes with possibilities. You can read it in a single sitting, you can share it with your friends, you can keep in on your bookshelf forever, you can toss it in the recycling bin. All perfectly reasonable things to do with a chapbook.
But, Toad Press wasn’t really a thing until we decided that we should publish only literature in translation. While we were dreaming up Toad Press, we were finishing our MFAs, which meant that everyone we knew—including ourselves—was hoping to publish their work. And, though I had read some brilliant works in translation (Tomaž Šalamun and Tomas Tranströmer were some of the first poets I read in translation, back in the early 2000s), and I had met some remarkable international poets through the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, I didn’t actually really know any literary translators. So, I thought, aha—if we publish translations we can focus on the work, we can publish the work that really speaks to us, and there won’t be any question of nepotism or favoritism or any of that. We put out a call in Poets & Writers, I emailed the call to a few schools with literary translation programs, and we received, magically, Nick Moudry’s translation of Tristan Tzara’s Twenty-Five-and-One Poems. Which we loved. And then we published. That was the start.
Tell us a bit about Toad Press. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
The long literary history of zines, of self-publishing, of small presses that started from nothing, of mimeographed pamphlets handed out on street corners, these predecessors inspired and continue to inspire Toad Press. Our chapbooks are—still—somewhat handmade. We have the covers professionally printed, but all the guts and the assembly, we do on our own. That means that we touch every single page in every chapbook multiple times, that we fold every crease, that when the staples are askew—they often are—we know it, and we’ve decided that’s the way the chapbook is best experienced. We want you to know that when you’re reading a Toad Press chapbook, you’re reading something that isn’t mass produced, that is published essentially for love, rather than profit.
Perhaps this is obvious, but I should say that we’re a tiny press, on the micro-micro scale. We publish 1-3 chapbooks each year, about 100 copies of each, over the summers. And, since we’re coming up on our 15th year of publishing, we’ve actually built up quite the catalog. Slow and steady, that’s us.
Neither of us is particularly gregarious, so we’re not standing on streetcorners and handing Toad Press chapbooks to strangers. We’re not often tabling at AWP or ALTA or other literary conferences where we’d be likely to find some eager readers. But, our relatively detached approach seems to work: the readers find us, and they found us even before we really put ourselves out there to be found. We’re sort of straddling the line between professional and garage-literary, which is a place we’re pretty comfortable.
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?
Absolutely! In 2016 we were thrilled to publish three titles: The Night’s Belly, by Sara Tuss Efrik (trans. Paul Cunningham), Tail of the Whale, by Alice Sant’Anna (trans. Tiffany Higgins), and stinne storm’s mainland, translated by the author. This year we’re taking on three titles again: José Daniel García’s shadowslongshoreman, translated by Jesse Tangen-Mills, to be followed by Roberta Iannamico’s Wreckage, translated by Alexis Almeida, and then Kim Kyung Ju’s From Whale and Vapor, translated by Jake Levine.
We’re hoping to keep up our slow-but-steady pace of publishing 1-3 chapbooks each year. This feels like a very exciting time for literary translation—more resources, more publishers, more translators, more readers, and we’re really pleased to participate in our small way in this thriving genre.
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 Toad Press?
Toad Press runs at an almost-break-even point and we can do this because, as we described earlier, we do much of our work in house/in garage/in living room. Basically we’re buying paper, ink, and postage. We don’t pay our translators or authors or artists, and we don’t pay ourselves. The irony of the literary chapbook is that while writing and translating and publishing are work—we know these acts are work, we agree these acts are work, we demand they be understood as work—the chapbook itself, the little hand-stapled pamphlet, is also a gift. While we do occasionally give away our chapbooks for free (and we sometimes just think about making them all free), we sell chapbooks because ultimately we’re working within a system that places less value on free objects. We put a price on the chapbooks so that we can participate within that system, and so that our writers and translators can show they are participating in a legitimate literary endeavor. Listing a price and an online ordering option gives our authors and translators something clear to include on their websites, in their applications, in their promotion files. So that they can show readers their work is valued.
We don’t charge reading fees. We don’t run on a contest model. We don’t fundraise. We publish what we like, we create a nice—or, a nice-enough—product, we do our best to do right by our authors and translators, we make our books available to readers, and we send our chapbooks to libraries for collection. The future of literature is made by literature, and it is the writing that endures. We don’t want to be swayed by the economy of what we hope will sell; we want to choose to publish writing that we think is important, that we think will remain important. And choosing what is essentially a shoestring DIY publishing model allows us to worry less about numbers and more about selecting and presenting the literary objects we want to exist in the world.