#shinetheory · DIY · fast feminism · guest post · Uncategorized

“This book is an action”: Notes on Creating a Feminist Small Press

For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.

– Audre Lorde

Gap Riot Press is a Toronto-based, women-run chapbook press cofounded by Dani Spinosa and Kate Siklosi. Our mission is to engage a wider literary community through the publication of formally innovative and experimental poetic works, with a priority on unrepresented and marginalized voices.

There’s no ifs ands or buts about it: the textual object is an expression of privilege. As women, we know this well. It’s 2017, and if you want to publish experimental poetry today, chances are, you have to go to a white man to do it. So, we asked ourselves – how, with embers of the CanLit dumpster fire still glowing (see here, here, here, and everywhere), can we enter the space of publication and open a communal space to listen to and engage with writers we so desperately need to hear from?

Gap Riot is the fruit of conversations between women – it is infused with the night heat of summer, the breath of whiskey, the lament of hearts outpouring. It is also the result of our classical anarchist training (thanks, Robert Duncan!). We believe that artists and writers have a communal responsibility to respond creatively to the world – to approach its conditions with a spirit of action, intervention, and love.

A great deal of this responsibility lies with literary publishers and editors, who have a huge role to play in shattering the canon and opposing the very foundations of canon-formation. “By editing with empathy and a wider eye to the readership,” Jacqueline Valencia has recently written in “How Do We Fix the Canlit Canon,” “we can start to form a dialogue conducive to openness and understanding.” Gap Riot Press is our little way of minding the gap in these conversations. If the canon is to change, we don’t need more words – we need dialogue, coproduction, and exchange.

We’ve gotten a lot of questions so far about what makes feminist publishing, well, “feminist.” Do we only publish works by and for women? Does all of our writing have to pertain to gender issues as a theme? Do we hate men? For us, the feminist press is not about exclusion or cutting off conversations between men and women, or people of different races, sexualities, or abilities. It goes beyond having a diversified masthead and roster and our work is just one way of looking at how to move beyond “diversification.” As we will explore in our second installment with Hook & Eye, there are many ways of doing this editorial and cultural work. Gap Riot is also a way for us, as women, to get our hands dirty in the poetic craft as a form of activism: or, poetic craftivism, to use Betsy Greer’s term that grew out of Riot Grrrl. Purposeful acts of gentle anarchy to keep the patriarchal, academic, and corporate worlds woke.  

That’s why we at Gap Riot are so devoted to the craft and the material of small press book production. As poets ourselves, we have always had our eye on the visual poetic which refuses to withdraw the materiality of language from its meaning-making capacities. This materiality, countless poets reminds us, is central to the politics of poetic production. At Gap Riot, we translate this interest in the materiality of poetry to the production of small runs of books that are crafted by women working collaboratively across disciplines and printed at the Toronto-based art printing house Swimmer’s Group. Of course, along with material production and craft comes the issue of finances; we speak more specifically to that issue in our second installment with Hook and Eye on the practical issues of starting a small press and the politics that goes alongside that. As we continue to design and publish these books, we will work collaboratively with designers, artists, printers, and poets to produce books that challenge the traditional structures of book publishing. Chapbooks have always done this work. Craft has always done this work. Feminists have always done this work. We are still learning.

We desire an active and responsive readership. Too often, literary publication practices ignore crucial opportunities for engagement beyond the page. We not only want to take up space in the material production of texts, but we want to open spaces for women and marginalized writers to become their works, try them on, experiment with them. So, beginning in the fall of 2017, we will be starting a reading series that fosters inclusivity and interaction. These events will create reading spaces that are inclusive, supportive, and antagonistic to the traditions of canonicity and exclusivity that so frequently accompany experimental writing.

It is a well-known and widely discussed fact that marginalized writers are severely underrepresented in what we read and critique; it is also well-known, but seldom engaged-with, that the labour of literary production – the work of editors, publishers, agents, and reviewers who wield so much capacity for changing the industry – is work that is controlled and undertaken by white liberal sentinels. Why are there so few marginalized people in influential gatekeeping roles? What barriers to access need to be torn down? These and other questions need to be asked of our literary peers in arms. But we need to start doing more than just asking these questions. As white women, we’re aware that we have a lot of work to do beyond the privilege of setting up a press, and we know how great of a privilege it is to get to do this work. Sure, we can model the editorial practices we wish to see in the world; but mimicking praxis is not enough to destabilize the accumulated cultural capital wielded by the literary establishment. This is an establishment whose kingdoms are universities, whose loudspeakers are mainstream media, and whose coffers are filled by corporations. The establishment is as powerful as it is steadfast; it is a black hole that hungrily absorbs and consumes that which comes near to it. We need strategies other than those practices used by the establishment to feign change, assume diversity, and then reabsorb any glimmers of progression back into its flat, self-serving agenda. It is not enough to simply ask questions about why writers are continually sidestepped. It is not enough to pledge quotas or insert a few texts by recognizably “diverse” writers. We need to begin to open conversations, and open spaces to collective presents at the limits of and outside the establishment. We need to imagine and reimagine together, revise and revision together, and create and recreate – together.

Part of this work involves seeing intersectionality as more than just tokenizing Indigenous, Queer, PoC writers and their work. We want to get further to the roots of access not only in terms of who gets read, but who gets to produce and therefore interrogate and intervene on the canon. We don’t need more words about inclusivity, we need action. We need to mind the gap. So, once we are a little more established, we plan to establish a sponsorship program that will offer funding to add an editor who has traditionally been denied opportunity and representation to the Gap Riot collective. Such funding will also allow that editor to take editing workshop classes and to curate a series of chapbooks, magazines, readings, or perhaps even an anthology for our press. It’s a small way of creating some space for necessary hands in the literary production of what we read. It is a way of constructing shared creative futures based on reciprocal mentorship and exchange. In this way, Gap Riot becomes more than a press – it becomes a moving project, a tremoring constellation of diverse voices, radical ideas, and dissonant discussions.

As they exist and govern today, the larger structures of literary production (their institutions and their gatekeepers) do not foster this type of movement. Most literary powerhouses – commercial houses and university presses – protect whiteness, and in particular, male whiteness. These institutions also foster a culture of self-absorbed elitism and careerism. We need to counteract these entrenched narratives by using community to combat the institutions and practices that render innovative writers tokenized or invisible. Part of the solution is to increase exposure by getting on the ground with our works – selling them at book fairs, in parking lots, at kitchen tables. We need to actively identify those writers who are doing innovative work but aren’t receiving acknowledgement and invite them to publish and to edit the work alongside us. We have to move beyond the desire to just sell a few books, and work instead towards getting people talking, performing, and creating alongside each other.

Gap Riot Press takes influence from our literary forebears and Riot Grrrls. We know we are following in a long lineage of women, PoCs, queer and trans folk, and allies who have done, and continue to do, the work of supporting and amplifying marginal voices of all kinds. We’re also in good company. Bolstered by the continued work by organizations like CWILA, literary awards like the Emerging Indigenous Voices Fund, and publishing and editorial support initiatives like Vivek Shraya’s new imprint, VS Books, with Arsenal Pulp. We’re here to embody the unexpected and question expectations. We’re here to challenge the view of marginalized as always “emerging” when they have simply been unacknowledged. We’re here for collectivity, protest, and resistance channeled through creative energy. We’re here to work together towards shared, intersectional futures. We’re here to kick down the doors of the privileged canon, and take some names.

Of course, we’re only just getting started. Our first chapbook, the beautiful and moving What Linda Said by Toronto-based poet, novelist, and playwright Priscila Uppal, soft launched as a part of the premiere of her play by the same name at this summer’s SummerWorks Theatre Festival in Toronto. Our next release is already being finalized as we write this—an innovative, visually striking, and generally badass look at Salomé from feminist poet Adeena Karasick. And we have more on the way.

For more information, please visit us online at www.gapriotpress.com, follow us on Twitter @gapriotpress, or shoot us a quick email at gapriotpress@gmail.com.

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