Special Guest Interview: Meekling Press

Meekling Press is a small publisher, printer, and community arts organization in Chicago, founded in 2012 by graduates of The School of The Art Institute’s MFA in Writing program. They are a low-scale and DIT (Do It Together!) press, with a 100-year-old letterpress at the center of their operations. Their editions are generally handmade, at least partially printed on the letterpress, and hand-bound. They are as delighted to publish a single sentence as they are in publishing a novel-length work. What matters is language, playfulness, openness to the encounter, the way the work creates a space that’s very much its own. In this way they envision the process of bookmaking as a way to wed words and form, of creating a physical space where the book is not just a repository or vehicle for words but instead is considered essential to the work. 

Meekling Press is Rebecca Elliot, Anne Yoder, John Wilmes and Nicholas Davis.  Rebecca Elliot and Anne Yoder responded to the questions below.

STL SPEX (Rachel): Why do you think it’s important to make books by hand, using traditional processes? What do these books provide/create that mass-produced publications can’t?

It is a wonderful thing that there’s room for all of it. Our approach to making books by hand comes out of a desire to make something weird, and the need to do it with as little money as possible. “It turns out, you can make anything out of anything,” my friend courtney marie said to me the other day. (I also have a personal motivation for making books by hand which is that I fantasize about being stranded on a desert island (swiss family robinson) or crashing in the mountains (the hatchet) and having to make everything from scratch.) However, I love looking at those beautiful fine press editions where they’re all hand-bound and letterpress and woodcuts and gorgeous. And mass-produced publications are great and necessary in that they’re accessible to a much larger group of people. And digital publications open up the possibilities even more! We are starting to experiment with paperbacks too, and some of our upcoming books might have no handmade elements at all. The book’s form is a collaboration between the text and the author and the Meekling brain/imagination, and we try to follow that weird path and see where it leads rather than to hold on too tightly to processes or mediums.

Meekling’s handmade books are more, what paper can we find or have leftover in the studio, what binding can we teach our friends so they can hang out with us and make books, how can we combine some fast and easy printing (ie the laser printer) with something cute (the letterpress/hand-printed stuff), and then what can we throw in there that we’ve never tried before to make it a little harder and more interesting? And also, how can we keep the costs of the books low enough that people can afford to buy them? And also, are we having fun yet?

STL SPEX: What are some of your upcoming releases and what excites you about them?

We have 7 (!) upcoming books that we’re thrilled to be working on and we could wax poetic about each of them for days. For the sake of this interview, we’ll contain our discussion to the upcoming four releases, the first of which is going to print as this is written. We all fell in love with Smeyer’s Shit I’ve Cried About, an anthology of zines that document the circumstances of Smeyer’s  ongoing lachrymosity in ways that are, in turn, sad, dour, sensitive, and hilarious. Carrie Olivia Adams’ Proficiency Badges is an erasure poem made from an old Girl Scout handbook. Rebecca and Carrie are currently collaborating on designing this as a limited-edition handmade artist book. We’re publishing two novels too! Marream Krollos’s Stan is about obsession, love, masochism, iconoclasm, and the voice is ablaze from the very first page. Willy Smart’s Switch Wish is an erotic novel disguised as a nature book. Its narrative traces the associative flow of a mind from water striders to stage makeup to music festivals to Freudian stages and back again.

STL SPEX: What are some of the considerations that go into choosing manuscripts for publication? What are your priorities and preferences? 

There’s no specific formula in mind as we read. We all read through the submissions, and the manuscripts that we publish inevitably are the ones that impassion at least one and  sometimes all of us enough to contend for it amongst the many worthy manuscripts we receive. What inspires such devotion? It’s often related to language, to ways of seeing, and to innovation. An author who has a unique vision for their work and an openness to experimentation really stands out to us.

STL SPEX: How does your own experience as a writer/artist inform your work in publishing?

There is not so much of a separation between my work as a writer/artist and my work in publishing. I see my work with Meekling as an integral part of my art practice, and try to approach publishing as an art project. For me, that means that whenever we are working on a new book we are trying something new — whether that’s a new binding or printing method, or a new way of getting it out into the world. We are always learning and growing, and it can get pretty messy. Process, and play, and collaboration. Also, stress and confusion. That sounds pretty good.

STL SPEX: What practical or logistical advice do you have for other small presses based on your experience so far?

I would say, don’t wait until you know what you’re doing (nobody does), or until you have all the money or materials or equipment you think you need (you can make anything out of anything). It’s fun to figure it out along the way. Start small and stay small — remember the little rodents that outlasted the dinosaurs. What can you do with what you have now? What can a book be? A way to make friends, a way to make things with friends. If anyone has specific logistical questions, they can email me at rebecca@meeklingpress.com.

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