by Adam Bishop
Anytime I click-open www.journal1913.org, some subconscious troll inside me lets out a sigh of relief. Entering the website of most any small press, I expect some screwball, in-your-face graphic design and a layout which requires insurmountable scrolling and clicking to navigate the page’s contents—having to hover your mouse across an entire webpage before ‘discovering’ the proper link is beyond obnoxious. 1913 Press, despite the antiquity of their name, does not fashion their web-space in such a way. Their site opens cleanly, white with squared, minimalist lines and boxes, while the site’s features are situated clearly along the top. Front and center is a gently scrolling flash of 1913’s published books and journals, and edging their way down the right-hand side of the page is 1913’s social media presence: mailing list, Facebook, Twitter, and Blogspot. That’s it. This small press takes the aesthetic initiative to provide a simple, easy-on-the-eyes website with all the necessary information provided in a highly navigable form. Suffice it to say, this cleanliness, this straight-forward, unapologetically handsome website reflects each of 1913 Press’s publication.
Since its inception in 2003, 1913 Press has brought forth six full-length books, four volumes of a translation series, and five issues of their mind-blowing journal (issue six is on its way!). L’editrice, Sandra Doller (née Miller), along with her man, vice-editor, and designer, Ben (née Doyle), have maintained the vision of 1913 to publish “the baddest in poetry, poetics, prose, & their intersections with the arts of all forms,” hailing the book-as-art-object—that tangible, well-crafted, thought-out, TLC’d bound work of written craft.
I had the opportunity to interview l’editrice, Sandra Doller, about her press. Inside, Sandra reveals the scotch-lubed mechanics of her press and her dog’s taste for fashion; she gives us a peek into the future of 1913 and the desire to perform a technological alchemy, that is, turn an laptop into wood, cell phones into tin-can and string. From the base of my academic being, thank you, Sandra, for answers to my questions, for making this so easy. From the base of my human being, thank you for your time and for making this fun to write.
Q. Let’s start with the glaringly curious—the name 1913. Shouldn’t a small press call itself something that is generally mispronounced or perhaps a name which identifies with a singular object representing the press’s aesthetic—like Ghoti or Garden-Hose?
A. Aha! Well 1913 is definitely the most conceptually mispronounced name out there. We have the oldest Twitter account in the world, consisting of factoids from the year 1913 (if anyone is interested in the real “why” of it all) like the invention of the bra, the invention of ecstasy, the invention of Prada, the birth of Rosa Parks, the death of Harriet Tubman, the federal income tax. Oh, and the Armory Show, Tender Buttons, and faux-bois wallpaper in the papiers-collés.
Q. Yes! The 1913 Armory Show had some big-hitters on display who changed the course of art… I see what you’re getting at. Now, looking for a little press history here, where does 1913 call its first home? Who did the initial masthead consist of? I imagine a living room full of poets and an empty bottle of Bordeaux empty on the floor when L’editrice stands up in a fit of excitement, ‘By golly! Let’s make books!’. Am I close? Why on earth would L’editrice want to run a press?
A. Why on earth indeed would the editrice want to edit anything at all… 1913 was born in Chicago, like the rest of the 20th century. There were in fact many bottles of Bordeaux involved, and Jameson’s to be true, though now we tend towards the Trader Joe’s Scotch, being Californians and all. In my other life, I was studying Kafka, went to Prague to learn Czech, went to St. Petersburg on a train from Berlin to meet the Futurists, and the year 1913 was all over it all, all the time. Don’t you feel that too?
Q. I currently live across the street from a house addressed, 1913, therefore, yes, I do feel that each time I walk out the front door of my house—that 1913 has a presence in my day-to-day. Next question: which came first, the want to publish a journal or the want to publish books?
A. I started the journal first in 2003, and then the press just sort of happened in 2006 with the publication of the very excellent Seismosis by John Keene & Christopher Stackhouse. Back in the old days (then), every house didn’t house a press or a magazine, so it seemed an imaginary and doable and viable and wacky thing to do. The press really started in order to do Seismosis which is so right—isn’t that how a press should start? Hey there’s this completely phenomenal book and it needs to get into the world right now, let’s do it!
Q. I think that existing for the sole purpose of supporting work that you want to see in the world is a perfect reason for starting a press. Clearly, fame and tabloid glory aren’t in the deck for small presses (yet). Operating a small press is clearly a labor of love, especially one which reveres innovation and experimentation, and it seems like a lot of work with a tremendous amount of risk involved. What payoffs or rewards keep 1913 publishing?
A. Well if we really had to “operate” it, like turn the cranks, we would probably slow down to a much more manageable pace. Now I am just hoping that some of Ben’s students will be able to get involved—we’re trying to link up with UCSD—because it has really gone far beyond the whole one-woman + one-man + two-dogs show. It’s always been a collective endeavor, although the workload tends to fall one or two directions at a time. The payoffs and rewards are the works themselves, the writers, the people involved, all the warm and fuzzy things about being part of a community larger than one’s own self, one’s own work. I really do remain committed to the notion that supporting good work is the work. Is that super old-fashioned?
Q. Perhaps. But I think it’s a noble fashion to stick to one’s own guns, to have pride in maintaining one’s vision. I imagine, though, that changes are inevitable, so I’m curious, has 1913 evolved in any surprising ways since its inception—anything catch L’editrice off guard and she decided, ‘Yes! This is good!’, and then rolled with the punches? Or perhaps the inverse of ‘Yes! This is good!’, and then charged ahead anyway?
A. Absolutely, every time. You sound like you’ve been a-editing (like, a-wandering)? That is exactly what happens, the work catches me off guard or in a mood or in a let’s go with it phase, and yet somehow each issue congeals in its own waxy way and becomes its own conversation—out of control, distracted, yet balanced, referential/reverential, and finite.
Q. And then they are bound in a physical format. In designing these books, it is clear that ‘book-as-art-object’ is taken seriously. How much does 1913 involve the authors in this design process, if at all? Or perhaps each publication is approached with a new frame of mind—a different process for every book.
A. Really this all depends on each writer, but yes we ask for cover art, dream size, font, radical form, all that, we want the books to be happy books in the happy hands of their makers. That feeling of getting your book physicalized from the white printer paper to its fancy new bound iteration, it should be like getting your first pair of MiuMiu’s (although Ronald Johnson ate mine)
Q. DIY seems to be a fairly common mantra among small presses when it comes to just about everything, from design to distribution to marketing. For example, Shin Yu Pai’s SIGHTINGS is bound in a cover with holes cut into it revealing text on the first page and I remember her saying how she cut-out each hole herself (perhaps with a little help from her friends?) with an Exacto blade. On a scale of 1-10, how much DIY does 1913 employ?
A. I wish we were at a 10, with a whole workshop full of elves making toys and puppies licking stamps. But really, we’re at a 2 because there are two of us, and the y in DIY is you. But I harbor dreams of hand stamps and exacto knives and chewing gum sticks and candy cigarettes popped into page pockets as presents for readers. We do do buttons, though! Babies in mail bags (it became illegal to mail children in the US Mail in 1913), Duchamp’s bicycle wheel, Malevich’s Black Circle & Black Square. But that might be more swaggy than DIY. (Btw though, Busy Beaver Buttons in Chicago, oh yes.)
Q. Yes! I still have a few of 1913’s buttons from AWP 2000-something with Duchamp’s bicycle wheel and the kid in the mailbag. Let’s talk prizes. There are two contests which 1913 holds (annually?) for publication through their press. One is for first-books and the other is for, well, non-first books. Why? What is the significance of prizes to 1913? Why not simply solicit authors?
A. For its first 4 issues, 1913 was solicit-only; same with the books. But Meg Ronan suggested having Fanny Howe select a first book, and we were off! It seemed like a good way to find work we weren’t going to find any way else. And boy did we. 1913’s Issue 6 actually came almost entirely from submissions to both contests, so it’s a wonderful carry over there. We read every single submission that comes in, and we do plan to continue poaching from them for the journal.
Q. That’s great! In many ways that seems like it cuts out a lot of the work by limiting the slush pile to full length manuscripts. Good thinking. Well, six b-e-a-utiful books, five marvelous issues of 1913: A Journal of Forms, and four issues of READ, a brilliant series on the intersection of art, culture, and their languages (check it out here)—this is the body of 1913. By this body, can we see everything 1913 is and wants to be, or are there projects on the horizon to expand the scope of 1913? Can we get a little taste?
A. We need an electronic hero, we’re holding out for a digital hero. Someone who can move 1913 into the 21st century or back into the 12th century, whichever one. It would be great to have more stuff online. But does there need to be more stuff online? Sure. The Volta and HTML Giant and Omnidawn are all doing all that so swell-like. So yes, maybe 1913 can find a way to make everyone’s laptops and iPhones turn to wood?
Q. And one final, ancillary question… Le Board… what is this mind-blowing collection of writers? Gathered in a single room, this group must bring Armageddon closer to us by their sheer writerly magnitude. Is 1913 signaling the end times?
A. Le Board is THE top of the line. I like to imagine them all dressed in their best velvet and fedoras and galoshes splashing in the pools of Sea World in San Diego. Bring a camera, let’s do the first ever annual Le Board photo. We’ll signal the beginning of the end game.
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I’d like to thank Sandra again for responding with such enthusiasm to my questions. And absolutely, by all means, pick up something, anything, by 1913 Press. Each journal is a spangling collection of writers and available for free in PDF form here, and, of 1913’s full-length books, my personal favorites are Seismosis by John Keene and Christopher Stackhouse and Conversities by Dan Beachy-Quick and Srikanth Reddy. But like I said, anything from 1913 Press is worthy of your attention and is sure to engage you, leaving you stirred as a child in a mailbag or inspired as a bike wheel tacked to a barstool.