On Wednesday, Oct. 5, Pitzer College hosted the Small Press Fest in McConnell Center. The fest showcased the work of various independent presses throughout Southern California, including eohippus labs, Inlandia Institute, Kaya Press, Libros Antena Books, and Writ Large Press. The event started with a book fair in McConnell Living Room, followed by a publisher’s panel and readings by featured authors in the Founders Room.
According to Pitzer creative writing professor and organizer of the event Brent Armendinger, that while Pitzer has brought poets and fiction writers to campus every year, the Small Press Fest was the first time the college has done an event on this scale, incorporating the book fair, panel, and the reading. The afternoon was also focused on recognizing the “often invisible behind-the-scenes work that small press publishers do, moving beyond the space of the book and into the community,” Armendinger said.
Armendinger has had his own share of good experience with the small press; his own book of poetry, The Ghost in Us Was Multiplying, was published by a small experimental press in New Mexico.
“Small presses can be much more adventurous and accountable to diverse communities than mainstream publishers are–this means publishing work that has a more experimental approach to language, highlighting the work of people of color, women, and queer writers, and publishing work in translation,” he said. “Small presses are also usually run by writers, people who have a great deal of investment in literary practice. Unlike mainstream publishers, there is much less emphasis on making a profit–they can focus on the writing itself,” said Armendinger.
During the panel, Amanda Ackerman and Harold Abramowitz of eohippus labs emphasized their focus on short form pieces, from pamphlets to greeting cards. These modes of literary expression allow for us to “think about the ephemeral and what is contingent on the moment right now,” as Ackerman said. They also discussed the idiosyncratic ways in which the material they publish is distributed, recounting a story in which a friend in San Francisco randomly discovered one of the press’s pamphlets in a laundry mat. They also talked about how eohippus labs as a press are interested in examining how writing engages with the community, this event being an example of that.
Cati Porter, founder and editor of Poemeleon: A Poetry Journal and director of the Inlandia Institute, also spoke. Inlandia is a nonprofit organization focused on publishing the work of Inland Empire writers. Porter stressed the importance of community-building, stating that her goal in small press publishing is “to reward the work of local non-professional writers and create more of a writing community in the Inland Empire.”
The idea of small presses as foundations for community-building was also brought up by Neelanjana Banerjee, managing editor of Kaya Press. She said that their emphasis on Asian diasporic writers and writers of color provided a community and a platform for previously unheard voices. “We may be small but we want to inspire people to think that they can create something,” Banerjee said.
Jen Hofer of Libros Antena Books spoke next, explaining that her press focuses largely on issues of social justice through their publishing. The organization investigates “what things experimental poetry has to say about community activism, and how community activism might be able to inform experimental poetry,” Hofer said. Her main interest in this regard is language justice, which works towards creating more bilingual/multilingual spaces. Hofer also talked about her efforts to create more spaces dedicated to local small presses. Her installation at Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, Antenamovíl, did just that, as it was largely composed of DIY and small press literature in both Spanish and English.
Chiwan Choi of Writ Large Press then explained his start in micropublishing to “open a space to help people speak, to declare.” In his “90 for 90” series, he organized 90 literary events for 90 nights straight in a tiny Union Station bar. This allowed many writers from the local community to form connections and get their ideas out.
“We strived to answer how we can use the book to bring people together in spaces where they wouldn’t normally be,” Choi said. He also mentioned that Writ Large put all the money from one of their book’s sales towards Black Lives Matter, yet another example of the small press’s capability for meaningful activism.
“The fact we get to put out amazing books is now just a side-effect,” choi said.
The readings that followed allowed for the diverse works that small press makes possible to be displayed. Rocío Carlos, a Los Angeles writer who is working with Rachel McLeod Kaminer of Writ Large Press on Attendance, a book of documentary poetry, thought that the Small Press Fest was a great opportunity for writers and students to both find out about and support small presses.
“While large presses emphasize commodity, small presses focus on making meaningful products, even if it’s only on a small scale,” Kaminer said. Students had a similar response, Elliot Joyce PZ ’18 said that he came away with the impression that “Small presses allow for more freedom and variety in publishing, and focus on promoting social change.”
We can expect more events like this in the future at the 5Cs. Armedinger plans to host “Small Press Spotlights” that bring in writers and publishers from one press at a time later on.