He founded The Crumpled Press, a small book-publishing company, in 2004.
What neighborhood do you live in?
Park Slope. I’ve lived in New York City for over 10 years—starting in Harlem, then to Williamsburg, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, and then finally my wife and I found a sunny apartment here in Park Slope. I guess I followed the typical progression of a guy who starts off here on his own, lives on the cheap in a crowded apartment, and then falls in love, gets married and moves to Park Slope. Yes, I’m that guy.
For people who may be unfamiliar with it, how would you describe what The Crumpled Press does?
We publish handmade books by new authors or established authors who want to say something new. We look for quality literature that would be crumpled up and thrown in the waste by mass-market publishers who seem to only look for proven marketability. We liberate texts from the waste and create an audience for good writing, instead of packaging texts for a target audience. We produce our books at book-binding parties where volunteers and friends come together around the creation of book—getting to know each other while learning to fold and sew. We sell the books through our website crumpledpress.org, book events, and at bookstores that are supportive of the book and/or the press.
Why did you start it up?
I originally self-published my own book of poetry, Still Leaves, in 2004 because I wanted to share the work without having to put it through the literary pageant of submitting to journals I have never heard of so that some place I’ve heard of will one day hear of me and decide I’m worthy of consideration… When I got to New York, I went to a lot of the events and readings for the more prestigious literary awards, publications and societies. I was startled by the fact that it was always the same type of people—or literally the exact same people—judging the contests and awards. There seemed to be a “sameness” of taste—even the poets were not immune. So instead of tailoring my work to get into the publications I needed to be in, I went off on my own and made my book by hand with archival materials and sent out copies to everybody I thought would appreciate it and never throw it away. I was inspired by Walt Whitman’s self-publishing, so it is strangely fitting that our latest book is called The Walt Whitman House.
The idea was that, if my book were never thrown away, it would always live on for somebody. The title of the press was a bit of an ironic joke to myself about that idea; I thought I was saving my book from being crumpled up and discarded by time. It turned into a real publishing house when my best friend and college roommate Alex Bick called me and asked, “Is this really your press? And can I do it too?” I answered yes to both questions, and we started publishing other peoples work simply because we both love books and thought it was fun. The first book we published was Nick Jahr’s 911, so he quickly joined in on the effort as well. As the years passed, we noticed the community of authors, friends and volunteers growing around us as our books and methods became more professional. Today, Alex and Nick are consulting editors and the press carries on in the full spirit of the community we discovered we could create with those first books.
Why start up in Brooklyn?
I’m doing this to bring people together around the literature they love so important works which might have otherwise been lost in obscurity can achieve a sustainable existence within the community they generate—and by time and extension, culture at large.
Brooklyn is populated by people who want to live in a friendly neighborhood and take part in a vibrant community. In Park Slope, people work together to make their groceries better, their schools stronger, and their local culture more vital—so why not work together to make better books? The possibilities for collaboration, along with the vibrant literary culture, make Brooklyn the perfect place for The Crumpled Press.
I heard on the news that people don’t buy physical books anymore. Is that true?
I think people buy books in a way that is different now; but they still need to buy physical books. If you want the long answer, look in Anthony Grafton’s Codex In Crisis to find out about the role of “the book” vs. the Internet. We published that work because it speaks so directly to the overall project of The Crumpled Press. The short answer is that a book, now more than ever, is required to fulfill a function beyond the delivery of text. Because e-readers are now the most efficient method of textual delivery, a book’s responsibility to present, contain, honor, and preserve the text has become more important to customers. Personally, I believe there is no better way of fulfilling those functions than a handmade book. But this is not to lose sight of the fact that people buy our books first and foremost to read them. When people hold one of our books, they are immediately enthusiastic about enjoying the writing through a form that interacts with and complements the reading experience. The Internet can do the same thing in its own way, but webpages are much more easily deleted than books—and you can’t hold them in your hand, so there is no physical trace of those who made it or those who read it. People buy our books to get back to a reading experience which is connected to the historical and fundamental role of print: physically binding together and preserving our thoughts for generations to come.
Is this your dream job? Or do you still hope to transition into something else?
Yes, this is my dream job. When I was teaching high school, every day at 11:11am, I would tell my class to make a wish. My wish was always “success for The Crumpled Press.” This is a mantra that has come to mean different things for me over the years, but a mantra that nonetheless remains unchanged to this day.
Which of your personal characteristics make you ideally suited to pull this off?
(And which don’t?)
The details and drudgery that make up the business end of the press are a challenge for a creative type like me, but I do the best a can with what I have. I can pull this off because I am good at teaching people and relating to people. My friends have always told me that I have a highly developed emotional intelligence, and most of the skills involved in running the press are people-skills. I love making books and showing others how to do it. I also enjoy grammar, reading things over and over, and talking and thinking about them at length, which makes me a good editor.