Books In Conversation
MAX WINTER AND LISA LUBASCH with Megan Gillin-Schwartz
Award-winning New York City-based poets Lisa Lubasch and Max Winter recently launched Solid Objects, printing novella-size books in a wide range of literary aesthetics and approaches. Their trio of debut offerings includes Jim Shepard’s 56-page novella Master of Miniatures, Mac Wellman’s drama, Left Glove, of equal page length, and Randy Bradley, a 40-page hardcover debut by Jake Bohstedt Morrill. Lubasch is both a writer and translator; her collections of poetry include Twenty-One After Days, from which a selection received a PIP Gertrude Stein Award for Innovative Poetry in English. Winter is the author of The Pictures (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2007) and writes frequent book reviews for The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, and other publications.
Megan Gillin-Schwartz (Rail): Can you tell me a little about your inspiration for Solid Objects, and for these sort of high-quality precious little books?
Lisa Lubasch: That was something that just appealed to us. It’s bite-size, in a sense, digestible. We enjoy the tactile quality of the reading experience; paper consistency, cover thickness and typeface are all elements we respond to directly. Not that we’re creating books as art objects. We wanted to create an object that was pleasurable to experience.
Rail: Your first book was Jim Shepard’s Master of Miniatures. Did you approach him or did he come to you?
Lubasch: We approached Shepard. He’s a writer whose work we both know and love. While many people know the story of Godzilla, they might not know the story of Eiji Tsuburaya, the special effects director behind the original movie Gojira. It provides an interesting perspective. … We feel very fortunate to be able to put these books into the world.
Rail: What about the cover art?
Lubasch: We looked through a lot of books and magazines to find cover artists we thought would suit the work. We had some familiarity with Michael Kupperman’s work before we started the press. We thought his sensibility was right for Shepard’s and Jake Bohstedt Morrill’s work.
Rail: What would you hope is the first reason the reader would pick up one of your books?
Lubasch: We were very drawn to these writers aesthetically. They’re all sort of independent spirits, not necessarily commenting on other styles. The most pronounced example of that is perhaps Mac Wellman, because a large part of his aesthetic is about forging his own ground without too much concern for marketability or even “stageability.”
Max Winter: We hope also that (readers) have some expectation, at least in Wellman or Shepard’s case, of the type of content they’re getting. In the case of Randy Bradley, it’s a little bit different because it’s a debut, but there’s a certain quality that Wellman and Shepard share, that of sort of moving forward in your own way, resolutely.
Rail: You have an advisory board. Barbara Epler, Editor-in-Chief, New Directions, Tim Griffin, Editor-at-Large, Artforum, and Darin Strauss, novelist. How do they influence decisions you make?
Winter: We wanted people with a variety of professions, and also slightly different aesthetic stances to be involved. They're functioning as sources of information and moral support at this point. We're making the editorial decisions.
Rail: So you have the small size. What were your considerations in choosing your price point?
Winter: We’re basing it on what we considered a reasonable price given what we know about small press pricing. Morrill’s book was a little bit higher because it was a hardcover. Both of the prices we offered seemed within reason for the quality of the work.
Rail: Lawrence Ferlinghetti , the co-founder of City Lights, a small press with similar beginnings, wrote, "the function of the independent press is to discover new voices and give them an audience." An accurate statement?
Winter: I think small presses can have a lot of different functions. One very important function is putting work out into the world by people who haven’t published before, people with whom the world is not that familiar. Another is to circulate good writing in whatever form or degree of reputation.
Lubasch: We’re publishing a beautiful new book by Miranda Mellis in the spring. Getting work by newer writers out there is definitely one of our objectives.
Winter: I think of all publishers as sort of independent. … I think they’re actually in a very good place right now in terms of the history of publishing. A lot of writers are turning to independent presses. A lot are publishing themselves. … It’s not to denigrate the work of the larger publishers. People are just trying to stretch their muscles.
Lubasch: Printing something is a way of saying this is one of several things I can offer to the world. Any statement of that kind has its own integrity.
Rail: You launched Shepard’s book right around the time Soft Skull was acquired by Counterpoint. With sort of parallel beginnings, I’m wondering what your long term plans are for Solid Objects?
Winter: We started with smaller books. At some point we’ll probably try to start to print longer books. When you start something, you want to start manageably. Realistically. Electronic publishing, that’s something that could be introduced at some point, as sort of an adjunct to print publication. Right now we’re enjoying printing things.
Rail: So I’m sort of curious, Mac Wellman’s Left Glove, your second book, was a play. Randy Bradley, an epistolary novella. You have three such different styles.
Lubasch: We were interested in printing drama right from the outset. Not too many small presses print drama. Wellman was in a sense a really natural choice. His work combines dramatic and poetic elements, based on ideas of movement and the relationship between words often associated with poetry. You may not know why an activity is taking place, but you don’t really need to on some level. You just respond to it. It’s incredibly moving.
Winter: As far as Morrill’s Randy Bradley, that attracted us because of its great humor and eccentricity, its humanity. It’s a portrait of a … very peculiar character with a strange worldview, incredibly human. You follow a story with a Japanese film director with a play about a lost glove, with characters who are not really characters (one character in Wellman’s play is the article “the” and another is the conjunction “and”). Follow that with a tightly knit portrait, like Randy Bradley, then that, too, is a surprise. You have to keep things interesting.
Winter: The submissions we have gotten have been in many shapes and forms. It’s really great fun to look at all these things next to each other, all of the different perspectives, backgrounds, and styles.