Matthew Stadler - Publishing and Public Space

Publishing and Public Space

In a 2008 lecture in Vitoria, Spain, Stadler described publication as "the creation of a public ... There is no preexisting public," he went on. "The public is created through deliberate, willful acts: the circulation of texts, discussions and gatherings in physical space, and the maintenance of a related digital commons. These construct a common space of conversation, a public space, which beckons a public into being. This is publication in its fullest sense."

Stadler maintains that the public we think of when we speak of "public opinion" or a "main stream" is the manufactured product of special interests that use publication to conjure a public that "can justify their own self-interests." He cites the example of the "public will" conjured by the US government and news media to support that country's 2003 invasion of Iraq. Publication "is always a political act," Stadler argues. It is "imperative that we publish" not only as a means to counter the influence of a hegemonic "public," but also to reclaim the space in which we imagine ourselves and our collectivity. "We feel lonely and powerless when we accept the myth of 'the main stream public.' When we accept that fiction we relinquish our ability to form our own collectivities and draw hope from them."

A year before Stadler's first novel was released, he began to run a writing class at his kitchen table in Seattle. He met there several writers, artists, and scientists including Lee Hartwell and Frances McCue. That same year, McCue and poet Jan Wallace had founded a reading series, The Rendezvous Room Reading Series, to bridge the gap between academic writers at the University of Washington and the underground writers of The Red Sky Poetry Theater. Stadler joined them as a co-director of the series. "One thing led to another, and before long we were organizing classes for writers and artists in a self-generating night school called The Extension Project," Stadler wrote in the introduction to an unpublished manuscript.

During this time Stadler began to publish his novels, which were placed with large New York-based publishers, Charles Scribner's Sons, Harper-Collins, and Grove Press. He also wrote for widely-distributed, New York-based journals such as the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, Spin Magazine, the Village Voice, and many others. But frustration with the narrow interests at these publication led Stadler to focus on small "start-up" journals and zines closer to home, where he was able to develop concerns and a writing style that were not in fashion with the editors he knew at the larger New York-based journals.

In 1994, he joined a fledgling weekly newspaper in Seattle, The Stranger, and became their first books editor, founding a books quarterly and bringing accomplished poets and prose writers such as Eileen Myles, Charles D'Ambrosio, Lisa Robertson, Kevin Killian, Bruce Benderson, and Stacey Levine to write for the paper. In 1996 he became the first (and only) literary editor for Nest Magazine, an idiosyncratic interiors magazine, founded and directed by Joseph Holtzman, that Stadler described as "a really beautiful zine run by a millionaire." Nest, where Stadler assigned and edited all of the texts throughout the magazine's six-year run, won the National Magazine Awards for General Excellence and for Design and was widely acclaimed as, in architect Rem Koolhaas's words, "an anti-materialistic, idealistic magazine about the hyperspecific in a world that is undergoing radical leveling, an 'interior design' magazine hostile to the cosmetic."

Many of the writers Stadler published at The Stranger and Nest had books they could not get published, so in 2001 he co-founded Clear Cut Press, a small independent press, with Richard Jensen, the former president of Sub Pop Records and co-founder of Up Records.

Clear Cut Press applied the viral, community-based marketing that Jensen had used to cultivate audiences for music at Sub Pop and Up to promote new books by the authors Stadler had been publishing at Nest and The Stranger. The press hosted festive public gatherings that blended readings with live music by friends of the press, including Phil Elverum, Jona Bechtolt (YACHT), Black Cat Orchestra, Lou Barlow, and many others. The events were meant to "cultivate a long-term conversation that makes a community of readers," Stadler said in a 2004 interview.

The books, printed in a uniform trim size and designed by Tae Won Yu, were distributed primarily by subscription. " ship a book out of the warehouse if we feel confident that it will reach a reader," Stadler continued. "That means (1) shipping to those who have already paid (subscribers and online orders); (2) shipping to stores that know CCP well and will shepherd the books to readers; (3) shipping to distributors who know CCP well…" Clear Cut Press published nine books in runs of 2000 – 4000 and sold out most of its runs with a less-than-one percent return rate, virtually unheard of in commercial publishing (industry average is 45% return rate).

In April, 2005, Stadler and Clear Cut author Matt Briggs organized the Unassociated Writers Conference and Dance Party as "part party, part architectural experiment, part performance, part song and dance," the conference promoted an alternative literary culture of zines, micro presses and project-based publishing."

In 2004 Clear Cut Press sponsored a dinner for its subscribers in Portland, Oregon, collaborating with a restaurant group called Ripe. The evening included live music, readings, a film, and food and drink. Stadler later asked Ripe's owners, Michael Hebb and Naomi Pomeroy, to appoint him as a "writer in residence" for Ripe. In exchange for food and drink he would write essays and program a monthly series of "presentations/symposia/bacchanals replete with food, drink, music, and general boisterousness garlanding the central pleasure of bright intellects voicing their excellent texts, winging it in conversation, and screening or presenting various textual and visual delights." The result was the back room, an ongoing series of dinners and conversations with associated commissions for new publications. As of 2008, the back room has held over 30 events (with such guests as Gore Vidal, Aaron Peck, Gregory Crewdson, Anne Focke, Mary Gaitskill, Lisa Robertson, Lawrence Rinder, and Aaron Betsky) and commissioned more than a dozen new essays, publishing eight chapbooks and one 500-page anthology, which are distributed worldwide.

Broad interest in the Clear Cut Press model and the back room events led Stadler, in 2005, to found the Using Global Media workshop, a seminar of sorts that functions as a laboratory for exploring what he calls "the ecology of publication" (that is, the combination of printed texts with public gatherings and an associated digital commons). The workshop convenes as a group of a dozen or so, periodically; and it grows by convening in distant places where new members can join, whenever circumstances allow.

The publication project called suddenly developed from conversations with the curator, Stephanie Snyder, who directed the back room and joined the Using Global Media workshop in 2006. The suddenly web site is authored by another workshop member, Sergio Pastor. Stadler chose to publish suddenly's central document, a 500-page annotated reader, Where We Live Now, with the print-on-demand site, Lulu. Suddenly distributes the book by programming public conversations in many cities around the world, so that rather than having a large reservoir of printed copies that must be stored until they are pushed out through market pipelines, suddenly cultivates conversations that then draw the books out one-by-one from the printer, like sponges drawing water.

In September 2009 he cofounded Publication Studio, a print-on-demand publisher that prints and binds books by hand in a Portland, Ore., storefront, "creating original work with artists and writers we admire, books that both respond to the conversation of the moment and can endure. We attend to the social life of the book, cultivating a public that cares and is engaged. Publication Studio is a laboratory for publication in its fullest sense — not just the production of books, but the production of a public." Among the writers and artists published by Publication Studio are Lawrence Rinder, Walter Benjamin, Ari Marcopoulos, Lisa Robertson, Thomas Sieverts, Jessica Jackson Hutchins, and Matt Briggs.

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