Q & A: Chapbook Publishers

Kit Frick on Black Lawrence Press

As part of the The NYC/CUNY CHAPBOOK FESTIVAL on Thursday, April 2 from 10AM – 7PM at The Graduate Center, CUNY, we are presenting interviews with some of the chapbook publishers who will be taking part in the festival.

Kit Frick is the author of two chapbooks: Echo, Echo, Light (Slope Editions, 2013, winner of the Slope Editions Chapbook Prize) and Kill Your Darlings, Clementine (Rye House Press, 2013). Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, Kit studied poetry at Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA in Creative Writing from Syracuse University. She is the Chapbook Editor at Black Lawrence Press. Kit lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and their two scholarly felines. She is at work on her first YA novel.

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What is your own personal history with chapbooks? How did they first catch your interest?

I was first introduced to chapbooks in college. One of my first poetry professors, Jeffrey McDaniel at Sarah Lawrence College, brought a few from his personal collection into one of our workshops. What I loved most about chapbooks right from the start was how different and special they all were. Saddle-stitched, perfect bound, glue-gunned and stapled, you name it. They were everything I loved about books: you could tell they were a real collaboration between the author and the press. There was something immediately special about them.

What made you first decide to start publishing chapbooks?

I've worked as an editor with Black Lawrence Press, which is run by Executive Editor Diane Goettel, since 2009. Diane acquired the press shortly before that point, and BLP had already put out a small number of chapbooks when Diane took the reins. My first job for BLP was helping Diane read for the Spring 2009 Black River Chapbook Competition; a manuscript I'd read and fallen in love with (Saint Monicaby Mary Biddinger) was selected for publication as one of the finalists, and it was so, so exciting to see that book go from a paper manuscript (this was back when we still read snail mail submissions) to a chapbook. So, the decision to start publishing chapbooks through BLP pre-dated me, but they quickly became one of my favorite things we did through the press, and in 2012, after three years of editing for BLP, Diane let me take the lead on curating our chapbook series, which includes running the twice-annual Black River Chapbook Competition and also selecting manuscripts through our June and November open reading periods.

Could you talk a little bit about your own process of making and publishing chapbooks?

At BLP, we make perfect-bound chapbooks, which means they're printed through a traditional printer and look a lot like "regular" paperback books, only skinnier! I love, love, love all the myriad ways chapbooks are constructed through various small presses, but perfect-binding our chaps allows us to do a couple of things that aren't possible with hand-made chaps: we can (and do) give each of our chapbooks an ISBN, and because they have ISBNs, we can distribute them nationally through Small Press Distribution, Amazon, and brick & mortar retailers. This also allows us to go back to our printer for a second (or third!) print run; all of our chaps are still in print, which is also pretty unique for a form that is more traditionally constructed in hand-made limited editions.

What is unique about the chapbook form, or why chapbooks and not book-books?

I love the way the chapbook form allows a writer to explore an idea in a big way in a limited space. Ten thematically similar short shorts or twenty linked poems might not fit neatly into a full-length manuscript, or maybe they're the beginning of a longer project, but either way, the chapbook allows a shorter exploration to be showcased in a unique way. You can take risks with a chapbook, both as a writer and an editor. It's exciting!

Do you have recent favorite chapbook from another press?

This is one of those questions where I feel the compulsion to name at least three, but I'm really, truly going to limit myself to one! I'll throw my shout-out to Rebecca Hazelton's Bad Star (YesYes Books 2013), both because Becky always knocks it out of the park ("in the universe's accident, to be a bright star / in the wrong constellation") and because KMA Sullivan, YesYes's publisher, is one of our perfect-bound sisters—the Vinyl 45s Chapbook Series is perfect-bound, and their books feature beautiful matte covers.

What does it mean to the chapbook and experimental publishing community to come together and compare projects once a year at the CUNY Chapbook Festival?

It's such a great experience! I got to table for BLP at the CUNY Chapbook Festival in 2013, and I'm really looking forward to doing it again this year. It's great for the editors—we all get to put faces to names and faces to books--and for the public. I get to talk about our chapbooks every year at major conferences like AWP, but being in a space that's 100% chapbook-centric and getting to talk up all my books? I'm basically in heaven.

More Q & A: Chapbook Publishers