Interview with Pen & Brush’s Lisbeth Redfield

We recently conducted an interview with Lisbeth Redfield, the Literary Arts Manager of Pen and Brush. Pen and Brush, originally founded in 1894, has remained steadfast in its goal of being a nonprofit dedicated to showcasing exceptional women’s art, both literary and visual. Although much of the initial vision for Pen and Brush has stayed true to form, their renewed focus on mentorship for young and burgeoning women artists—specifically, a new Literary Arts program for emerging writers and an exhibition space—gave us much to talk about.

Pen & Brush was originally started to engage ‘mutual improvement, advancement and social intercourse.’ How has Pen & Brush as a whole evolved over the years? Has the vision of the organization changed at all?

Any organization as old as Pen and Brush has seen a lot of changes on a micro and macro level, and Pen and Brush has gone through an evolution appropriate to a group that has watched the entire 20th century, reflecting the political, cultural, social, economic changes of the times. In the words of our Executive Director, “we have a responsibility to put the organization in a place where it can do what it has always been charged with doing.”

But where the mission in practice has changed with the changing community, the guiding principle behind the group’s activities has remained steadfastly consistent: we exist to combat gender-based inequality in the arts; we support the premise that art and literature are vital aspects of the human experience; and we believe – passionately – that art and literature created by women deserves to be recognized and valued on its own merit. The desire to engage artists and provide a shared space for them to discuss, market, and improve their craft has also been a consistent impetus for the organization, and will inform our work into the future.

Earlier this month, Pen & Brush opened new facilities. What will this space be used for? How do you think the space will speak to P&B’s vision? 

We are so proud of our new space! It’s beautiful: please come and visit. Because our organization is devoted to promoting the work of women writers and of visual artists, our new space is intended as a home for writers and artists. The space is an art gallery, dedicated to showing the work of female artists selected by our guest curators. It also functions as an event space to give the publishing program – which is entirely electronic – a physical home. We’re putting together some innovative literary programming as part of our Literary Takeover at the beginning of 2016, when we will be welcoming panels, workshops, readings and more in an effort to strongly link the written world and visual art. Our new space is nothing less than a physical manifestation of our mission: a place that brings together literature and visual art by and for women, and brings it to the attention of art-lovers and readers.

P&B recently started a new Literary Arts program focusing on showcasing new voices in women’s writing. What prompted the creation of this program and where do you see it going in the future? 

Our re-opening is in many ways a return to the impulses that motivated the creation of the organization in 1894, when three key words – “contemporary,” “art,” and “literature” – dominated the group’s activity. Our past presidents and members include Pearl S. Buck and Ida Tarbell (who was the organization’s president for 30 years), and a number of other leading female writers and artists. We felt that there had always been a need for us to support women’s writing, and as part of our move and relaunch, we wanted to put the visual and the literary sides next to each other as equals: two siblings in the same family, under the same roof.

In the future we hope to see a thriving list of quality literary fiction, and one that places skilled authors in close contact with well-connected industry professionals. We’d like to see packed readings, folks eagerly discussing the big ideas behind art and literature, with our wonderful paintings behind them. We want to be a place where people know they will find thought-provoking art and writing, a place where women gather for events and shows and panel discussions, and know that they are taking part in a group that is fighting on their side, committed to supporting them making a living by making art.

How did you choose the literary curators for the project and how do they contribute to it?

I’m going to reverse this answer, since the second part of the question – how do our literary curators contribute to our publishing – is the more unusual one in the literary world. The short answer is that our curators read incoming submissions and select the work we publish. We ask them to look at all of our submissions (the only ones we reject are from people who have not signed our terms and conditions agreement, or who have submitted in a genre we don’t currently publish). Every curator is encouraged to read all the submissions. When a curator finds a piece she likes, she recommends it for publication and “adopts” it: doing what she can to support the author and the work once we publish it.

What is going on here, you might ask. Why not have an editorial team like the other presses and literary magazines?

Well, for a start, there’s our mission: Pen and Brush as an organization stands outside the review process. Our role is connecting talented writers to experienced and well-networked curators, which is something we’ve had a lot of practice doing, and we like to think we’re fairly good at it. But none of us are literary agents, senior editors, or publishers, and our work with literary curators ensures that all our submissions are assessed fairly by multiple experts. Our curators reflect a wide range of perspective and points of view. Additionally, by creating a vetting system comprised of a variety of literary professionals, we ensure that we are working with curators who both have experienced taste in selecting work, and the power to advocate for it.

We select our curators with diversity in mind: diversity of position (editor, publisher, agent); diversity of publication (big five, indie press, literary magazine); diversity of age; diversity of background and experience; and diversity of genre (poetry, fiction). We want to have a curator pool that is as inclusive as possible, so our submissions get as broad  a reading as possible.

In a more general sense, where do you see publishing going as an industry? How do you think the internet or e-readers have affected the industry and what do you hope P&B will contribute to the future of publishing? 

Here’s what I’m sure about: publishing is going somewhere interesting. Here’s what I’m not sure: precisely and specifically where. But it’s somewhere cool, and probably easy to find on your phone. And, yes, the internet and e-readers have absolutely affected the industry. We’re currently in a society that is extremely literate and we have a publishing industry with extremely low barriers to entry. Historically, we have probably never had this many people motivated to write, and it has probably never been easier to publish your writing. That is a little scary if you work at a Big Five house and depend on selling a lot of printed books, but if you’re someone who doesn’t rely on blockbuster budgeting, it’s really, really cool. The internet has made an alternative electronic publication platform like Pen and Brush’s program possible, and we’re really excited about that opportunity. Our goal with our publications is to create a safe and vibrant publishing space for female authors, one that is wider and broader than what is currently available. If we can provide a democratic, supportive, and functional small publishing space to fledgling authors, or pave the way for similar ventures from non-profit arts colleagues, I think we’ll count that as good contribution to publishing writ large.

***

Kate Angus, Augury’s founding editor, has been a Guest Literary Arts Curator for Pen & Brush this past year. After reviewing submissions, she selected the following novella and poetry collection, respectively:

In The Foam Of The Blue Waves” by Kathleen Wakefield

Selected Poems” by Lauren Amalia Redding

"someone is collecting the lost" by Poetry Finalist Aimee Herman

 

Aimee Herman is the author of two full length books of poetry, “meant to wake up feeling” and “to go without blinking” and currently teaches writing in the Bronx. Read more words at aimeeherman.wordpress.com.

"Black Anecdote" by Poetry Finalist Andrew Seguin

Photo courtesy of Sofia Verzbolovskis

Andrew Seguin is a poet and photographer. He is the author of the chapbook Black Anecdote (Poetry Society of America, 2010), and has a new chapbook forthcoming from Tammy. His photographic work explores the intersection of imagery and language. Andrew has received fellowships from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, Poets House and the United States Fulbright Program. You can find him on the web at www.andrewseguin.com

An Excerpt from ‘you’re the most beautiful thing that happened’ by Arisa White

 

There are little words
that can fit in little places
if you say them small enough.

To fit a song into a pore
you have to be prepared
for the day it will sweat.

If words could stick on people,
if spoken, they would become
a different creature.

Blinded and you’re turned
five times around. Nothing
in you knows what it knew.

It’s the best part of the game:
Prick the girls you like best
while pinning on the donkey’s tail.

Arisa White is a Cave Canem fellow, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and is the author of the chapbooks Disposition for Shininess and Post Pardon. With funding from the City of Oakland, Post Pardon was adapted into an opera. Her full-length collections Hurrah’s Nest and A Penny Saved were published in 2012. Her debut collection, Hurrah’s Nest, won the 2012 San Francisco Book Festival Award and was nominated for a 44th NAACP Image Award, the 82nd California Book Awards, and the 2013 Wheatley Book Awards. Member of the PlayGround writers’ pool, her play Frigidare was staged for the 15th Annual Best of PlayGround Festival. One of the founding editors of HER KIND, an online literary community powered by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, Arisa has received residencies, fellowships, or scholarships from Headlands Center for the Arts, Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, Rose O’Neill Literary House, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Hedgebrook, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Prague Summer Program, Fine Arts Work Center, and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She is a 2013-14 recipient of an Investing in Artist Grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation, which funded the dear Gerald project, a regional representative for Nepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color, and a faculty member in the BFA Creative Writing program at Goddard College. Her poetry has been widely published and is featured on the recording WORD with the Jessica Jones Quartet. Arisa is a native New Yorker, living in Oakland, CA, with her wife, Samantha.

More on Arisa White.

Save LitMore’s Poetry Library!

LitMore, located in Baltimore, aims to provide a space for writers, readers and audiences to come together for workshops, readings and support. The space provides daily and monthly writing studios and houses a free access community poetry library. But as of January 1, 2016, LitMore will become a nomadic literary organization, continuing programming, but in various locations. A number of local educational and cultural institutions have been examining the practicality of taking in the organization’s book collection, but until then the library will remain in limbo and it may be necessary to move the library’s collection to a storage facility until a partner has been found. Let’s give these books a home! Find out more on how to help here!

One Month Left to Apply for the Sarabande Writing Residency

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest

Located at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in Louisville, Kentucky, the Sarabande Writing Residency offers an annual residency to writers of poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction. The residency includes a two-to six-week stay in a private cottage, as well as a $500 travel stipend. Sarabande Books, founded in 1994, publishes works in poetry, short fiction, and essay, hosting about 225 readings, workshops, and lectures per year.

You can learn more about this residency and how to apply at Sarabande Books.

INTERVIEW: Angee Lennard on the 11th Annual Printers Ball

This year marks the 11th annual Printers Ball, a day of performances, live printmaking demos, and exhibitions surrounding poetry and literary culture. Founded in 2004 by Poetry magazine’s Art Director Fred Sasaki, Printers Ball strives to bring together printers, writers, publishers, artists, readers, collectors, students, teachers, makers, and consumers. This year, the Ball will be hosted by Spudnik Press Cooperative at the Hubbard Street Lofts in Chicago, with a central theme of “push and pull.”

Angee Lennard, founder and director of Spudnik Press Cooperative, discussed the event in depth with Augury’s assistant editor, Nicolas Amara.

 

Nick: What prompted this year’s theme of “Push & Pull”?

Angee: Despite how short and sweet the theme is, there was a ton of thought behind it. This year, we had two big goals in mind. First, we plan for this Printers Ball to be more tactile than ever. The Printers Ball Marketplace features publications and prints that are best enjoyed and appreciated in their physical form. The Spudnik Press Printshop will be hosting a variety of workshops allowing guests to run our presses and make their own prints. The Steamroller Spectacular will be highlight the tactile-ness of print. The physicality of pushing and pulling indicates our hands-on approach to this festival.

Second, we want to deepen the level of conversation among participants and guests. We’ll have more ways for guests to contribute their own voice. “Push & Pull” signifies to us complete engagement from everyone involved, including attendees, and hints at the healthy tension that can come from true dialogue.

 

Nick: Spudnik’s mission states that the cooperative was “founded on the premise that art should be a democratic and empowering medium.” The press release for this year’s Ball emphasizes that festival programs aim to blur the line between author and audience, creating an interactive, collective environment. Is this break down of hierarchy integral to the Ball’s mission?

Angee: This is a very acute observation, and in short, I do believe that Printers Ball has no need for traditional hierarchy. The event has always been first and foremost a celebration. It is an event for everyone: professional poets, readers, hobbyist writers, printers, students, self-publishers, and the simply curious.

When we began planning the 2015 Printers Ball, we gave a lot of thought to the evolution of Printers Ball. Since Printers Ball began, and perhaps in part because of Printers Ball, Chicago has seen tremendous growth in the number and quality of reading series and small press publishers. For example, Curbside Splendor host fantastic pop-up book shops year round and throughout the city. Sector 2337 grew out of Green Lantern Press, and has a permanent brick and mortor location. We felt that the level of artistic output in Chicago is fantastic and that we could fill a different role than simply presenting work. We craved dialogue, and we hoped that this could be a place for the creative community to not perform, but to talk with each other about their art form, their city, and their community, and leave invigorated. Luckily, this all ties in very nicely with our democratic mission and how we approach all programming at Spudnik Press Cooperative!

 

Nick: What role do you see Spudnik and the Printers Ball playing in the larger surrounding community? Though it is clear both are going strong, given this is the Ball’s 11th year, how has reception been?

Angee: This Printers Ball will be the third that Spudnik Press has organized and hosted, and each year keeps getting better. Spudnik Press offers rich programming year round that in ways address the same goals as Printers Ball (community, collaboration, and artistic production). However, Printers Ball allows us to present programming on a scale that is usually beyond our means. Printers Ball allows us to think much bigger and connect with an impressively broad audience. Under Spudnik’s pervue, we have been able to expand the scope of Printers Ball by getting our entire building involved and bridging poetry with photography, design, installation, and traditional printmaking. Printers Ball has always been a free-spirited event with reinvention every few years, and I expect it will continue to evolve as our larger surrounding community does the same.

 

Nick: Aside from showing up the day of, how can artists, writers, and other community members get involved with the Ball?

Angee: One way for artists to be involved is through contributing a carved woodblock to our Steamroller Spectacular. We’ve collected carving from about 300 artists, ranging from middle school students to professional artists. On Saturday, June 27th, all blocks, collaged in various 8-foot long combinations, will be printed in our parking lot using a construction steamroller. We are also seeking lightly used and affectionately discarded books for our Printers Ball Book Drive, benefiting Open Books. Publishers can also contribute books to our “Book Butcher,” where guests can order different cuts of magazines and books from revered publishers, big and small, across the nation.

Once people do show up, there are endless ways to get involved. G.E.E.E. is asking writers to stop by Plantlets for Poems, and select a few donated poems to read aloud. Story Club Chicago will give audience members the chance to perform live at Printers Ball. The more serious, round table conversations include “Gender, Sex, and Honesty,” “Curation as a Tool to Intersect Communities,” and “The Intersection between Art, Politics, and Community Building.” In the Printshop, we’ll have presses running all day with an ongoing collaborative letterpress poem project, screenprinted tattoos, mononprinting, and more.

For more information, visit the event website.

__

Augury Books’ spring/summer 2015 reading period is now open for submissions in poetry and prose. For guidelines and general information, please visit our submissions page.