Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Small Press Center

New York’s Small Press Center has attempted to catch the buzz of “Indie Films” by repositioning itself as the Center for Independent Publishing. The Small Press Center was founded in 1984. They are best known for their annual Book Fairs. After 21 years the buzz you mostly hear at the SPC is like unto the buzz of flies circling the dead. Indie poets?

Some months ago I was invited to chair a panel on independent publishing at the Center. I hemmed and hawed and eventually accepted. There would be a small honorarium. But I then asked him why he selected me.

“I thought of you to moderate because I was familiar with your column in the Small Press Review in which you are a veteran observer of the Small Press Scene. (Also, in a more mercenary move, I thought it might help foster a closer relationship between Len F’s operation and the Small Press Center.)”

The parenthetical ulterior motive made me, of course, cancel my appearance. I told them I could not appear because the Small Press Center, at least for this conference, seemed to favor the commercial over the literary. I received this email back from the SPC executive director Karin Taylor:

“The Small Press Center embraces all types of small presses, and especially the values of non-commercial press, I am somewhat surprised that you have decided to define our mission for us.”
How dare I?! But if it seems to you that the SPC correspondence may be a tad casual, let me point out that the advertising for the SPC Book Fair generally features grotesquely amateurish drawings of writers. In a brochure the SPC states:

“Publishers charging the author the full cost of production and selling books back to the author in a ‘vanity’ arrangement are ineligible.”

Yet the Center itself seems to be a vanity project of a gentleman I have met once or twice named Whitney North Seymour. I have been reliably informed that the SPC’s terrible drawings are by his daughter. The last time I was at the SPC the only New York event they thought worth advertising was a talk on Edna St Vincent Millay by one Samuel Whitney Seymour. At the top of the flyer was Millay rendered by that SPC’s own classically untalented amateur.

Once upon a time and for twelve years there was a real annual New York Small Press Book Fair. It danced along the line between the slick and sold-out and the dumb and dreary. I was slightly involved but not as much as my ex-wife and friends. At one point a New York company offered the Fair a free billboard. As an art critic, I was asked to find someone who could do that job. I asked Andy Warhol. He agreed. And then, classically, they rejected Andy as too slick and sold-out.

When the SPC started their Book Fair, I was relieved that the ex-wife was uninvolved, and happily exhibited. A number of times Fair organizers approached me and asked me if I could get celebrity authors to read for them, presumably, for free. These are people born into New York society who never grasp the difference between mere pedigree and actual achievement. The current president of the United States, in this regard, also leaps to mind.

At one SPC Fair, Whitney North Seymour himself stopped by my table and told me he was going to arrange for someone to write an article about my little magazine, Unmuzzled OX. He never got around to it. I hate writing negative articles. The Small Press Book Fair occurs the first weekend in December. Check it out yourself at Smallpress.org.


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