Meet Microcosm, Episode Four, Talkin’ with Mr. Steven Stothard!

For this episode of Meet Microcosm we meet Bloomington collective member Steven Stothard and hear about his super busy life. So, without further adieus, meet Steven…

Q: So, the main reason we’re doing this Meet Microcosm series is to see what Microcosm folks do outside Microcosm. And you do a lot. First off as a Bloomington resident, Boxcar Books is a big part of your life. Tell us about what you do for them…

A: First of all, thanks for doing these Meet Microcosm interviews. It’s important to me that folks understand that Microcosm is actually a group of people working together to keep indie and radical publishing alive and well in these dismal times. Boxcar Books has been a huge part of my life. For those of you that don’t know, Boxcar Books is Bloomington, Indiana’s all-volunteer-powered, non-profit, and collectively-run bookstore and community space. We’ve been around since 2002 and our goals are to keep indie publishing and radical ideas alive, to provide a free community meeting and events space in Bloomington, and to directly support the rehabilitation of prisoners through the Midwest Pages to Prisoners program–our sister organization. I started volunteering at Boxcar in 2004, after moving to Bloomington from Columbus, Ohio. Whenever I had visited Bloomington, I came to Boxcar as a space to get information, to see what events were going on, and to connect with local folks. It just felt right that after moving to Bloomington I would get involved. I started by making flyers, working a shift, and taking on the never ending task of shelf-reading. From there I took on more and more responsibility and became really invested in the collective, mission, and other workers. For the last few years I’ve been the events coordinator and more recently the general coordinator, which means I pretty much try to make sure shit gets done. People will tell you, I have a tendency to micro-manage and it’s true that secretly I have lists upon lists of tasks to do, I even have a list of my to-do lists. It’s kinda crazy, but it takes a lot of time and energy and patience to help run a bookstore. As you probably know, it’s a really tough time for independent booksellers and radical businesses in general, so really it’s the Bloomington community who chooses to support the bookstore and the collective of volunteers at Boxcar that are the backbone of our success. Boxcar is really too big for me to fit into one interview, so if you want to learn more, I highly recommend checking out the website and our facebook: and / be our friend and we’ll let you know rad stuff that’s happening in Bloomington. And please come visit!

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Q: Tell us a little about Pages to Prisoners…

A: The Midwest Pages to Prisoners Project is one of the most successful and well-established books to prisoners programs in the country, and it’s right here in Bloomington and has been for over 13 years. Termed “Pages” for short, Pages and Boxcar are the same non-profit with pretty much the same mission, but exist in different spaces. I always describe pages as the direct activism hand of Boxcar. Boxcar as a bookstore acts as a constant fundraiser so pages can focus on sending free books to prisoners upon request. It’s really an inspiring program. As my role at Boxcar Books expands, I unfortunately don’t work directly with Pages as much as I should. But there’s a core of committed collective members who are really dedicated and hard working folks. If you’re reading this, you should really donate to Pages, tell them I sent you. Even a buck or two would really help. Check out their website for how:

Q: You also worked as a recreational therapist for adults with mental illness at the Center for Behavioral Health. What was the deal with that?

A: It’s true. Before microcosm, I worked for a behavioral health center in Bloomington as a recreational therapist. Basically, I taught life, social, communication, and community integration skills to adults with various mental illness. In the form of group sessions, classes, outings, and one-on-one intervention, we attempted to help folks with long histories of mental illness become more independent and to empower them to access community resources to help themselves. Oh damn, on the one hand that job was amazing on so many levels, but it was also very crushing to the soul. First of all, I worked with a team of other health and social work professionals for the same goals, but we worked at it in our own ways. As therapists, we had tons of support from our supervisors to do really whatever we wanted to support our clients. For instance, I saw a real need to address all these young dudes and ladies with schizophrenia because nothing existed for them specifically, no program was focused on being young with mental illness. We started a young adult group that focused on community integration, access to community resources, and how to navigate the terrifying times of being young compounded with having a mental illness. To be honest, we talked a lot about sex–they were all interested in getting laid, but that was good because we talked about safety, consent, and how not to get pregnant. And sure, there were pretty boring and structured activities like accessing community kitchen, the free clinic, getting library cards, using the library system, and plugging in to other places to address some real needs… but I also had the go-ahead to go plan fun trips like laser tag, fishing, and even a couple shows at the all ages youth center in town… just to be kids. That was great. But like I said, on the other hand it was really hard to not be affected by the bureaucratic bullshit within the mental health industry and to leave my job at the office, you know what I mean. Although the work was inspiring, there was also a lot of painful and heartbreaking stuff to say the least.

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The Book Game
1. Favorite book, and why…
A: Are you kidding, I don’t have time to read. But really, you must read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It’s one of my recent favorites. Absolutely dismal and beautiful… a good look at what’s to come.

2. If an 80 year old grandmother asked you to recommend something “useful” what book would you recommend?
A: The Guide to Getting it On. Old people are all about getting laid, you just don’t know it.

3. What would your autobiography be called?
A: Wow, I don’t know about that. But I have two friends in New York, Edan’s kind of a big hairy guy and Dave’s tall and skinny and I forget who said it, but if they made a porn together, it would have to be called An Otter Day in Bear-adice. I think that’s perfect.

4. What are you reading right now?

A: I’m towards the end of the Autobiography of Malcom X. He’s fucked up and “spiritual” or whatever, but what an interesting time, you know.

Q: Finally, what do you do for Microcosm, day in day out?

A: Well, first off I work at Microcosm Bloomington obviously. We run the Midwest Microcosm out of a house, nothing fancy. We have an office, a packing room, and storage in the basement. All of us at Microcosm end up doing a little of each and every task, from publishing to editing, from tabling to promotions and we stay well-connected through phone conference meetings, email, and our recent all-staff meeting. But, I’d say my main duties at Microcosm are shipping, customer service, and event coordinating. When you order something from Microcosm, whether you’re a store, a distro, another online distro or an individual customer–we pack up the orders and I ship them out. Basically, I’ve gotten really good at using a tape gun and determining weights of things just by holding them. I’ll help you get the things you ordered and take care of any problems you have. Event coordinating is just a fancy word for figuring out what events and tours we’re going to table and how to organize it. We table pretty extensively for the size of our publishing company, and it’s a nice opportunity for Microcosm staffers to get out of the office or store and actually interact with people, authors, and other publishers face to face, not just via email. Recently we tabled the Left Forum Conference in New York City, Stumptown in Portland, Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair, and the New York Anarchist Bookfair. We’ll be tabling the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair this month and Expozine in Montreal later this year with the help of our good Canadian buddy Jonathan Culp. Personally, one of my favorite events to table is the New Orleans bookfair, typically in November. I used to table a lot more on tour with bands like Against Me!, Defiance, Ohio, the F-Yeah Tour, Strike Anywhere, and other folks nice enough to let us come along and hock zines and books at the shows. I feel tabling is a pretty important part to staying connected with folks and keeping books and zines hip and visible. That’s one of the main reasons why I initially got into politics, picking up zines and AK Press books at punk shows in Dayton, Ohio. Never underestimate the power of tiny, little life-changing experiences–it may change the path for the rest of your life. Kevey Evilsizor–if you’re out there–I salute you and the Know Nothings!