Tell us a little bit about the store and your community: The Raven Book Store has been serving Lawrence, Kansas since 1987. It opened as an all-mystery store but has since expanded into a general interest indie with a strong focus on local books to serve the needs of this midwestern college town. We have one store cat, Dashiell, whose personality is as big as his belly. We love being in Lawrence, a community that knows the value of independently-owned small businesses.
What got you into bookselling?
I got a part-time job as a Raven bookseller when I was at the University of Kansas working on my MFA. I fell in love with bookselling and the rest was history!
What’s something about your store that you think will surprise people? 20-30% of our sales are online, and much of that support comes from people who aren’t in Kansas. We’re honored and grateful to have found so many supporters across the country and around the world.
What are some of you favorite ways your community supports your store?
There’s the usual and essential stuff like attending events, preordering books, posting pictures of the store online, and stopping into the store. But we love just as much the surprises, like people bringing us newspaper clippings or customers telling us jokes.
What are some books you can’t wait for people to read? There are too many to count! Our monthly staff picks are on our website, and they’re a great way to take the temperature of what the staff is reading.
How can customers who aren’t local shop your shelves? We’re open 24/7 at ravenbookstore.com!
Be sure to follow The Raven Book Store online on Instagram and Twitter @ravenbookstore.
Danny also has a slew of events coming up to promote How to Protect Bookstores and Why, so be sure to take a look at our events page to see if he’s coming to your town!
We are a literary arts non-profit whose mission is storytelling for collective abundance. We believe in the power of storytelling, representation, and expanding models in the literary and publishing communities. Our mission is to promote voices from underserved communities and diverse backgrounds, to honor the stories of those who have faced adversity and injustice, and to provide a sanctuary space where these groups can see themselves in literature.
We host community programming and generally try to demystify the ins and outs of publishing, which is overall an opaque industry that tends towards insularity. Our major programs include: the Editor-Writer Mentorship, [margins.] Literary Conference + Book Festival, #MarginsBookselling (of course), and a host of publishing workshops and community events.
Overall, we love books and reading and the folks who dedicate their lives to the written word, and we believe that access to books and knowledge about careers in publishing (and publishing as a whole) are important.
What is #MarginsBookselling Month?
#MarginsBookselling Month is a celebration of bookstores owned and managed by and for BIPOC, LGBTQIAP2S+, disabled, and neurodiverse communities and of booksellers who identify from these communities as well. This is a community collaboration coordinated by The Word. Booksellers are on the frontline of the industry, and we want to celebrate and uplift them!
It’s a month of spreading joy and awareness of these wonderful stores and booksellers and a way of thanking them for doing the important work they do. There’s more to being a community bookstore than just selling books, and these stores exemplify the extraordinary efforts of bookstores and booksellers actively trying to improve the lives of those in their communities.
You can check out all the bookstores in The Word’s #MarginsBookselling network by checking out the interactive map here.
What inspired it?
Inequity is clearly visible in our industry, from the books being published to the demographics of employees in publishing itself. We recognize that books and bookstores are more than just sales and retail, and we see the power of indie bookstores. Diversely-owned bookstores are especially important to marginalized communities, and also to publishing at large. They can provide a third space and safe space to hold and share stories from BIPOC, LGBTQIA2S+, disabled and neurodiverse communities. Bookstores that center marginalized communities provide both shelter and education.
Likewise booksellers are part of the foundation of this industry. They know what books their community members need and are looking for. Indie bookstore sales matter to their community, and to publishing as a whole. It is booksellers who know what recommendations are relevant to their area and specific customers, and those recommendations can have massive impact, especially for authors that aren’t established, “big” names. Passionate booksellers and bookstores change lives for their customers and for the authors that fill their shelves.
There are not enough spaces where we celebrate this work and take time to learn from it. #MarginsBookselling Month is a chance to shine that spotlight and to give our cohort of bookstores and booksellers a chance to do what each does best, while also getting to know each other in community.
What’s so great about indie bookstores? Why focus on them?
We love bookstore stops on every road trip we take! We cherish open mic nights at our local stores. We can’t resist stopping in for a coffee even if our TBR piles are never-ending and we swore we wouldn’t buy another book today.
Reading is its own sort of magic. Books can be gates, windows, mirrors, doors, escape, comfort. Indie bookstores and booksellers can have a few minutes of conversation with someone and help them find entire new worlds to learn about, to love, or to live in.
Real people will always understand us better than algorithms. And indie bookstores are plugged into the communities they serve in ways that are unmatched by other industry retailers.
What has surprised you the most in the last few years of #MarginsBookselling Month?
It is beautiful to see the members of this community lift each other up and create an atmosphere of abundance where there is room for everyone. In many spaces, retail especially, there is often an enmity toward anything perceived as “competition” –and that has not been present at all in this environment. Everyone is always excited to celebrate each other! It’s definitely become a team of its own, and we love all the love!
How can people get involved and support The Word and #MarginsBookselling Month?
There are numerous ways to be involved:
Support #MarginsBookselling bookstores every month. Learn who they are. Spend some time with them, and see how happy they’ll be to fill your shelves with books you’d never find on your own, and are support systems that can help you find connection and community.
If you don’t have a #MarginsBookselling store near you that you can visit in-person, check out the interactive #MarginsBookselling Map, and support these stores by shopping online, either through their own website or on Bookshop.org. If you’re an audiobook listener, you can support your local or favorite #MarginsBookselling store by choosing them as your supported store on Libro.fm.
Additionally, here are a few great ways to get involved with The Word’s #MarginsBookselling Month:
What are two books you think everyone should read right now?
We love Mariame Kaba–everyone should check out her titles! And, of course, National Book Award and Pulitzer Finalist The Man Who Could Move Clouds by Ingrid Rojas Contreras. Ingrid is a wonderful human who we were thrilled to collaborate with last year’s #MarginsBookselling Month, celebration and said:
“The Word is doing the labor that matters most — uplifting BIPOC booksellers and giving the floor to authors and writers who are writing from the margins. What happens when the margin takes centerstage? I feel a new literature and culture emerges, one that can define and tell of what has gone ignored or untold before. I am so thrilled to be joining The Word’s Writers’ Circle and look forward to supporting their mission.”
We’re grateful to Aida to take the time to answer our questions! If you want to learn more about The Word, their social media handles are:
This is the first installment of the year-long Bookstore Solidarity Project, where we’re featuring indie bookstores and the people that love them. Want to learn more about supporting bookstores in your community? Check out How to Protect Bookstores and Why by Danny Caine!
Last week we sent out a press release that began: “Microcosm Publishing is making some changes in our US trade representation, effective Jan 1, 2023.”
For the uninitiated in the publishing industry, this means that we will be working with a broader array of outside salespeople to get our books into bookstores (aka “the [book] trade”). Most publishers of our size (probably best described at this time as on the smaller end of “medium-sized”) work with a large trade distributor to get their books into bookstores. Microcosm has worked with several distributors on and off in the last 28 years, until the beginning of 2019 when we announced our return to independent distribution (which also ended our relationship with a certain giant online retailer). Since then, we’ve been working with three different independent groups of trade sales reps who really get our books, have relationships with bookstores across the US, and have done a stellar job connecting our books with those stores and their buyers.
As we grow and learn what works best, we’re making a few changes in this trade representation:
Abraham Associates will now represent Microcosm’s titles in the midwest US, including Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
Imprint Group (which is merging with our existing rep group, the former Book Travelers West—the head of which, Kurtis Lowe, was PW’s 2022 rep of the year) will continue to represent Microcosm in the western US.
Microcosm CEO Joe Biel commented, “We are thrilled to continue to expand our reach with these new sales reps, in order to create a world we want to live in and for everyone pushed to the margins to help themselves feel recognized.”
Abraham Associates Principal John Mesjak said, “Everyone in our group is excited to get started working with Microcosm, talking up their books in our territory. We’re always looking for publishers who bring interesting, passionate voices to the world; present a worldview that aligns with our own; and have a crew of smart publishing folks that we can work with. We love that all three of those boxes are ticked in Microcosm, and we can’t wait to get started!”
Microcosm is the distributor for Birdcage Bottom Books, Don Giovanni Records, and GOBLINKO, whose books will also be sold to stores by these groups.
“I feel terrible because I still sell / buy on Amazon,” is one reaction we get. “But won’t your company / authors suffer if your books aren’t available on Amazon?” is the other. The answer is simple, but the background is complex, and this post is meant to help clarify the relationship Amazon has with publishers, authors, and consumers, and will hopefully give you some guidance in making more informed choices. (more…)
We’ve been holding on to a bit of news lately, and we’re excited to finally share it with you all! Here’s founder Joe Biel with the details…
Joe & Ruby deliver books by bicycle.
Starting January 1, 2019, we will be managing our own distribution just like we did for over ten years. Not only will we no longer need to move thousands of books back and forth between warehouses, creators get paid more for each book sold. And we won’t be selling to Amazon. Why. you ask? Well, my grandparents were German immigrants who came here in the 1800s for labor unions and worked to achieve the 40-hour work week…which was then abolished in our lifetime. When Microcosm was just getting off the ground in 1997, I interviewed Ian Mackaye of Dischord Records. He explained that a publisher is only as independent as their distribution is. He was seemingly taking a jab at “independent” labels who handle all of their manufacturing and distribution through a major but his point sticks.
Microcosm has always tried to work with independent companies, because they feel most comfortably aligned with our mission, values, and goals…but we’ve watched over the past dozen years as each independent distributor gets gobbled up and responds to the demands of the increasingly demanding monopolies.
We’ve watched as our peer publishers either throw in the towel or sell to one of the monopolies, neither of which we are willing to do. We feel that independents need to be independent and the best way to do that is to build an outpost of our own, a shining star where we can continue to thrive instead of relying upon the whims of any global corporation.
So we are returning to our roots to create the world that we want to see within our weirdo clubhouse.
We will be parting ways with Legato/PGW/Perseus/Ingram in January and have already built new warehouses and software to make this possible. Few events in the history of Microcosm have improved our morale and brought our staff together like this has. As always, our intent is to expand our distribution at the same time. Our new sales people (now a team of four) excitedly understand our books and have more time and focus to dedicate to them. For the first time ever, our back catalog will receive as much attention as our new releases. Within a few years, we intend to begin offering these services to other publishers.
This isn’t as staggering a change as it sounds. Reviewing the numbers, we have come to realize that we know better how to distribute our books than anyone else that we’ve tried to partner with. We’ve handled roughly 75% of our distribution even across these past seven years. The simple fact is that the underground is much bigger than the mainstream.
To ensure that we are still actually serving all of the stores and readers that are interested in our books, we’re bringing on Book Traveler’s West (West Coast), Como (East Coast), and Fujii (Midwest) to actively visit and solicit our books to stores. We will continue to be distributed by Turnaround in Europe and will be working with the same distributors in Australia, Canada, and the rest of the world as well. Readers and stores can still buy books directly from our website, microcosmpublishing.com.
We are redoubling our efforts to sell direct and to independents instead of helping monopolies like Amazon continue to grow at the expense of others. Perhaps more importantly, we will not be accepting their terms that increasingly just serve to crush everything in their path. If you want to help support the indies during this crucial time, go to your local shops and buy books, and encourage your friends to do the same. They will remember moments like this forever.
We hear from people almost every week that our books are saving their lives, and we feel that we have an obligation to extend that as far and wide as possible. There’s an unspoken rule in the underground that what we do is secret but when these rules don’t serve the goals, we have no choice but to break them.
Joe’s next book, A People’s Guide to Publishing, can help anyone inspired by our journey learn the lessons and wisdom that got us here today. Check out the kickstarter project here!
Read the more industry-jargony version of this news with more details on Shelf Awareness.
Or, if you want to know more about what this’ll mean, check out Elly’s breakdown.
If you ever need help with ordering, please contact Sidnee Grubb | Customer Service (1-503-799-2698).
For press questions, interview or sample requests, contact Cyn Marts, publicity director, email@example.com.
As part of our Year of Independence, we’ve been interviewing independent booksellers who we love. This month, instead of a bookstore, we’re turning to OR Books, a fellow radical independent publisher that, like us, also sells a substantial portion of its books directly to readers. That’s a relative rarity in the publishing world, where it’s the norm for every book to go through a string of distributors, wholesalers, and booksellers before making its way into your hands. We were stoked to meet these kindred spirits and immediately started gleefully conspiring to support each other… another activity that breaks the mold of mainstream publishing.
OR Books publicity manager Natascha Uhlmann answered our questions over email.
1. What’s the story of OR Books? What matters most to you as publishers?
OR Books arose out of a desire to forge a different path for publishing—one centered around progressive politics, selling direct to consumers, and intense marketing. Our model varies pretty drastically from the standard publishing houses: we avoid Amazon and other traditional distribution methods. It allows us to sidestep some of the pitfalls of traditional publishing and focus our energies where they should be: on the book itself.
2. You are a politically progressive publisher—what does that mean to you?
It means taking on titles that are progressive, transgressive, and sometimes outright bizarre. I think we can all recall wrestling with a book that made us engage with the world in a different way—it’s a revolutionary, world changing thing, and I hope to recreate that same experience for others.
3. What are your personal favorite books from the OR backlist? Any favorites you’ve recently read from other publishers? Extinction: A Radical History by Ashley Dawson makes the case that the environmental crisis we currently face is fundamentally tied to our economic system. Ashley traces the history of extinction and ties its catastrophic rise to capitalism’s unrelenting drive to expand.
What’s Yours is Mine by Tom Slee is a critical look at the sharing economy. He pushes back against the portrayal of platforms like Uber and AirBnb as democratic, pointing to the means by which these technologies simply shift risk onto the worker and encourages us all to settle for less.
Beautiful Trouble ed. by Andrew Boyd and Dave Oswald Mitchell is a tactical manual for radicals. It traces a wide variety of activist groups and the approaches that they have found valuable. I’ve found it to be an incredibly valuable resource throughout my organizing, and a great primer for interested younger activists.
As for others:
In Defense of Housing by David Madden and Peter Marcuse (Verso Books) explores the commodification of housing and the violence of gentrification. They highlight that housing is endemic, not incidental, under capitalism and point to the successes of several movements organizing for housing justice – and how we can learn from these.
Stuffed and Starved by Raj Patel (Melville House) is a brilliant look at the global food economy and engages with some urgent questions: How are hunger and obesity interrelated? What avenues for resistance do we have in an ever consolidating system of food production?
4. What are the most urgent issues facing the publishing industry right now? If you could look into your crystal ball, what is the biggest piece of advice would you give to yourself and other independent publishers?
The advent of new technologies means that it’s harder to command the attention of would-be readers. That said, the field is adaptable and at the end of the day, no one walks away from a good book.
I think the best advice I can offer is to remember why we’re here: because we believe deeply in the power of ideas. To get to work on a book that may go on to shape the way someone sees the world is an incredible gift. It’s a challenging field, but an utterly rewarding one.
All year, Microcosm is celebrating our 20th anniversary by putting the spotlight every month on a different independent bookstore that we love! Our indie bookstore heart in September goes out to iconic Chicago feminist bookstore Women & Children First—you can find them (and many woman-penned Microcosm books on their shelves!) at 5233 N Clark St. After they hosted the book launch party for Threadbare this spring, we asked them to partner with us for this month. Co-owner Sarah Hollenbeck sat down to answer our questions over email:
1. Tell me about Women & Children First. What is the store’s history? How did it get its name?
In the 1970s, Ann Christophersen and Linda Bubon met while earning masters degrees in English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Time and time again they would come across a woman writer they wanted to study, such as Virginia Woolf, Kate Millet, and Edith Wharton, only to discover their work was not available. Second-wave feminism was in full force, and activists around the country were starting collectives and businesses of all kinds, including feminist presses and bookstores. It was against this backdrop that Ann and Linda decided that how they would support themselves would also be their contribution to the women’s movement.
In the fall of 1979, in its original storefront on Armitage Avenue, Women & Children First opened its doors. The store’s mission was to promote the works of women writers and offer a welcoming community for all women. From the beginning, the store was committed to offering a wide range of programs, focusing on feminist and LGBTQ politics and culture. We are in a different, larger location now that’s in a more bustling section of Chicago, but our mission remains the same.
2. How did you personally get involved in books and bookselling? What is your favorite part of what you do?
I started bookselling part-time at Borders while earning my MFA in creative nonfiction writing at Northwestern University. I would later move on to work part-time at Barnes & Noble. While I had many issues with the corporate structure and impersonal environment of both of those stores, being surrounded by books all day was heaven. I always hoped that I’d one day work at indie bookstore. I never dreamed I would co-own one!
My favorite part of my current job is helping to promote the work of local and emerging authors whose work I truly admire. What I didn’t realize until recently is that booksellers have so much power in terms of shaping trends in publishing depending on what they choose to handsell. Everyone at our store is committed to handselling books by a more diverse array of authors—not only women authors, but authors of color and queer authors. We love encouraging our customers to be more mindful of reading authors whose culture or identity differs from their own. Listening to marginalized voices is integral to making the planet a kinder, more empathetic place.
3. Do you have a favorite Microcosm book and/or zine? What about other books generally, what are you most into reading right now?
Definitely Threadbare by Anne Elizabeth Moore and Learning Good Consent by Cindy Crabb. Our Social Justice Book Group is reading The New Jim Crow this month and I hope to finally finish it by then! I read a lot of memoir and essays, but I also can’t resist dark, character-driven, contemporary novels. Two of my favorite books that I read recently are Shrill by Lindy West and The Telling by Zoe Zolbrod.
4. How is the role of the feminist bookstore different and/or the same now as it was in, say, the 1970s? What is the future of feminist bookselling, or what do you dream it will be?
I believe we’ve built upon and strengthened our commitment to intersectionality. Feminist bookstores have always had a responsibility to actively challenge the traditional gender binary. Today, I believe we are more inclusive when it comes to trans, genderqueer, and non-binary identities.
Moving forward, my goal is to generate more effective strategies to have productive conversations with folks beyond our politically progressive base. We have a tremendously loyal community and I adore every single person who supports our bookstore. It can feel deeply empowering and exhilarating to have a passionate conversation with someone who shares your values and philosophy. However, when I read the news or travel outside of our largely like-minded feminist community, I often worry that I have become dangerously insulated. How do we begin meaningful dialogue—not shouting matches or Twitter fights—with those whose worldviews differ from our own? That’s what’s on my mind when I look to the future.
We have long been fans of King’s Books in Tacoma, Washington. It’s a humongous store full of new and used books and it’s clear from the minute you walk in that it’s run by kindred spirits. I’m not going to say it’s curated, because that word implies a sort of holier-than-thou poshness that is absolutely not going on here. But like any good bookstore, the books are chosen by someone who knows what they like and cares what you’ll like. A huge bonus is that it’s in Tacoma, which is, as locals told us, the best-kept secret of the Pacific Northwest, and it really is a place we recommend visiting over Portland or Seattle. When you go there, be sure to visit King’s.
King’s owner sweet pea Flaherty answered these questions over email. He promised photos, but for now you’ll have to make due with this one I found on the Tacoma Ledger‘s website.
1. According to your website’s About page, “Originally founded by King Ludwig I as a gift to Lola Montez, King’s Books was painstakingly moved to Tacoma on April 1, 2000.” There are some major historical gaps here—do you mind filling them in a bit? What made the store proprietors choose Tacoma? Were they fleeing a scandal? What is their stance on the rational dress movement?
Right. So what had happened was, Lola Montez had an illegitimate daughter named Fanny Gilbert. Fanny was an entrepreneur who, in her early 30s, bought passage to Tacoma, shortly after its founding. She set up the leading brothel near the port, appropriately titled Fanny’s. The ensuing wealth was passed down until several times great-granddaughter Petunia Smirk brought the original bookstore over from Bavaria. I think that should clear any historical gaps.
At King’s Books, we are strongly opposed to the rational dress movement. Our clothing closest resembles that of Flo-Jo, while also mixing stripes and patterns, not to mention warm and cool colors. Plus corsets are required for all employees, including the cats.
2. What are your favorite books right now and why? What about your favorite Microcosm title?
My most recent favorite read is The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo. In modern Finland, women are raised as vapid commodities and all drugs are banned. The most easily smuggled drug is capsaisin, the component of chiles. It is a quirky, feminist, bizarre take on society.
3. How did you get involved in bookselling? Can you share any hair-raising/funny stories?
I became a bookseller because I was always in bookstores. They are among my favorite places, so it was a natural transition. After my first bookselling convention, I knew I wanted to make it my life.
King’s Books has had a number of, um, colorful customers over the years, including a woman usually in a Marilyn wig who cut pictures of Gandalf out of books (as she thought he was God) and once bled profusely on our floor and a man who is possibly an Amish robot and/or a cannibal who has a number of interesting theories about the most random of topics.
4. What do you think the future holds for the book industry?
Independent bookstores are thriving. I think bookstores that are community centers will only increase their relevance. I love the close relationships bookstores have forged with independent publishers over the last decade. I am always excited to see the smart, innovative things independent bookstores across the country are doing.
Anything else I ought to be asking?
We have two store cats, both rescues, both named by the public. Atticus (Finch, obv) has been with us for a decade and is all black. Herbert (from Tacoma native Frank Herbert) has been with us since October and is a tuxedo cat. They are the welcomers of readers and the scourge of canines.
Visit King’s Books at 218 St Helens Ave in Tacoma, Washington every day from 11-7!
Quimby’s, the most adorable bookstore in Chicago, and is about to celebrate its 25th anniversary! Microcosm has been working happily with them for many—most?—of those years to get adorable books into the hands of adorable readers like you. (Sorry, we get a little soppy about these things sometimes). When it began, it was a rare outpost of underground literature and zines. Today, it still carries that banner, and it’s impossible to go in without finding a book you absolutely must have an several more that you are very reluctant to leave behind. For our Indie Bookstore Love feature in July, we’re telling you all about them so you can go visit… and buy our books from them, along with many other fine books, zines, and print media of a less easily categorizable nature. You can find them at 1854 W. North Ave, in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago.
Quimby’s boss Liz Mason sat down and answered some of our questions for the occasion, and sent a whole ton of photos!
What’s the story of Quimby’s? How did you get involved in all this stuff to begin with?
Quimby’s is an independently owned bookstore that sells independently-published and small press books, comics, zines and ephemera. We favor the unusual, the aberrant, the saucy and the lowbrow.
On September 15th, 1991, Steven Svymbersky, the founder of Quimby’s, opened the store in Chicago on 1328 N. Damen (at Evergreen) in Wicker Park, in a 1000 sq. ft. space. Since 1985 he had published over 50 zines with his friends, and had published Quimby Magazine for five years in Boston. Steven explained the philosophy of the store with these words: “I really want to carry every cool – bizarre – strange – dope – queer – surreal – weird publication ever written and published and in time Qvimby’s will. Because I know you’re out there and you just want something else, something other, something you never even knew could exist.” (And yes, that was a V.) In 1997 Steven sold the store to Eric Kirsammer, the owner of Chicago Comics. Steven moved to Amsterdam with his family shortly thereafter. Eric purchased the store from Steven in order to continue Steven’s commitment to the First Amendment. After a few years, the rent became too expensive to keep Quimby’s at the same spot in which Steven had opened it. Eric moved it to it’s current locale, 1854 W. North Avenue, to provide it with a more permanent location. He also still owns Chicago Comics. Quimby’s and Chicago Comics have a reciprocal “sister store” relationship, where we transfer materials between each other and often collaborate on ordering, outreach and off-site events.
I got involved because I sold zines at Quimby’s in the 90s and harassed them until they hired me. I’ve been working here for 15 years.
What’s the funniest encounter or wild story that has happened in Quimby’s (or because of Quimby’s?)
I would say the craziest story is that of the nameless gentleman who donated to Quimby’s a huge storage facility compartment full of erotica and porn with the caveat that we drive a cargo van to a rural area and pick it up ourselves. He wouldn’t tell us his name or why he was getting rid of it. Nor would he accept money or store credit as thanks.
When did you start working with Microcosm? Do you have a favorite book or zine by us? What are your favorite things to read lately, generally?
I started working with Microcosm when I started working at Quimby’s, because back then Microcosm was just a few zines on consignment. My fave Microcosm title is probably Xerography Debt, but maybe that’s just because I’m a contributor. But also it’s because it’s interesting to see what other zinesters and zine enthusiasts are enjoying. Lately I’ve been enjoying reading things in all sorts of different things (There Goes Gravity by music journalist Lisa Robinson, The Vorrh by the artist B. Catling, the new graphic novel Patience from Dan Clowes). But also, I’ve had my nose buried in mini-comics I bought at CAKE (Chicago Alternative Comics Expo) recently, so I’ve been enjoying the new comic from comics collective Trubble Club, Sara Becan’s Stockholme Is Sauceome, and the new issue of John Porcellino’s long time series King-Cat. Also of note: someone consigned a zine here that cracks me up called Crunch: A Taco Bell Fanzine. How could I not love that?
You’ve been in a position to watch as independent publishing and zine culture have gone through some huge changes over the years. How would you describe those? What do you predict will happen in the next 5 years?
There are a lot more resources offered to make publishing easier than ever before, what with all the DIY-advice-offering in both print and digital. Zines about how to make zines! Zines about how to make books! Books about how to make zines! Websites on how to make zines about making zines about books! Also, the internet really has changed everything, and has in some ways, become the great normalizer in that there are no more “gatekeepers” for “cool” stuff. Zines and their brethren mini-comics and chap books are a lot easier to come by. There are a ton of websites devoted to promoting, distributing, selling, ordering and archiving them, not to mention commerce websites creators can use to get the word out about their work. Another thing that has changed is that the punk rockers that made zines when they were younger are growing up and becoming teachers, librarians and zine archivists that teach younger folks about zines, inspiring a new generation to conitnue writng about the same isolation and unhappiness as their mentors did before them.
Anything else I ought to ask?
Yes! This year Quimby’s turns 25!
If you’re in Chicago, drop by Quimby’s to say happy birthday and check out their brilliant selection of independently published reads! Thanks Quimby’s! We can’t wait to keep working with you for decades to come.
What can we say about Powell’s Books? It’s a huge, used-and-new, independent bookstore in downtown Portland that takes up a whole city block, plus a couple of smaller but still large and equally interesting outlying stores. It’s one of the best things about living in Portland, and any time we need inspiration—professional or otherwise—we head straight to one of their locations to get lost in the stacks. It never fails.
Powell’s has also been one of Microcosm’s longest running customers. Starting almost 20 years ago, when Joe moved the business from Cleveland to Portland (you can read about those early days in his new book, Good Trouble), and continuing to this month when we’re partnering with Powell’s to spread the indie bookstore love. All month, Powell’s is featuring our newest edition of The Zinester’s Guide to Portland at every register. And for a week mid-month, you can see a display of Microcosm books at their downtown store—keep an eye out for it.
For this month, we asked Kevin Sampsell, who we’ve long had the pleasure of working with during his 15 years and counting reign over the downtown Powell’s storied Small Press section. When not curating the zine rack and slinging books, Kevin’s writing, editing, and running his own small press, Future Tense Books.
1. What’s your history working with Powell’s? How did you become the Small Press guy?
I started working at Powell’s at the end of 1997 as a holiday temp but I dug my claws in and worked hard and passionately so they couldn’t let me go. In 1998, I became an events coordinator, which means I get to schedule and host author events at the store, which is a privilege and a thrill. I became the small press guy around 2001. My predecessors were the amazing Vanessa Renwick and the late great Marty Kruse. Running the small press section is almost like running my own store. It’s an amazing experience. I love my jobs.
2. Do you remember your first encounter with Microcosm? Do you have any embarrassing or hair raising stories about our early days in Portland?
I remember Joe riding his bike down to the store with his plastic buckets strapped on with all the zines and books crammed into them. A couple of times the zines would be a little rough around the edges or dirty from the rain or dirt. I’d have to flatten out things or wipe them clean before I put them out on the shelf.
3. What’s your favorite Microcosm book or zine?
I was a big supporter of the Zinester’s Guide to Portland, even in its first pamphlet-size format. I thought it was a good idea, and before Microcosm had bigger distribution, I’d be the one who had to email you guys and ask for more. Eventually, after the more polished paperback editions came out, our main book purchasers wised up and started buying them in chunks of hundreds. It’s been one of our most consistent best-selling books in the store for several years now.
Some of my other favorites over the years have been Coffeehouse Crushes, Indestructible by Cristy Road, Sarah Royal’s The Book Bindery, the About My Disappearance zines by Dave Roche, and Sarah Mirk’s Sex From Scratch.
4. You’ve been a mentor and something of a bellwether for Portland’s small press and zine culture. How have you watched those scenes change over time? What do you predict for the future?
Thank you. I have always enjoyed supporting small presses and individuals through my job. The scene here has grown just as the city has grown–very quickly and with a wide swath. I think we’re slowly getting more diverse and inclusive and there’s a beautiful synergy that can often be witnessed between established writers and authors and newer writers coming up. I think that’s one of the reasons writers keep moving here, because they know something special is happening here. But in the last couple of years, the rent problems are making it a challenge to stay here. It’s a trend (the higher cost of living) that I hope doesn’t continue because when you discourage the creative class—who often come from financial struggle–it results in the sad decline of artistic excitement in a city. I don’t want that part of Portland to be “over”—I want it to to stay a haven for artists and risk-takers.