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Otis Alumni and Faculty Create Publishing Project to Highlight Underrepresented Voices

Halley Sutton

Becoming a good literary citizen in the world can take all different paths. For two recent Otis College of Art and Design graduates, that path meant partnering with a faculty mentor to create a broadside publication that will publish poetry every other month. Otis College of Art and Design MFA Writing faculty member Guy Bennett and MFA Writing alumni Krystle Statler and Kevin Thomas published the first issue of their broadside, every other, in February 2018, with an original and previously unpublished poem entitled “Icarus” by Nick Flynn.

Nick Flynn is a renowned poet, playwright, and author, who has published four volumes of poetry, three memoirs, including Another Bullshit Night in Suck City: A Memoir, which was adapted into the film Finding Flynn starring Paul Dano and Robert DeNiro, as well as plays and other nonfiction books. He has won a Guggenheim fellowship, a PEN / Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry, among other awards.

Thomas had interacted with Flynn during his visit to the Otis College MFA Writing Visiting Writers series and kept up an email correspondence afterward. When considering the inaugural issue of every other, Thomas reached out to Flynn to see if he might be interested in kicking off the project. Flynn agreed, sending a six-stanza cento, or collage poem, about the murder of Alton Sterling at the hands of two Baton Rouge police officers. (Incidentally, weeks after the first issue of every other, an investigation cleared those officers of any wrongdoing in the incident.)

Flynn’s poem fits well within the broadside’s mission to publish writers from around the world whose voices or subject matter is not as well known or publicized as it could be. “We want to publish work that we wished was more visible, that we wished we would hear more of,” Bennett said. While Nick Flynn is an established voice in American literature, his subject material for the poem fit squarely in line with the group’s mission for social justice through artistic expression. “[The poem] really encompasses the whole problem of young black men being shot by cops [in America],” Thomas said.

Otis graduate course spawns publishing project

Bennett himself is no stranger to small press publishing. He runs the Otis Books publishing project that publishes a few titles every year with the help of the Otis College MFA Writing students. It gives students a chance to learn hands-on about the business of publishing, while also contributing new titles to the literary world. In fact, the foundation for every other was laid during the publishing class taught by Bennett and in which both Statler and Thomas were enrolled.

During each semester, students learn the basics of InDesign and complete short projects to hone their typesetting skills, culminating in the typesetting of personal projects. Eventually, students use those skills to typeset the manuscripts that Otis Books decides to publish each year. But when Statler and Thomas graduated, they knew they wanted to stay connected with the process — and with Bennett. “The idea started from wanting to continue the good experiences we had in publishing [class],” Thomas said.

The InDesign work proved so popular and invaluable that another Otis College of Art and Design MFA Writing alum, GDFekaris, started a press called Half Cracked Poetry, an independent press that does print and design work for other indie presses and specializes in publishing poems rooted in madness.

Re-appropriating a propagandist form to spread art, give voice to the voiceless

The broadside has been historically used as a form of propaganda, Bennett said. “It’s a format that has a whole history to it, there’s a whole political dimension to it,” Bennett added. Thomas brought up the fact that the broadside’s history in America often dovetails with racist propaganda. One of the first things that comes up when you search for broadsides on the internet are images advertising minstrel shows, he said. But that history is also part of the reason the group was drawn to use it as a medium for their publishing project geared towards highlighting marginalized voices, to flip the script. “I was drawn to that [history] to use it as a form for our own propaganda, in a way. It’s us making our own propaganda,” Thomas said.

The broadside, printed on 17” x 22” paper that folds down to standard 8.5” x 11” size, will publish every other month and features one poem typeset by one member of the publishing team. It’s up to that individual member of the team to not only recruit the poet to be featured, but also to determine how the poem should be placed on the page, which font to use, and whether any graphic elements should be used to complement the text. Since Thomas was the most connected to Flynn—calling him a “sort of writer destination and inspiration”—he typeset the first edition of the broadside.

For the second issue, which published in April 2018, Statler typeset a poem by Alan Loney, with whom she had previously worked during her tenure as a grad student working for Otis Books. Statler, who mastered the art of typesetting using InDesign software while pursuing her master’s degree, found the project a creative challenge. She said she was most drawn to the tension inherent in the project between autonomy and anxiety. “You have so much opportunity to do anything. You can do anything you want but you’re influenced by so much, and you don’t want to copy anybody [who has come before],” she said.

And unlike traditional book publishing, where successful typesetting is measured by how well it highlights the text without announcing its own presence, typesetting for a broadside involves a lot of design elements to complement the work. In Statler’s typesetting of the April edition of every other, she decided to include a graphic element from a word in the poem, using a hand-traced graphic of a wasp that she rendered in InDesign. “Typesetting Alan Loney, he’s a poet who takes advantage of line spacing. One of the constraints that I had to work with were his stanza breaks,” Statler said. To that end, Statler used the white space available in a large size format such as a broadside to her advantage, using the negative space to move the text down the page. “The white space opens even more to the reader, and lets them interpret the poem in their own way,” Statler said.

The third edition of every other will be curated by Bennett and will be available for purchase in June 2018.

You can purchase the February 2018 edition of every other, featuring the poem “Icarus by Nick Flynn, at Half Cracked Poetry’s website. You can also purchase a year-long subscription to every other at a discounted rate directly at the broadside’s website: www.every-other.net.

Halley Sutton is a graduate of Otis College of Art and Design’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing program. She lives in Playa del Rey, CA.