The 14th installment of Editor’s Corner is here! Editor’s Corner is a VIDAWeb feature in which editors and publishers explore complex issues regarding sex, gender, race and sexuality as they relate to their projects. In EC14, Danielle Dutton, founder of Dorothy, a publishing project, talks to us about challenging the status quo, publishing innovative work by women and finishing her novel about Margaret Cavendish.
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On her project, role and publishing philosophy:
I founded Dorothy, a publishing project in 2009 (with loads of help from my husband). We are a press dedicated to innovative fiction (or writing about fiction) by women. In fact, according to the website, it’s only mostly by women, since we would, in theory, publish a book by a man. Actually, we may have published one: Manuela Draeger, whom we published in the second year, is a pseudonymous female figure—a children’s librarian in a post-apocalyptic prison camp—created by the French author Antoine Volodine (in turn a pseudonym for an anonymous French individual who is probably a man).
In any case, each year we publish two books together in the fall, pairing books we think are interesting together, books that challenge rather than reinforce the status quo. What ultimately motivates us is multiplicity and play. Our own sense of the project evolves as each year’s books get added to the list, which so far includes: from 2010, Renee Gladman’s Event Factory and Barbara Comyns’s Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (originally published in 1954, and promptly banned in Ireland); in 2011, Renee Gladman’s The Ravickians and Manuela Draeger’s In the Time of the Blue Ball (translated by Brian Evenson, with help from his daughter Valerie); in 2012, Suzanne Scanlon’s Promising Young Women and Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi’s Fra Keeler; and in 2013, Amina Cain’s Creature and Renee Gladman’s Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge (the third in her series with which, and for which, I started the press).
My basic publishing philosophy is to publish the best books I can find, to make them beautiful, and to work to get them read and reviewed. I want to make the audience for innovative writing, and especially innovative writing by women, larger than it is: less like a club and more like a public. This is why we publish books that are aesthetically more familiar alongside works that might be less so, and we offer special pricing on our website to encourage people to buy the books together. We want people to think about the individual titles as a group, a conversation. I do think this happens, in a small way. Perhaps if Dorothy is able to grow, we’ll find bigger ways to express the press’s philosophy.
On the current publishing climate:
I don’t think there is one climate in fiction. There are various climates that too often behave as if the other climates aren’t out there. Mostly the work I see being celebrated is not the work I myself am celebrating, which is frustrating. This is the reason Dorothy exists.
Gender, of course, plays an overt role in determining the work Dorothy publishes in that we announce up front that we’re looking for work from women. Our submissions pile is made up (almost entirely) of manuscripts from women. And the work I’ve solicited has, with one or two exceptions, been entirely from women, because it’s work I wanted and loved. Absolutely what matters most is that the book be wonderful, that it not be safe, and that it work in unexpected ways.
However, the underrepresentation of women in publishing is certainly something I think about a lot. In addition to being a woman and a writer and the publisher of a press dedicated to women’s writing, I just finished a novel about a woman writer—Margaret Cavendish—who lived in England (and, in exile, in Paris and Antwerp) in the seventeenth century. Proto-novelist, proto-feminist: everything she was, she was before it was possible to be it. She was a wonder-filled writer, if a sloppy and possibly not “great” one, although you could argue the times were strongly against her becoming even what she was, let alone something better. But she was an aristocrat, and audacious, and so became a celebrity, if not necessarily the kind of celebrity she wanted to be. She struggled a lot. Obviously, so much has changed for women (at least in certain parts of the world, and for women of a certain class especially) since the dawn of the Enlightenment, but having been immersed in Cavendish’s struggles for so long now, it does seem to me that a lot of the insecurities and the underlying problems (with how women are raised, socialized, depicted, held up or kept down) remain.
On VIDA’s Count:
I was surprised to be surprised by how bad the numbers were. I was working as a book designer for Dalkey Archive when the first Count came out. They did badly in the Count, although they do publish some of my favorite books by women. One thing that came out after was that the percentage of submissions to Dalkey skewed even more toward men than the Press’s list. In other words, women were not sending in their work, or their agents weren’t. There seemed only two possible explanations, or at least there were two that got talked about: 1) either women were discouraged by Dalkey’s existing author list, or 2) not many women were writing work that aesthetically fit with the fiction Dalkey publishes—avant garde, formally experimental, etc. I of course knew a lot of women doing experimental work in fiction, and I suppose Dorothy was conceived in part to address this inequity, not by publishing as many women’s books as get published by men (since one small publisher can’t do that), but simply by creating a space in the culture where female fiction writers working in non-commercial aesthetic traditions could feel encouraged to send their work. By stating that Dorothy published “mostly” women, I originally thought that we would end up with at least as many submissions by women, but I guess any gender message at all is very strongly received, because we’ve only gotten a few submissions from men. But we’ve gotten incredible books by women, so it all worked out.
On A+ Lit People:
There are many amazing indie presses all over the country doing important and exciting work: Flood Editions right here in St. Louis, for example, and Action Books in South Bend, Graywolf in Minneapolis, Counterpath in Denver, Siglio in Los Angeles, Ugly Duckling Presse in Brooklyn, and Two Dollar Radio in Ohio (to name a few). In terms of magazines, I get most excited by publications that feature writing alongside a larger art-making world. BOMB is probably my favorite. Also the online magazine Triple Canopy. And I always discover new books to seek out, both in and out of the fiction world, in Bookforum.
Danielle Dutton is the author of Attempts at a Life and S P R A W L. She is an assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis and the founder/editor of Dorothy, a publishing project.