On Monday I had the good fortune to see Ralph Nader speak at Colorado College. It was a great talk, focused on the increasing “corporatization” of American life & politics. (You can watch the whole lecture here.) He didn’t just talk about how bad things are, but gave lots of simple, practical suggestions for people to get involved and begin to change things. So, naturally, I wondered: what can I do, personally? And not just what can I do in terms of getting directly involved with politics/civics, but what can I do, what can the NewLights Press do, to integrate this kind of responsibility and action into daily practice?
One of the ideas that came out in the talk was the idea of “displacement” of large corporations by local businesses and economies—an idea very important to (and already well developed in) the building of more sustainable and responsible agricultural practices. But what is a local economy/ecology for writing and art? What role can small presses play in developing that local culture in a positive way?
One could argue that small presses, by nature of their being small, only participate in a local economy. But when I look at NewLights particularly, it’s quite clear that we haven’t engaged with our home community in a purposeful way in a long time. NewLights has published work by writers from all over the country—most recently by someone from Austin, TX, who was living in NYC when we started the project. J.A. Tyler lives in Fort Collins, CO (about 2 hours away from CO Springs), but publishing a Colorado based writer was an accident—that project began when NewLights was in California, before I knew that I might be moving to Colorado.
NewLights has resided in 4 different states in the last 8 years of its existence. The only place it was rooted in for a significant amount of time was Baltimore, where it began. So I could use the excuse that I’ve moved around too much to invest a lot in a local community. But that’s just an excuse, and now that things seem more permanent, the question returns: what can we do?
And the answer, very simply, perhaps too simply: publish Colorado writers! And when you do that organize readings and other events! Create a space-time for a community to develop! And when you work with a writer or artist from another place, get them out here to do an event, so that there is an exchange with other local economies! It really is that simple. But it’s also not that simple—more questions arise.
If the goal of the press is to publish “the best” writing that we can find (the “best” of our particular area of interest), then are those writers and artists going to necessarily reside in Colorado? And particularly in Colorado Springs? So what does it mean when, as a press, a commitment is made to publishing local work? Does that involve lowering our standards? Or will that commitment allow a space for that local work to grow?
I have a feeling we’ll come back to this….