Small Press Interview Series: BROADSIDED PRESS
a conversation between Erica Charis-Molling and editor Elizabeth Bradfield
Erica Charis-Molling: Let’s start at the beginning. How did Broadsided get started?
Elizabeth Bradfield: Broadsided began in 2005, in Anchorage, Alaska, and the specifics of the press were shaped by three things, primarily: I had just finished my MFA and wanted to keep connected to a literary life, no matter what I was doing to make a living. Something that I wouldn’t have to fundraise for, something that would still allow time and space for my own creative work. That shaped our publication model of one broadside a month.
I thought long and hard about what might make a new, unique contribution to the rich history of literary journals. My time at the Vermont Studio Center a few years earlier had been really inspiring to me, mostly because I was surrounded by so many visual artists. I loved walking through their studios, seeing work in process, thinking and talking about the ways the literary and visual arts were similar and different. I thought it would be inspiring to bring those conversations into the world regularly.
Finally, living in Alaska, a place that felt so distant from “lower 48” centers of literary life, a place where many communities still had only spotty internet service and, in those early days of online resources, only slim access to contemporary art and literature, I wanted to offer something that would enable people to shift the visual landscape of their communities, no matter where they lived.
Thus, Broadsided Press. Because I had web design skills and could build and maintain the site myself, because I had friends who were visual artists interested in collaboration, once the concept was fully developed the project was fairly easy to launch. Of course, the development and conceptualization took quite some time and many conversations with friends and mentors.
ECM: Tell us a bit about the journal. What sets your press apart from other publishers?
EB: There is so much that’s unique about Broadsided! First, our publishing calendar: one broadside every month. It’s slow art. People have a month to think about, look at, read and re-read one visual-literary collaboration. No multitasking. No flipping to the next page. No skimming along.
Secondly, our format: we publish original literary/visual broadsides, and we publish them as pdfs with the intention that people will download them, print them at home, and post them in public spaces.
Thirdly, the collaborative process of our publications: we take writing from open submissions. Anyone can send written work for consideration. Once a piece is selected for publication, we send it out to the group of artists – there are about 50 — who work with us, asking who would like to create a visual response. The writer has to trust the process, because they do not have input into what will be created and published, an act of faith that we are so honored by. The first time artist and writer see the broadside is when it’s sent to them for proofing, which leads to my last point.
Finally, we’re unique in that along with each broadside we publish a brief interview with artist and writer. Both answer a series of questions about the broadside in particular and their creative lives in general. We wanted to give them both a chance to respond to their Broadsided experience – either joyously or critically – and to give readers a sense of the people who created the work we publish.
ECM: I assume the printable pdf broadsides link back to the interviews somehow? (like say through a QR code, shortened URL, etc.)
EB: The broadsides are ALWAYS available from our website, and they are always along with the QA. We dropped the QR codes, which we used for a while, because we didn’t see people using them and they were clunky aesthetically. The month’s broadside is featured on our home page, and the url is given on the printed pdf. The website has a robust search feature, so people can search titles, authors, artists if they come upon an “old” broadside.
ECM: I love the idea of engaging readers with poems in unexpected places! (I’ve participated in Colleen Michaels’ “Improbable Places Poetry Tour” numerous times and they are some of my favorite readings for exactly that reason.) I also love that you approach that through intradisciplinary collaboration. What have you learned about collaborative art-making, especially across disciplines, in the process of running this press?
EB: The Improbable tours are so great! I’ve never been to one, but I’ve heard about them.
What I’ve learned about collaborative art-making across disciplines in the process of running Broadsided is how thrilling it is. What feels like a gift for the writer — having an artist respond to them visually — is also a gift for the artist: receiving an “assignment” and being invited to think/dream/create in a way that they would not without the specific mission of Broadsided. Again and again, writers and artists tell us how much it means to have their work “seen” by someone working in another medium, and I’m so glad we can offer them that experience through Broadsided.
Right now, personally, I’m deeply involved in a collaboration with an artist, composer, violinist, and animator. Together, we are creating something from the ground up. Because Broadsided’s pieces come together fairly independently (artist and writer are not in conversation with each other), what I am learning about ground-up collaboration is how intensively time-consuming and how essential the communication and discussion between all parties is. All the little details. All the little decisions that we talk about are so critical — and the work becomes stronger because of these conversations. But it does mean that the process of creation takes a lot longer. I don’t see that as a bad thing in the least. On the contrary.
ECM: Can you give us a preview of what’s forthcoming from Broadsided, as well as what in your current catalog you’re particularly excited about?
EB: We have an amazing lineup – our calendar is scheduled now out to July of 2020. Some writers are already “paired” with visual artists, some have not yet been sent out, and I am always excited to see what artist leaps toward what work.
This fall, CMarie Fuhrman will again guest edit our translation feature, which always includes work by writers using language indigenous to North America alongside other non-English work. I’m eager to see what she brings to us this year.
I’m excited about the relatively new “Broadsides to Books” feature we launched last year. Because we only publish 12 pieces a year, we don’t often publish one writer’s work twice – we want to keep diversifying the voices we publish. Broadsides to Books allows us to circle back to writers whose work we admire and honor their book-length publications. It’s thrilling to see this conversation grow.
I’m also excited about the new “Broadsided Responds” feature we are developing and will hopefully release in late fall. At Broadsided Responds, we create special folios of broadsides engaged with a single subject. Past features have engaged with the Water Protectors at Standing Rock, guns in American culture, the Syrian refugee crisis and more. We believe at Broadsided that the arts are important voices in contemporary world events. Poems and art can anchor or provide a vehicle for ideas and conversations that are wildly complex, and we are committed to making space for such work.
ECM: What are you visions and goals for Broadsided?
EB: We are planning an anthology of work from our past 15 years of publication, and it will be exciting to work in a book format for that, having been digital for so long. We’d really like to build out our “Teach” section so that teachers of all ages have concrete ideas for how to bring broadsides into their classrooms — teachers out there, we’d love to hear from you!
ECM: What’s in your reading pile, either from your journal and from other presses?
EB: This summer, I’ve been devouring poetry and hitting the literary jackpot again and again. Brian Teare’s Doomstead Days, Donika Kelly’s Bestiary, CD Wright’s Casting Deep Shade, Eve L. Ewing’s Electric Arches, Frances McCue’s Timber Curtain and more. I often go through long periods where I’m just not satisfied with the books I pick up, but so many times this summer I’ve just been immersed, bowled over, and inspired.
ECM: What advice would you offer someone looking to publish with you?
EB: We want to publish work that will welcome readers who don’t necessarily go out and seek poetry. Readers in bus stops who, of course, run the gamut from Pulitzer Prizewinners to people who struggle to read. We want strong work. We want challenging work. We want beautiful, complicated, surprising work – and it’s got to be short.
ECM: What advice would you offer someone thinking of starting a small press?
EB: Take the time to survey what is already out there. Have conversations with friends about what you like, don’t like, see, don’t see and why. Consider your skills and communities – what unique combination of talents, assets, connections, and interests do you have? How might that be translated into a press or literary journal that is doing something new? What can you offer?
Erica Charis-Molling is a creative writing instructor and librarian at the Boston Public Library. Her writing has been published in Crosswinds, Presence, Glass, Anchor, Vinyl, Entropy, and Mezzo Cammin. She’s an alum of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and received her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Antioch University.