Issue #48 — October 19, 2010
For this week’s feature article, we interviewed Evan Lavender-Smith, Editor-in-Chief of Noemi Press.
Interview conducted by Diane Goettel
Evan Lavender-Smith: Carmen Giménez Smith, my wife and comrade, published a chapbook under the name Noemi Press in 2001. I met Carmen in 2002 and initially agreed to “help her out” with the press. Very little time had passed before I was barking orders at her.
Noemi is Carmen’s mother’s middle name.
S: Your catalog includes an impressive list of chapbooks. Why has this been such an important kind of book for Noemi?
ELS: Imagining a book not only as a “text” but also as an “object” has been a concern for us from the get-go—probably a reaction against the commodification of the book—and given its relatively inexpensive production cost the chapbook has been the ideal format for addressing this concern. The chapbook’s status as “object” is fairly immediate: it is delicate, handmade; there is something “unique” about each copy; etc. Moreover, it’s been loads of fun to imagine and implement some new possibilities for the construction of a book—weird bindings, interesting paper, odd shapes, etc.—to which the limited-edition and handmade qualities of the chapbook lend themselves.
S: 2010 was the last year of the Noemi Press Chapbook Award but the press now runs a competition for a full-length collection of poems. What made you and your fellow editors decide to make this change?
ELS: The past few years have seen us transitioning from smaller to larger editions and from fewer to more pages per book all toward the end of reaching more readers. It also seems that most young writers would prefer to publish a full-length collection to a chapbook-length collection as there is certain cultural capital associated with the full-length collection wanting in the chapbook—not many prizes for chapbooks, can’t really go after a job with a chapbook, lackluster distribution channels for chapbooks, etc. Also the palm of my right hand is permanently bruised and tender from saddle-stapling chapbooks.
S: It seems that you are just beginning to develop a fiction list and a drama list. Can you tell us a little bit about this new phase of publishing?
ELS: I’m always on the lookout for fiction but I’m also sort of preternaturally snobby in my taste for prose and so have had an awfully hard time finding stuff to which I’m willing to commit my time. As it concerns drama, there are so few outlets for exciting contemporary dramatic writing; I find this a very sad state of affairs and am trying in what little way I can to help change this.
S: Can you also tell us about the types of fiction and drama that you are hoping to add to the Noemi Press list?
ELS: In both cases I’m most interested in publishing writing that straightaway demonstrates a commitment to innovation in language. I need to read sentences that shake up me up in some way. With respect to dramatic writing, I’m especially interested in unconventional imaginings of the dramatic space: I want to read plays that are staged in closets and on airplanes, site-specific theater. I also like it when language in theater isn’t strictly mimetic, when we hear language playing new games on stage. It seems to me that even some of our most “experimental” drama has often remained unnecessarily conservative with language.
S: What is your favorite thing about your job as a small press editor?
ELS: When I discover something that knocks my socks off and have the opportunity to publish it. That is the primary allure of running a small press, especially nowadays when, with only a couple of exceptions, every important younger American writer is publishing with small/indie presses.
S: When it comes to submissions, what are your pet peeves?
ELS: When an author writes to me and exudes this vibe of neurotic entitlement about his submission. It’s the one where after he has already queried me about his submission status and after I’ve told him I’ll get to it just as soon as I can, he queries me again shortly thereafter to “check up on my progress” and I tell him I’m trying my absolute hardest to get to it but still haven’t and then maybe he’ll query me another time or two until finally I get around to reading the submission and have to reject it (unfortunately we reject more than 99% of all submissions) and I’ll write him a nice note about why we can’t take it, at which point he’ll write me back telling me how inconsiderate I was for making him wait all that time only to reject him or he’ll write me back calling me nasty names.
S: Do you have any advice for our readers who might be interested in submitting work to Noemi Press?
ELS: Write your heart out! Let it all hang out! (But please wear a shirt and pants.)
To find out more about Noemi Press, visit www.noemipress.org.
Evan Lavender-Smith is the author of From Old Notebooks (BlazeVOX, 2010) and Avatar (Six Gallery Press, forthcoming 2011). He is also the editor-in-chief of Noemi Press, the prose and drama editor of Puerto del Sol, and a visiting assistant professor at New Mexico State University. His writing has recently appeared in Fence, Post Road, No Colony, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Glimmer Train, Memorious, The Evergreen Review and elsewhere.