Black Lawrence Press

Issue #84 — July 5, 2011

Switchback Books

For this week’s feature article, we interviewed Hanna Andrews (pictured left) and Becca Klaver (pictured right), Founding Editors of Switchback Books.

Interview conducted by Diane Goettel

Hanna Andrews
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Switchback Books publishes two books each year. One of those books is the winner ofthe Gatewood Prize. Tell us a bit about your selection process.

Hanna Andrews and Becca Klaver: For the Gatewood Prize, the editors (Becca and Hanna, plus Assistant Editor Dolly Lemke and Managing Editor Whitney Holmes) read every manuscript. We also have a panel of readers, and engage in discussion about every title. The editors then have our own meeting, or several meetings, if need be, where we consider reader feedback, talk amongst ourselves about standout titles, re-read manuscripts, and ultimately decide on ten finalists to send along to the contest judge.

Our other books have come to us in all sorts of ways: through active solicitation (Mónica de la Torre’s Talk Shows), through recommendation (Noelle Kocot recommended Peggy Munson’s manuscript to us, and we all fell in love with Pathogenesis), or by being a contest finalist that many readers and editors loved (Jessica Bozek’s The Bodyfeel Lexicon).Becca Klaver

SSwitchback Books identifies itself as a feminist poetry press. Are you particularly interested in manuscripts that address feminism?

HA & BK: We’re very interested in feminist manuscripts, but not necessarily manuscripts that address feminism. The difference, as we see it, is a matter of “aboutness”: a manuscript could be about women, politics, and bodies and not necessarily be a feminist book. On the other hand, a book could lack any overtly feminist content and still be covertly feminist (in the sense of a stealth operation, why not!) or implicitly feminist.

That’s not to say that we’re looking for veiled or somehow diluted feminist content—not at all!—but that we’re interested in redefining how people categorize a “feminist manuscript.” We believe in multiple feminisms; in the same way that we know that being a feminist doesn’t mean looking a certain way, or having one particular kind of academic or socioeconomic background, or expressing a single sexual identity, the way women enact or perform feminism through writing is going to be eclectic as well!

Representing women’s consciousnesses and lives on the page in new ways is a feminist act, as far as we’re concerned. And in that way, feminism becomes a form of innovation, too. This is perhaps a roundabout way of saying that we’re just as interested in “feminism” in form as in content (while also recognizing that often those concepts are inextricable).

SHow would you describe the aesthetic of Switchback Books?

HA & BK: Multiply feminist. We’re interested in smart, playful books that are in love with language, full of heart,and unafraid to do something gauche, un-stylish, overly stylish, weird, quiet, etc.

If that sounds sprawling, it’s intentional. We want each Switchback Book to feel like a surprise, pleasurable in completely different ways, representative of the fascinating landscape of women poets writing today.

redmissedachesSWhat is the first thing that you look for in a submission?

HA & BK: No first thing, but many things: A phrase that rearranges our brains. Something that makes us laugh from absurdity or honesty. Compassion. Candor. Playfulness. Heart. Immediacy. Authority.

The last several books we’ve published immediately immersed us in a world with its own rules, vernacular, and form. Letters between a wolf and an explorer. Poems caught up in a teenage girl- world of mysticism and longing. Poems that exist somewhere between English and Spanish, prose and poetry, text and image.

SWhat advice do you have for poets who are interested in publishing with Switchback Books?

HA & BK: First, the usual advice: familiarize yourself with the work we’ve already published. And then, trust that we are always interested in expanding the aesthetic possibilities represented in our catalog. We (and Switchback’s other founding editor, Brandi Homan) were in the same cohort in the Poetry MFA program at Columbia College Chicago, and that program did an amazing job of shunning the idea of a “house style” and welcoming diverse styles and traditions. We’re proud inheritors of that philosophy. We admire courage and innovation, and those impulses can take on a lot of shapes and forms.

S: Other than Switchback, what are some of your favorite small presses?

HA & BK: Too many to name here, but here are some presses that have inspired us, or published us, or with which we have collaborated or generally palled around with: Action Books, Ahsahta Press, Belladonna*, Bloof Books, Coconut Books, Dancing Girl Press, Fence Books, greying ghost press, horse less press, Kore Press, Noemi Press, Tarpaulin Sky Press, Shearsman Books, Tilt Press, Ugly Duckling Presse.

SWho are your favorite living poets?

HA & BK: Again, too many to name, but here are some off the top of our heads: Kazim Ali, Charles Bernstein, Susan Briante, Anne Carson, Brenda Coultas, Olena Kalytiak Davis, Thalia Field, Graham Foust, Kate Greenstreet, Robert Hass, Lyn Hejinian, Brenda Hillman, Cathy Park Hong, Bhanu Kapil, Noelle Kocot, Joanne Kyger, Cate Marvin, Khaled Mattawa, Bernadette Mayer, Chelsey Minnis, Rusty Morrison, Harryette Mullen, Sawako Nakayasu, Hoa Nguyen, Alice Notley, Danielle Pafunda, Claudia Rankine, Lisa Robertson, Elizabeth Robinson, Brenda Shaughnessy, James Shea, Richard Siken, Sasha Steensen, Juliana Spahr, Brian Teare, Anne Waldman, C.D. Wright, Rachel Zucker.

And of course, our shared teachers: Lisa Fishman, Arielle Greenberg, Joan Larkin, and David Trinidad.

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To learn more about Switchback Books, visit http://www.switchbackbooks.com/ .

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Hanna Andrews is a native New Yorker, and graduated from Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia College Chicago. She currently lives in Brooklyn and works as Editor at the Academy of American Poets. Recent work appears in DIAGRAM, Foursquare and Word for/Word and she was a 2008 Ruth Lilly Fellowship finalist. Her chapbook, a/long/division,was published by Tilt Press and her manuscript, Slope Move, was a finalist for the 2011 Sawtooth Prize from Ahsahta Press.

Becca Klaver was born in Milwaukee, WI, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY. She holds a BA from the University of Southern California and an MFA from Columbia College Chicago, and is a student in the English PhD program at Rutgers University. She is the author of the poetry collection LA Liminal (Kore Press, 2010) and the chapbook Inside a Red Corvette: A 90s Mix Tape (greying ghost press, 2009).