Lianna Kissinger-Virizlay: How does a new project move from idea to reality? Which comes first, compelling content that doesn’t fit into an existing project, or the idea for a project for which you solicit/seek content?
Katherine: I’m sure every editor at UDP would answer this question slightly differently, by which I mean to say there is no set way for a project to take shape. For financial and other practical reasons, we have a limit of how many projects the presse can commit to in a given year. Once the number of projects for a year has been agreed upon editors “claim” spots and then each editor has complete editorial control over the projects they wish to pursue for those allotted spots. Some editors do solicit content. The last two summers we held open reading periods. One of my recent projects came to us this way, Ernst Herbeck’s Everyone Has A Mouth. This manuscript was actually submitted by translator Gary Sullivan as a full-length collection; Gary and I worked together to reshape that collection into the chapbook UDP published last year.
LKV: To take an example, how do you see 6×6 — both in content and form — contributing to and supporting UDP’s identity as a presse and the publishing world as a whole?
Katherine: Because poets can only appear in the series–which will end with issue 36–once, we are always considering new voices. It’s also one of the only series we read for year round. While we do sometimes publish established poets, more often we select lesser or totally unknown writers. We always seem to be rushing to get the next issue out, which give the project a sort of manic, but infectious, energy. A rotating group of editors and volunteers make editorial decisions. There’s nothing static about 6×6, much like there is nothing static about UDP.
LKV: How is the intention behind 6×6 related to the intention behind the Emergency series? To the Eastern European series?
Matvei: They’re not exactly related. Sometimes an Eastern European poet is published in 6×6 and also is published in a chapbook or book in the series. The Emergency series focuses on performance so there’s no real relation to 6×6 which is really only for poetry. I help edit all three series, so maybe that’s the only real connection. As for intention, that’s a big question. I think these projects intend to accomplish very different things, but because they are all UDP projects, they share a general idea of putting out work that needs us to do it.
LKV: How/has the identity of UDP grown with the addition of each project?
Matvei: A great question. It’s an experiment. So it’s really up to our audience to give us an answer to this question. We add things and try new things because we want to keep it interesting for ourselves. But the general “identity” of the press has always been tied to some notion of eclecticism. Personally, I like to think of the role of a publisher as very different from that of a poet, or a performance artist, in that a publisher can put all sorts of genres. A publisher makes sure to reach the natural audience of a book (of poetry or a play for instance) but also cross-over audiences for that work that would be in different disciplines. We hope performance artists will take poetry seriously, find it productive, and vice-versa.
LKV: The idea of expansion immediately begs a question of funding, and part of what makes UDP stand apart is its nonprofit status. Why did UDP seek nonprofit status? What are the benefits of being a nonprofit? Are there drawbacks, and if so, how do you innovate around them?
Matvei: The drawbacks are the paperwork, I suppose, and the constant grant-writing. But the fact is we probably would not be able to publish all the work we publish without non-profit status, donations, and grants. About 60% of our operating budget is made up of sales. That’s actually high for a non-profit. We sought non-profit status to do the things we couldn’t do out-of-pocket.
Katherine: I recently started working for a non-non-profit press as my day job, and this experience has made me grateful that UDP is a non-profit all over again. While there is always the stress associated with raising money, I’ve never had to ask myself “is this project financially viable” before pursuing something I’m passionate about. The drawback is, naturally, that we operate on a very small budget and money is always a concern. I’ve made many trips to random places for things like free paper, or donated alcohol for a party.
LKV: Finally, what single piece of advice would you give to an individual artist wanting to start a press? To a collective of artists?
Katherine: A small press means endless work and like anything else a collective presents its own challenges. Give your time to what you’re passionate about. At UDP we’re all volunteers–none of us would be here if we didn’t believe in what we are doing.
LKV is a Baltimore-bred writer and marketing strategist, currently operating out of Phoenix, AZ.