Interview: Kristy Bowen (dancing girl press)

B. Neimeth: I’m curious about the timeline of Dancing Girl Press. This is one of the more unique presses in that you have a combined studio that also sells other art objects. Did the press come first or the studio? Were you always doing both so it felt natural to keep it all together?

Kristy Bowen: They sort of evolved simultaneously. I had always been writing, but in 2004 I took my first forays into visual arts around the time that I was launching the press, and that fact, combined with all of the design work I was doing for covers and press projects, led to me opening the online shop selling visual work a couple years later. Part of it was practical. I moved the operation into studio space (previously I’d been making books in my dining room) and I needed a way to make some extra income to pay the rent on the space. We were doing really well selling art & books on Etsy, so I eventually expanded it in a number of crafty directions—paper goods, handmade soap, some thrifted items. So the studio offerings grew as an attempt to fund the books. I scaled back a bit after I left Etsy for our own shop in 2011 as the books themselves started to make enough to keep it all afloat, but art & crafts are still very much a part of what we do.


B: What made you decide to start making physical chapbooks instead of just producing the online zine wicked alice. Why did you decide to make a new name for this press and still continue the online zine instead of combining them and creating physical books under the wicked alice name?

Kristy: I had been running wicked alice about two years before I decided to move into print, and mostly it was largely that sort of disconnect between the virtual space and physical object. I feel like sometimes the web is the greatest place to encounter poetry, but I also have a love of books and paper and the shear materiality of such things. The name for the press occurred to me lying on my bed and staring up at a French can-can dancer poster on my wall. I think I chose it because I liked the juxtaposition of the dancer as both subject and object, as both muse and agent of creativity.


B: I have a lot of artistic interests (photography, crochet, bookmaking etc) but often feel overwhelmed by how many projects I’m trying to juggle at once. I’m wondering if you feel that way with the press + studio, online zine and your personal work. Do you have other people helping you with different aspects of the zine, press and studio? How do you balance it all and the online aspect (I see that you’re very active on the blog)?

Kristy: Oh definitely. Certain things take priority according to what fires need to be put out at any given moment. This month, I’m getting ready for the AWP conference so it’s all bookmaking/editing this month, but sometimes I’m more focused on my own writing or visual projects. Sometimes it’s hard to strike a balance between the things I want to do and the things I need to do. (also, I work a full-time, 40 hour a week day job, so that puts a dent in how I spend my time, so a lot gets done on weekends.) I am also good at multi-tasking, doing two or three things at once. I pretty much go it alone on the press–manuscript selection, marketing, layout & production (the cover design is sometimes collaborative or outsourced).) I try to do as much online stuff and layouts as I can during downtime at my job—blog updates, social media promos, tweaking webpages, since I am in front of a computer all day anyway (and sometimes stuck behind the library circulation desk).


B: I saw in a past interview from 2012 that you like to have complete control with layout, design and submissions. Has this changed at all in the last few years? Was there ever a submission where the contributor felt very strongly about a cover design choice or the shape of the book? Do you intuitively make the covers after reading the book?

Kristy: As I mentioned above, I work alone on editorial decisions, layout, and production, but do occasionally work collaboratively with either the author or other artists on the covers. Sometimes the poet already has something specific in mind or would like to work with a designer/artist friend to create something. This can mean anything from jpeg image or a fully print-ready pdf. Luckily it’s almost always something I love, but if it’s not, I will usually try to work toward something we can agree on. I usually allow the poet to be as hands on or hands off as they would like. If they haven’t got any concrete ideas, I usually feel them out in terms of things they love, things they hate, what they might be envisioning and then work from there. Lately I’ve had a few authors tell me what their favorite book covers (either dgp or otherwise) are and why. Even if it’s just vague notes on color or mood, I will try to work with that. If they turn me completely loose, I usually start by re-reading the mss. again and seeing what images occur to me as I go. I will then mock something up. Sometimes it’s a conversation back and forth. Diagnosis for example started with the red sofa and then Alessandra suggested I add the hare. I went back and forth with Book of Tell author Jaqueline Kari on a couple mockups of simple Blakeian images that weren’t really all that spectacular, but she was able to arrange a friend to do the awesome design that wound up the final product, which had the same feel but was much more visually interesting.


B: It’s interesting to have an open run edition. Do you find it difficult to have to print books a few projects back as you move forward into other projects? It makes it very accessible but also seems a little difficult from a logistical standpoint of having to potentially print books from a couple of years ago in a one off situation. How do you deal with this?

Kristy: I try to keep a few in stock, especially in the first year or so, unless they are really high selling titles, which I just keep making in small batches of 5-10. Since all of my printing is done in the studio, it’s actually pretty simple to just print up anything I don’t have in stock if someone wants it. Dropbox is my savior on this, so I have all my files in one place. I just print the insides, print the cover, assemble and trim, let it sit overnight under the weights to flatten it. Initially I thought about limited editions, but then I realized how frustrating it is as an author to have published a book and for copies to be in short supply. And we actually do have quite a few sales every month of much older books, sometimes titles from our first couple of years.


B: How many books do you release per year or how many do you try to release per year? How many of these are from the submissions you get and how many are from your local community?

Kristy: It’s grown over the past 5 or so years to about 50 books per year, or roughly one per week. I tend to work on them in batches though, so we might go a couple weeks between releases and then drop a flurry of them in a manner of days. I’d say 70 percent are from our open reading periods, and the other 30 percent are solicited (or, usually from people whose work has been in wicked alice or people whose work I’ve encountered elsewhere online (journals, blogs, facebook) and then seek out. I try to publish as many Chicago area poets as I can, as well as a few Columbia College students/alumni (the grad program I attended, and also the library where I work.) Also midwestern poets in general, though we also publish poets from all over the place, including Italy (Alessandra Bava) and the UK.


B: I definitely see the dark, Victorian influences on the cover art and the two books I readDiagnosis and The Book of Tell—and the unique prose that you’re drawn to. Do you have any new projects you’re excited to talk about?

Kristy: We’ve got a lot of interesting and diverse projects coming out recently and upcoming, including Jenni B Baker’s Comings/Goings, a book of Oulipo exercises as well as an erasure project from Christina Rothenbeck, of Edith Wharton’s work. We’ll be releasing five or so titles at the AWP conference in Minneapolis in early April, including a double box set by Jessica Bergamino of mermaid-ish poems. I think the dark Victoria-ness comes from my personal aesthetic-I love things like victoriana, old science diagrams, ghost stories, weird complicated little boxes and stories. (I myself have written about things like sideshow women and ghostly hitchhikers.) I occasionally laugh that we publish a lot of mermaid books, but they are one of my own personal little obsessions, so I go with it and enjoy.