The mighty Kore Press is a Tucson-based nonprofit independent publishing house and literary justice organization. For 24 years, the press has worked to ensure that marginalized voices: women, people of color, queer and trans folks, have a forum. Founder Lisa Bowden is trying to raise $20,000 for book printing, publishing staff, anthology editorial/artist fees. The Indiegogo
campaign has currently raised 13 percent of its goal. Funding for literary endeavors is never easy, and the odds are stacked. Fewer people are reading books for one thing. That, and Bowden and Kore are publishing voices that’d go unheard into the mainstream.
Creating a people-powered publishing house has become the most sustainable route for extending Kore Press. A significant portion of the budget comes from support by the NEA, NEH and associated funding sources. With NEA and NEH funding on the chopping block in Trump’s 2018 budget, here Bowden opens up about what mainstream publishing is missing today and what we can expect for Kore Press' fall season.
Kore Press has been running since 1993. What made you want to create this press?
After graduating from the UA and working in the Tucson literary community, I wondered why we weren't exposed to more women writers in school, especially when Tucson is so rich with talent. After working for five years with another press learning printing and binding, and acquiring my own equipment, Karen Falkenstrom, Kore Press co-founder, and I discovered we both wanted to make a feminist/social justice impact with the literary arts, and so, Kore Press was born.
The way people consume media has largely shifted to an online format. What is it like running Kore Press in 2017? How has it adapted?
We publish online as well as in print, and have been growing our digital presence as reading, activist and communications culture has shifted. Digital printing allows us to keep producing books in much smaller runs of our titles, which is more economically feasible for small presses.
What does Kore Press look for in a prospective author?
We are focusing in recent years on writers who are interested in experimental forms, or content, that have potential for social impact. We have done, and plan to continue doing, community programming around certain artists or works to create larger public conversations which engage folks in innovative ways.
What is mainstream publishing missing? Why aren’t marginalized groups able to tell their stories in that forum?
Mainstream publishing is commercially driven, market-driven, so, it's missing a lot in terms of diversity. That is and has always been the strength of small presses—to take risks, work with all kinds of writers and voices.
With the proliferation of social media and personal technology, we have experienced a democratization of "publishing"—anyone with access can tell their story, can have an audience. Mainstream publishing, like mainstream media of all kinds, is largely governed by corporate forces, so you tend to see the same issues of systemic racism, sexism, capitalism—intersecting oppressions—that we see in large institutions and governments.
What does Kore Press provide that other press organizations are missing?
There are so many presses and collectives out there doing amazing collaborative, feminist and coalition-building/community-building work. One thing that we at Kore have thought a priority is the activist component. We have done large-scale community collaborations for years, and have been recognized with national awards—it's a great, effective way to engage readers and consider publishing as a real public forum.
What is your reader demographic? Are you concerned with reaching younger audiences?
Since Kore books are sold to bookstores, colleges, online and to individuals, I can't really say what our reader demographic is for sure outside of readers of poetry and contemporary literature, particularly readers of women and trans writers. I imagine younger audiences read more online, so they can find Kore works there as well.
In terms of public events and programming, though, we ran an after school writing and activism workshop for teen girls and trans youth for ten years. We have also hosted various projects directed at youth, both in and out of the schools.
What are your goals for Kore Press?
I'd like to see Kore grow into a much larger organization with a greater national presence, possibly with a consortium of feminist, indie, lit workers or groups concerned with race, gender and progressive, intersectional work.
Can you talk about the projects (Letters to the Future, Christine's Crossing and the Memoir Award) that Kore has been working on?
Perhaps the biggest and potentially most-impactful work coming out from the Press is a one-of-a-kind anthology edited by Dawn Lundy Martin and Erica Hunt called Letters to the Future: Black Women/Radical Writing
. The collection celebrates formal and linguistically innovative late-modern and contemporary work by black women from the United States, England, Canada, and the Caribbean—work that challenges readers to participate in meaning making. The writing in the anthology is driven by the writer’s desire to radically present, uncovering what she knows and does not know, as well as critically addressing the future. We will host a series of pre-pub events during the Thinking Its Presence: Race, Advocacy, Solidarity in the Arts conference in Tucson, Oct 19-21.
The anthology helps rewrite the misnomer that innovative writing is white writing and does it with a particular interest in gender. Is it a coincidence that #blacklivesmatter was coined and put into action by black queer women in the same moment that there is a proliferation of black women writing experimental work? Editors Martin and Hunt say, "We don’t think so. This anthology is part of our means of simply looking at what we are doing together to rewrite the future world as unfamiliar. Indeed, it is the familiar, the well-worn racial and racist past that is killing us.”
is the posthumous memoir by first generation Catholic Polish Holocaust survivor, Lusia Slomkowska. This trauma memoir is unlike any other. It is the story of Polish Catholic Holocaust victims and survivors, one that has not yet been widely told or understood, and will become a part of the archives of written, audio and visual record of the Holocaust, alongside the stories of the Jewish genocide. Slomkowska's project is about the personal and historical (trans-generational) survival of trauma, breaking silence, and surviving as a witness to the impact of genocide.
We believe stories can change our world. Kore Press, for the second year, is getting behind the sacred art of storytelling and the empowering practice of women’s truth, telling by offering an annual Memoir Award, judged by the badass, beautiful writer and heart-wrenching truth-sayer, Cheryl Strayed. Strayed says we can learn that “part of being able to bear the things we can’t bear is not about tossing them off, not about making the weight lighter, but simply learning that we have the capacity to carry it.” This Kore Award is designed not only to launch an emerging woman writer, but demonstrates the Press' commitment to narrative journalism and truth-telling that transcends personal story and resonates with others, as a tool for transforming women's lives.
To donate to Kore Press, and there are only 15 days left, go to their indiegogo page here.