Liminal Creations: An Interview with The Cupboard Pamphlet – Michigan Quarterly Review
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Liminal Creations: An Interview with The Cupboard Pamphlet

From its grassroots as a publisher of “anonymous and free pass-around pamphlets,” The Cupboard Pamphlet continues its tradition of publishing one-of-a-kind chapbooks of prose that seek to unsettle and flip literary expectations, all while neatly fitting in the palm of your hand.

The Cupboard publishes four titles a year and has produced over 30 pocket-sized volumes, including Samuel Rafael Barber’s Thousands of Shredded Scraps of Paper Located across Five Landfills, That if Pieced Together Form a Message, Alex McElroy’s Daddy Issues, Krys Malcolm Belc’s In Transit, Brian Evenson’s Report, and Lily Hoang’s The Coupon Thief.

In this latest installment of our Small Press Series for MQR Online, The Cupboard Pamphlet’s co-editors Todd Seabrook and Kelly Dulaney share the ins and outs of running a small press, their passion for the book-as-object, and a few upcoming titles from the depths of the Cupboard.

Cameron Finch: Could you tell us a bit about the founding of The Cupboard Pamphlet? What inspired you to start the press, and what was your original mission? What could The Cupboard add to the literary conversation that had not been heard before? 

While we would love to take the founding credit, The Cupboard Pamphlet was created by Dave Madden and Adam Peterson, who bequeathed the press to us in 2014. The press was originally intended to be a home for anonymous and free pass-around pamphlets; only later did it evolve into a home for single-author prose chapbooks. The first of these was tape-bound, designed to be inexpensive and mobile—pocketable literature. In 2015, we changed printers and upgraded the books, utilizing perfect binding and higher quality materials to make a more robust product that still retained its pocketable size. 

The original mission of the press was to provide a space for fiction chapbooks, works that were not a short story, but also not a novella, but some other liminal creation. There were very few presses that allowed for such work to be published, so the press was dedicated just to those strange, beautiful works and continues to do so to this day.

CF: Editorially speaking, what makes a book a Cupboard book? What are its necessary ingredients? 

We consider ourselves a niche publisher for a niche market but hesitate to issue a set of formal guidelines for our chapbooks, as we do not wish to drive away work or authors whose approaches may surprise our expectations. Generally, however, a Cupboard chapbook is short, numbering between thirty (30) and seventy (70) interior pages. We like works that provide play and surprise in terms of form, structure, and language, in addition to a sense of emotional sincerity. We like writing that inhabits its own textual body with weight and force. We are committed to investing in emerging and diverse authors, and we make an effort to discover those with individual voices and nonpareil perspectives.

CF: What does a day at the press look like? What are the joys and hardships of running a small press these days? 

We have taken on every aspect of running a press, from editing to design to marketing to social media to distribution. We do this for two reasons: so we can maintain quality control over our product and save money. Our daily tasks revolve around distribution, processing orders, and trips to the post office. However, if you want to maintain a successful press, you have to be looking ahead. We have a publishing schedule for not only this year but the following year, so we are planning 4-6 books into the future. This also means that while we may be in the throes of marketing our newest release, we are also writing contracts, organizing edits, or adjusting specs for the printer for our next books. Similar to any business, organization and consistency are the keys to success, which means there is always something to do. The inbox is never clear. 

CF: Can you tell us about The Cupboard Pamphlet’s relationship with indie bookstores and other literary organizations? 

Our books are sold in a number of indie bookstores across the country. Powell Books in Portland has been an enthusiastic seller of Cupboard books, with hundreds of our books being sold there over the years. We are big fans of CLMP and AWP, and we are frequent participants in their bookfairs. We have had a wonderful relationship with a number of online literary nodes like Entropy and Literistic. We think it is important to stay connected to the larger literary community, both to maintain a global perspective of the literary world and to support others’ literary endeavors that are not our own.

CF: I remember the first time I attended the AWP conference and saw how your small books were nestled together in an ACTUAL wooden cupboard; colorful spines thin like matchsticks, all snug in a box. How did the press settle on its signature diminutive style? 

Like so many things, the Cupboard book’s design was dependent on its original production and distribution method. Its size is 4″ x 5.25″ so that four copies of a page can be printed on a standard sheet of paper and cut into quarters. A slim book that size will fit in an invitation envelope and mailed as a letter, not a package, greatly reducing the cost of shipping. And even though we have updated our printing techniques and mailing styles, the books have remained the same size and always will. 

CF: Throughout its lifetime, The Cupboard Pamphlet has created innovative ways to engage and connect readers and writers (here’s looking at you, book trailers, and book recommendation psyche tests!) Looking ahead, what are your goals for The Cupboard Pamphlet in the coming years? What would you like to maintain, and how do you dream of growing? 

It is in our mission statement to be object-oriented and author-focused, and those two things above all else we want to carry into the future. We like creating tangential objects such as wooden displays to match the quality of our books because we think they deserve the finest accouterments. Going forward, we will always side with quality first, then growth. Where we are in a business, the next step would be outside distribution and a concerted push for more bookstore presence; however, we are not sure what that would look like, but it is in our future sights.

CF: Can you recommend a few recently published or forthcoming Cupboard titles we should keep on our radar? 

Our entire 2020 catalogue excites us. Last spring, we published Remove to Play by Lia Woodall, a game-based, nonfictive work about the spaces left open in the wake of suicide and the winner of our 2019 chapbook contest. This summer, we published Waiting for the Miracle by Jason DeYoung, a continuous narrative about the last unravelings of the last of the world. In the fall, we will publish What I Remember of My Love Affair with the Bird and Other Stories by Thomas Israel Hopkins, which reads like Tom Robbins wrote a dystopian society. Our last book of the 2020 catalog will be Carnival Bound by Kara Dorris and Gwendolyn Paradice, which showcases unique, innovative prose through a disabilities study lens. 

CF: What books are in your personal TBR stack? 

We have lots, of course, but at the top of the lists are: 

feeld by Jos Charles

Alexandria by Paul Kingsnorth

The Big Book of Modern Fantasy ed. by Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer

Abigail by Magda Szabó

The New Inheritors by Kent Wascom

History of an Executioner by Clancy McGilligan

All Heathens by Marianne Chan

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