You might know Sarah McCarry through her fiction – her novel All Our Pretty Songs was one of my favorite books of last year – or through her work as the editor of the Guillotine series of chapbooks, which includes work from the likes of Vanessa Veselka, Kate Zambreno, and Melissa Gira Grant. Consistently smart and challenging – and with an impressive design aesthetic at work – everything that Guillotine puts out has rapidly become a must-read for me. I checked in with McCarry via email to learn more about the series, how her work as a writer and as a publisher coincides, and how the latest volume – Sarah Jaffe and Melissa Gira Grant’s For Love or Money – came about.
The Guillotine chapbooks so far have all had a very distinctive appearance. How did the look of the series come about?
The look is all thanks to my brilliant friend Bryan Reedy, who does the series design. We’ve worked together for a long time, and we have really compatible aesthetics. I’ll give him a vague direction – for the Punk chapbook, I wanted the design to evoke a target; for the Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick chapbook, I wanted the design to reflect the fact that the original essay was untitled. But that’s the extent of my influence on the design process. And all of the chapbooks have the same physical production process – I letterpress the covers and hand-bind them, they’re all the same size, the basic materials are the same – so that ties them together, too.
Some of the chapbooks are based on lectures, while others are dialogues. How do you come across the former, and find people to take part in the latter?
Each chapbook has come to me a bit differently. I was in the audience for Bojan’s talk, which became Troubleshooting Silence in Arizona. I’ve been lucky enough to work with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s husband Hal Sedgwick over the last few years archiving Eve’s papers, which is how I came across her MLA talk. Vanessa Veselka and Lidia Yuknavitch’s conversation was something I read originally on the Believer blog, and then I met Vanessa in person and asked her if I could publish the whole thing. (Actually, I met her when I was seventeen, and her band played an all-ages show in my hometown! But I met her again as an adult.) Some of the Guillotine writers are people whose work I’ve found through the internet and approached directly about doing a conversation or essay for the press. I’m always keeping my eye out for writing that is asking difficult and beautiful questions.
Have you thought at all about expanding beyond chapbooks to release longer work under the Guillotine umbrella? (Also: “Under the Guillotine Umbrella” would be a great title for a surreal-dystopian novel.)
Yes! (And yes, that is an amazing title!) I would love, at some point, to publish longer projects – I am a huge, huge fan of the work Danielle Dutton is putting out through Dorothy, A Publishing Project, and I think it would be a lot of fun to do something similar for nonfiction. Right now, I don’t have the time (or the money!) to expand in that direction, but it’s definitely on the back burner. I’m hoping next year to publish a spinoff chapbook series of fantastical/weird short fiction, which is a little more realistic. (I told Bryan to start drawing dragons, in preparation.)
Is there a lot of overlap in terms of people who know you through Guillotine and people who know you through your fiction?
Honestly, I don’t know. I think a lot of people find my various projects through my blog, but as the press is getting more traction it’s taking on more of a life of its own. I am someone who works best when I’m not paying attention to what people are saying about my work, so I don’t tend to know what conversations are happening about my books and how they might cross paths. I do try and stay on top of publicity about the press, but I’m basically the whole operation, so I don’t always have the time. The response to the press has far exceeded my wildest expectations, which has been amazing.
The latest Guillotine title to be announced is a dialogue between Sarah Jaffe and Melissa Gira Grant. How did that come about?
I knew Sarah and Melissa through their amazing labor journalism, and so they seemed like a natural fit for a conversation. With both Punk and For Love or Money, I had no idea what the writers were going to send me–working with writers who I really trust is a lot of fun, because I get to say, basically, “Go to town,” and the manuscripts that come back are always amazing. It’s a pretty organic process. Sarah and Melissa’s conversation is a smart and very sharp dialogue on the politics of pleasure and labor and sex work, and how injustice factors in to the conversations we have (or should be having, but aren’t) around labor and worker’s rights.