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St. Louis' Dorothy: A Publishing Project Gains Critical Acclaim

Provided by Dorothy

Dorothy: A Publishing Project is small literary press that’s making big waves in the literary community. The press publishes only two books each fall. This year Dorothy released Nell Zink’s "The Wallcreeper" and Joanna Ruocco’s "DAN." Critical acclaim continues to grow for Dorothy. "The Wallcreeper" is reviewed in the influential New York Time’s Book Review this weekend.

Press founder Danielle Dutton recently joined St. Louis Public Radio’s Willis Ryder Arnold to discuss Dorothy’s history, exciting fiction, and publishing strategy.

Arnold: What’s it like to run an experimental, female-focused press here in St. Louis?

Dutton: One of the things that we love about being in St. Louis is that it allows us to not constantly focus on the business side of things, which was never why we went into it in the first place. We always just wanted to be talking about amazing books and working with amazing writers. So being here allows us not to be constantly worried about what the reviews are going to be or what the bottom line is.

Arnold: Although some might characterize your press as a feminist press, what other politics inform the books that you're interested in?

Dutton: I wanted to see fiction in the world that was exciting and strange and doing different things. A lot of the conversation I was seeing about women’s fiction was about “Women’s Fiction” and I don’t really think that exists. That was one of the reasons I wanted to start a press that was mostly focused on women’s writing, to resist the very idea that women have a particular way they write or a particular set of things they write about because I just don’t believe it’s true. Though my press is tiny, and we’ve only published 10 books so far; they absolutely speak to the sort of idea of the multiplicity of interests that I think contemporary women writers have.

Arnold: Could you explain how the project came to be?

Dutton: I had done my PhD at the University of Denver and I was working at an indie press called Dalkey Archive Press. I’d been working there for a while and I was feeling the urge to want to publish my own books. There came a point when I found out that a writer named Renee Gladman who’d started as a poet had written a trilogy of novels about this invented city-state called Ravicka. I’d been an admirer of hers for a long time. And I called her up and I asked: If you’ll let me publish your books I’ll start a press. So the idea was to publish two books each fall that wouldn’t necessarily have the same original communities of readership and to try and get the readers of one to cross over to the other. We really see it as a curated project and that each book adds something to the conversation that all the books are having together.

Arnold: How do you view your editorial, curatorial practice when you’re wading through submissions?

Dutton: I may have a lot of wonderful submissions but not all of them will fit with the book that I already have in hand for the coming fall. So there’s something really interesting and hard to articulate about that -- a kind of of gut feeling that two books fit together in an interesting way.  The way two paintings fit together in an interesting way on your wall. 

Arnold: And was there a specific moment you just realized oh my God this is the absolute perfect pair for that?

Credit Provided by Dorothy

Dutton: Yeah, that kind of happens every year. And that absolutely happened this past year with Nell Zink’s "The Wallcreeper," which I had in hand for like a year before publication or more. It took a really long time to find a companion book for that and we finally settled on Joanna Ruocco’s "DAN." The two books in a way couldn’t be more different from each other but they both have their own sort of wild energy. And it’s that energy that made me want to pair them.

Arnold: Both of those books seem to deal with questions of selfhood, do you consider these examinations an imperative for your press?

Dorothy author Nell Zink at a book signing with Jonathan Franzen
Credit Dustin Kurtz | Provided by Dorothy
Dorothy author Nell Zink at a book signing with Jonathan Franzen

Dutton: There’s no imperative except that the writing is amazing. When I find a book I want to publish I usually know right away. With "The Wallcreeper," for example I knew within 3 or 4 pages, I have to publish this book. Honestly I almost get like a panic attack when I start to read it, like I start to feel sick like “Oh, I wish I’d written this myself. I must publish this book.”

Arnold: When you stepped into the studio today, you mentioned that you’d seen a pre-review from the New York Times about Nell Zink’s "The Wallcreeper," and I’m curious what it’s like to go from starting a press to being able to see the work you’re helping produce be reviewed in places as large as the New York Times.

Dutton: It’s so much bigger than Dorothy set out to be that I’m sort of just watching it unfold, and it almost feels like it’s not happening to Dorothy. But then when I stop and think about it I feel really proud. But you know being a publisher is very much a behind-the-scenes thing. Nobody's patting you on the back. And then I’m already picking books for next year and getting really excited about them. I’m not worried about whether or not they’re going to have a New York Times review and blow up. It's super exciting that Nell’s book did but that’s not why I started Dorothy.

Arnold: You’ve been doing this for five years now, how has the process changed over that time?

Dutton: When you first start anything, there’s this absolute freedom. There’s no pressure whatsoever. You just go and you don’t think anyone’s paying attention and you publish whatever you want and you do the best you can. Each year I do feel like there’s a little more pressure to put out something that’s just as good. So there’s that strange feeling that you have to get better and bigger all the time but I actually want to try to resist that as much as I can. Dorothy was meant always to be kind of small. Like a mom and pop shop, like slow food. And I just want to keep each year having two fantastic books and not give into the pressure to always be growing, growing, growing.

Books by Dorothy: A Publishing Project can be found at local book stores and on Amazon.

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