As the co-founding editor of Gap Riot Press, what sparked your interest in entering the world of small press publishing? Why is it important and what did you hope to achieve when you set out on this endeavour?
Gap Riot started, as the best things always do, in conversation. In the early months of 2017, Dani Spinosa and I were discussing how too often, writers of formal or experimental poetry in Canada (including ourselves) had to go through a white man to publish a chapbook. So, we wanted to change that up a little and provide a space for writers to publish experimental, formal, political, feminist, and/or genre-blurring poetry that wasn’t governed by a dude. We sought out to break down cliques and barriers in the poetic community, and open more spaces for people to practice the poetry we love, with the hopes of bringing a community together in collective action in this work.
So, after months and months of batting the idea of starting a press around, we got one massive push from the late, great, incomparable, and dearly missed poet extraordinaire Priscila Uppal, who wanted a run of chapbooks made for the poems in her SummerWorks play, What Linda Said. We did those and then three more chapbooks by the most incredible first season we could have asked for: Adeena Karasick, Margaret Christakos, and Canisia Lubrin. And with the support of all these beautiful and fierce wimmin, we grew and grew into the unstoppable Gap Riot Press.
We’re always learning, and always challenging ourselves and others. Gap Riot was born out of the need for shouty, unapologetic, collective amplification. And, as white wimmin, we’re trying to do that in a way that decenters ourselves; for us, this work is about uplifting other voices and giving space to folks to try stuff on and play.
What exciting projects can we expect next from Gap Riot Press?
We just released our fifth season of chapbooks in the early summer featuring the luminous Terese Mason Pierre, Ashley Hynd, Zoey Morris, and Franco Cortese. We have some really awesome titles already lined up for our fall season, which will be out sometime in October or November. And, we’re thinking about the idea of an experimental poetry anthology, which will be fun!
We’re also looking to lean more into the creative, hands-on aspect of creating. But, we generally try to do something different each season, whether it’s a plantable excerpt of poetry, a wax-sealed ribbon, etc. Time doesn’t always allow us to add the most hands-on touch to our work that some small presses like The Blasted Tree and Puddles of Sky Press do, but we’d love to do more of that to make each publication that much more special, and really lean into that hand-to-object care we so love about small press publishing.
What has been the biggest surprise or learning experience you’ve encountered while running Gap Riot Press?
That the learning never stops! This is an ongoing project. We’re lucky in that Dani and I are best friends, and basically the same person, so we work really well together without much structure or headaches. But it’s tough work, especially with both of us working full-time, demanding jobs, and sometimes there’s a struggle to find balance and stay sane. Also, the small things: we learned this past season that our new website shop had a bit of a learning curve to it and so we weren’t charging the right amount of shipping, for example. We’re always learning, in big ways and small.
What is your process for selected authors?
We don’t have a formal selection process per se; our mantra lately is “burn it down, but make it fashion”—we seek to publish work that ignites, dismantles, unsettles, and does it with style. We get a lot of submissions, so we select work that moves us the most, that is necessary, urgent, responsive, and beautiful all the same.
You joined us last year for Small Press, Big Ideas: Roundtable to discuss the strengths and challenges of the small press scene. Since then, have you noticed any major shifts, growth and or new challenges? How would you describe these strengths and challenges in today’s pandemic world?
When it comes to small press, there is always growth! That’s been one of the most amazing things for me to experience while putting together the small press map of Canada for this year’s festival, is seeing how much the community continues to grow year after year with new people, new ideas, new modes of production. It’s awesome and inspiring to see.
In terms of the pandemic, we’ve seen a spectrum of effects across the small presses we’ve been in contact with—some are experiencing a lot of growth and success, others have reported incredible loss. One of the biggest drawbacks has been the absence of small press markets across the country, which a lot of presses rely on for sales and exposure. Fortunately, for us, it’s been mostly smooth sailing. People have been mostly staying home, and wanting to read books, so our most recent season was incredibly successful. We sell most of our work online these days anyway, and promote through social media. We also had an online launch for our fifth season, which worked out beautifully because one of our authors is American, so we could include them in the launch. While we miss in-person launches and readings and markets so much, we’re also trying to think about the upsides and possibilities of the virtual world, creative-wise and accessibility-wise, now that we’re in it for the foreseeable future.
Why do you feel it’s important to focus on Canadian poets?
Is it that important?! I’m somewhat kidding—it is, and I get why you’re asking this question, but historically, small press began with pretty small communities and geographic locations, which is great. But one of the awesome things to happen over the last decade, in particular, is the rise of a global community of small presses. Folks like Petra Schulze-Wollgast (psw) in Germany, and Joakim Norling in Sweden, to name just a few, are helping to grow and sustain this global community with their small presses. So, while we have such a rich history of small press in Canada, and while we of course like to support Canadian writers and publish mostly Canadian writers, we also like to connect and tap into that larger community of writers across the globe.
Any other independent publishers you admire, want to work with?
There is such a wealth of inspiring presses that it’s hard to limit those we admire to only a few. Honestly, if you run a small press, we automatically admire you because we know dang well that this is hard, exhausting, beautiful, sustaining work that you/we are doing only because we love it and can’t imagine not doing it.
To name a few, though: internationally, we’ve been blown away by the works coming out of Petra Shulze-Wollgast (psw), Timglaset, and Penteract Press, among others. On home soil, we take a lot of influence from bill bissett and his work with Blew Ointment Press; he fought relentlessly for the right to create and sustain communities through uncensored publishing and we owe a lot of our work today to his efforts. We’re also continually astounded at the ingenious creativity of The Blasted Tree, the gorgeous works of Baseline Press, and of course the indefatigable Rob Mclennan and his above/ground press, who has been a tireless mentor, connector, and community-builder for small presses and poets across Canada and beyond.
What are your hopes for the future in regards to Gap Riot Press and the publishing community at large?
MORE WIMMIN RUNNING THINGS. We love how many wimmin and women and womyn and femmes and nbs and queer friends are starting their own presses and publishing some really beautiful, urgent, and necessary voices and works. We need more of that. We can never have enough of that! And in terms of Gap Riot, we hope to just continue breaking, dismantling, burning down and building up to make more room for others to come in, play, experiment, fail, try again and grow.
You can reach Gap Riot Press online at gapriotpress.com, where you’ll find their shop, archives of work, and their online Season Five Launch Party. You can also connect on Twitter @gapriotpress.
Kate Siklosi lives, writes, and thinks in Toronto. Her criticism has been featured in various journals and magazines including Canadian Literature, JAST, The Walrus, and The Puritan. She has published five chapbooks of poetry, and her work has also been featured in various magazines and small press publications across North America, Europe, and the UK. She is the co-founding editor of Gap Riot Press, a feminist experimental poetry small press.
In honour of Canada Day on the first of July, we’re paying tribute to our national roots by highlighting a number of authors who are making waves in Canadian literature. These writers come from across the country and from all walks of life, have different beliefs and backgrounds, and offer us unique perspectives of the world. Their work demonstrates the vast talent and diverse experiences taking place between our coasts. Here are ten noteworthy authors the watch.
Christa Couture is an award-winning Cree and Scandinavian performing and recording artist, a writer and storyteller. Couture was raised in the Canadian prairies and lost her left leg to bone cancer when she was 13 years old. Throughout her career she has become known as an expert in loss, sharing her personal journey through her words and music. The weekday afternoon host on Toronto’s 106.5 ELMNT FM is releasing her debut non-fiction book and memoir, How to Lose Everything, this September.
Michelle Good is poet, author and lawyer who is a descendent of the Battle River Cree and a member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. Her award-winning poetry has appeared in several publications, including Best of the Best Canadian Poetry. She obtained her law degree at the age of 43, after three decades working with Indigenous communities and organizations. While practising law, she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. This year, Good has unveiled her first novel, Five Little Indians, which won the HarperCollins/UBC Prize for Best New Fiction. She is currently working on her second novel.
James Gregor is currently working on his second work of fiction after the success of hi debut novel, Going Dutch. The book, based on his personal online dating experience and exploration of sexuality, was a finalist for the 2020 Amazon Canada First Novel Award and the Atlantic Book Awards’ Margaret and John Savage First Book Award. Born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Gregor holds an MFA in Fiction from Columbia, has been a writer in residence at the Villa Lena Foundation in Tuscany, and a bookseller at Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris.
Catherine Hernandez is a theatre practitioner, award-wining author and the artistic director of B Current Performing Arts. Her highly acclaimed debut novel, Scarborough, is set to be adapted into a screenplay, received the Jim Wong-Chu Award for the unpublished manuscript and was longlisted for Canada Reads. Hernandez describes herself as brown queer femme and radical mother. In 2019, she released her second children’s book, I Promise, and in 2020, her highly anticipated novel, Crosshairs.
Shafi (Frizz Kid) is an accomplished writer and illustrator who combines poetry with art. The self-proclaimed “Indo-Persian feminist” is a National Magazine Award – nominated journalist and a recipient of the Women Who Inspire Award from the Canadian Council for Muslim Women. Her debut book of poetry and illustrations, It Begins with the Body, was one of CBC’s Best Books of Poetry in 2018. In 2020, Shafi is back with the forthcoming book Broke and Kind of Dirty: Affirmations for the Real World, available in September. If you can’t wait, Shafi has shared over 175 affirmations on her Instagram page (@frizzkidart).
John Elizabeth Stintzi
John Elizabeth Stintzi is a non-binary writer and award-winning poet who grew up on a cattle farm in northwestern Ontario. They teach critical and creative writing at the Kansas City Art Institute and have written two poetry chapbooks. In 2019, Stintzi was awarded the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers from the Writers’ Trust of Canada for poem, Selections, in Junebat – their full-length poetry book debut. They are also a recipient of the The Malahat Review’s Long Poem Prize. 2020 has been a big year for Stintzi, with the release of Junebat and their debut novel, Vanishing Monuments.
Souvankham Thammavongsa is the author of four poetry books, and the short story collection How to Pronounce Knife. Her stories have won an O. Henry Award and appeared in Harper’s Magazine, The Paris Review, The Atlantic, Granta, and other places. She was born in the Lao refugee camp in Nong Khai, Thailand, and grew up in Toronto. The New York Times said of her, “A talented new voice emerges.”
Dr. Cheryl Thompson is a public speaker, freelance writer and assistant professor at Ryerson University in the school of Creative Industries, who grew up in Scarborough, Ontario. Her research spans five fields, including: visual culture, media, adverting and consumer culture and Black Canadian studies. Thompson’s first book, Beauty in a Box: Detangling the Roots of Canada’s Black Beauty Culture, was published in 2019. It’s one of the first transnational feminist studies of Canada’s Black beauty culture. Her second book, Uncle: Race, Nostalgia, and the Politics of Loyalty, will be available in August.
Canadian First Nations two-spirit novelist, poet and editor Joshua Whitehead is an Oji-nêhiyaw member of Peguis First Nation in Manitoba. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate, a lecturer and Killam scholar at the University of Calgary, where he studies Indigenous literatures and cultures with a focus on gender and sexuality. His debut novel, Johnny Appleseed (2018), won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction and the Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction, and was longslisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. He is currently working on a third manuscript titled Making Love with the Land, to be published with Knopf Canada.
Evan Winter is an epic fantasy author and cinematographer who self-published his debut African-inspired novel, The Rage of Dragons, in 2017. After being re-released this year by Orbit Books, the novel became a #1 Amazon Bestseller and made the Canada Reads longlist. It is the first book in a four-book deal series, called The Burning. Book two, The Fires of Vengeance, is expected in November this year. Winter was born in England and grew up in Africa near the historical territory of his Xhosa ancestors. When his son was born, he realised that it was rare to see Africa represented in his genre, so he started writing. He now calls Canada home.