We believe that all art is inherently political, whether it sets out explicitly to be so or not. Bad art reaffirms the existing power structures, both in its form and its content—its complacency is visible in every word. Bad art also, of course, sacrifices the contradictory and human for a didactic propagandistic messaging. Great art does neither. Great art wears its politics with grace. It contains a consciousness of its political context, but it’s not limited by these politics. Great art serves no one. Great art creates a change, a near cellular change, in those who encounter it.
Kristiania is a loose collective of writers who have come together to encourage each other’s work and put the means of production back in the hands of the people who write the books. The group will publish and support the creation of writing that does not conform to the commercial expectations of the contemporary publishing industry. Though our personal aesthetic visions may differ, we are united in our belief that art plays an urgent and central role in challenging cultural and political assumptions and molding that which makes us human.
In this age of conglomerate publishing, books have been reduced to widgets. The contents of the book—the what and the how of the thing—is just an excuse to bind the pages together (or create the electronic file) and slap a price on them. Marketing departments control every decision, from what a book should be about, to what constitutes a ‘sympathetic’ character, to how the story should end, to what the cover should look like.
We long for an alternative that returns the writer’s vision for his or her book to the central role in the publication process. The best way to do this is for writers to band together and publish books themselves, on their own terms, with the interests of art, not the market, foremost in their minds. To form collectives like Kristiania.
Stories are, first and foremost, acts of communication. Their success or failure depends on how powerfully and completely they convey the writer’s personal vision. Kristiania strives to take a proactive position in the development of the publishing landscape and in the global discourse on new literature. We want to help create a culture that allows for the most honest and vital aspects of the form to flourish. One of the ways we expect to achieve this is through a variety of meetings and events across the country.
Besides our routine editorial meetings, the members of the collective join together on a monthly basis for a salon where informal discussion over drinks leads to each person sharing a selection of their work, followed by feedback from the group that is mediated by the author. At the end of the night we review what we have talked about and learned together and contextualize it in a larger conversation about art and humanity. This is a space where we can present our work to each other and discuss our goals, our tactics, and our process with each other without worrying about the influence of the market. Our salons can happen anywhere in the world where members of the collective live. It’s a community built around creative fellowship and the belief that together, we raise each other up.
Kristiania also takes this model and develops it with a larger audience of participants by holding similarly structured salons and inviting writers, publishers, and thinkers, who we admire but who are outside of our immediate organization, to contribute to the process of dialoguing and sharing. This practice began with a summit that was co-sponsored by the collective and several different independent presses to address questions of the writing life and issues related to the realities of the current environment of the publishing industry and large. We believe communal exploration of our personal intentions as writers and the means by which our work is published or disseminated is crucial and should be happening on all levels.
Toward that end, the collective also organizes larger public gatherings, from open mics, to demonstrations, to a curated reading series. For more information about where and when the party rages, click here. To further investigate what’s happened at previous salons, look to our archive where we store recordings and pictures from past events.
Book publishing is in a state of crisis. Everyone who even incidentally interacts with the industry knows this. E-books are changing the way people purchase and read books—and the economic realities of the endeavor. Amazon’s gobbling up the marketplace. Even the big box stores are going bankrupt. Conglomerate publishing—the big houses, owned by media empires with no real interest in literature—cares more about branding and marketing plans than the quality of the books (we mean the corporations, not the editors; despite everything, the editors really, really care).
As a first effort to address these issues, Kristiania convened a three day meeting at the Omi International Arts Center involving:
Ugly Duckling Presse
Open Letter Books
McPherson & Company
Bellevue Literary Press
There were two outcomes from this gathering:
1. A pledge to reconvene again, widening the event to include more stakeholders.
2. An open letter to independent media, asking them to please re-consider the simply choice of which booksellers they link to in news coverage of literature.
Fiction and poetry, those most intimate of art forms, have lost their centrality in the cultural conversation. Things have gotten too big, too public, and fiction and poetry are by their nature small and private: the solitary writer, the solitary reader, the profound connection between the two. The writer can’t case the market and simultaneously pursue his or her individual vision. The writer is more than a mere content provider. And so the writer is by and large being left behind.
And yet there are individuals and collectives of passionate people who dedicate their lives to supporting the writer, curating the work, making the writing that matters most to them available despite the odds, not because they foresee an economic gain (how could they), but because they must, because like the monks of yore, they understand that the world is a lesser place without illuminated text.
The small and quixotic publishers of the world are the only chance literature has of continuing to live. And being small and light on resources, and being just a slight bit crazy, we struggle. Together, we’ll struggle a little bit less.