A small press fair stand
Microliteratures are the pushback against the publishing giants. They are not a stepping-stone for authors towards a bigger, better paying publishing deal. Microliteratures are the communities of readers, writers, publishers, and editors that form around micro presses, small magazines, and digital writing communities. They read each other’s works, they publish each other, and they host readings in coffee shops, bars, and living rooms that mostly involve their friends and collaborators. They do it even though no one else is really interested.
It’s already been well argued that publishing is in a crisis. While bestsellers can continue to make a comfortable living from royalties and movie deals, the advances for mid-career writers have fallen dramatically, and the big publishers are turning more of them away.
Microliteratures, on the other hand, don’t hold out the promise of awards, advances, teaching positions, or even the luxury of a review. What they do offer is an enthusiastic audience. They can be small, centred around a reading series or a micro press, or they can be numerous, and international, revolving around digital magazines or discussion forums. There are fewer people who read books in 2016 than in 1978. The people who do read still read fewer books. However, readers today are far more likely to write books, too. Creative writing is a growing program in universities, colleges, high schools, even as therapy, and has been for years. It’s drawing in more and more passionate readers, and training them in a craft that used to be learned through mentorship or self-education. The declining number of readers and the rising number of writers is erasing the distinction between the two. Some writers grouch about that, but it always seems to sound like a child complaining that there are too many kids playing king of the hill to win. The art that comes out of microliteratures isn’t about winning; it doesn’t succeed or fail by any metrics but those it lays out for itself.
Microliterature is a term that I’ve borrowed from a friend, Jason Price Everett, who introduced it into my vocabulary when I interviewed him about his book Xian Dyad. He defined microliteratures as:
ad hoc groupings of individuals sharing a common aesthetic with writers and readers merged synonymous, where (potentially vast) circles of people who are sincerely concerned with the aesthetics of the written word—who share a certain intimacy of thought, and who truly care about the existence, encouragement, and promulgation of literature for its own sake and not for the profit motive—both read and write constantly back and forth between each other, sharing their work, and publishing their own books themselves.
They are the 21st century equivalent of the “underground” manuscript culture of the Restoration period that’s still discussed by academics today because of Lord Rochester. The Restoration’s manuscript culture was mostly made up of aristocratic poets who didn’t publish because they didn’t need the money (or because they didn’t want to get involved in commerce). Today’s micro press culture is full of writers who don’t dream of earning substantial amounts of money from their art—although many still value the act of paying writers whatever they can.
This week, the Town Crier is launching its MicroLit Reviews series. This week’s launch starts with two reviews from Jeremy Luke Hill and John Nyman, both involved in the micro and digital publishing scene in Guelph. They came in together by accident, but combined, they offer a glimpse into the kind of fervent creative activity that often goes unnoticed on the outside.
The series as a whole will feature short reviews of micro press books, surveys of micro presses, chapbooks, broadsides, digital literature, zines, visual poetry, and everything else that’s weird and wonderful in underground literary scenes wherever they are. It’s also something the Town Crier has been doing for years, and that it will continue to do in longer essays, reviews, and interviews outside of this series. It won’t pretend to be objective. By definition, a microliterature is a space where readers and writers are “merged synonymous.” The reviewers will be friends, acquaintances, colleagues, editors, and publishers—but above all, enthusiastic readers of the authors under review.
The MicroLit Reviews Series is always open to submissions. We’re looking for reviews of micro press books, profiles on micro presses, chapbooks, broadsides, zines, digital literature, visual poetry, and other underground literary works. Reviews should be between 400 and 600 words. The Town Crier continues to publish longer form reviews and interviews about small and micro press books, and reviews of any kind. Please send submissions to towncrieronline [at] gmail with the subject heading: MicroLit Reviews Submission.