- ScenesTwo Dollar Radio: an interview with Eliza Wood-Obenauf
Could you briefly describe your press's history?
Two Dollar Radio is a family-run outfit founded in 2005 with the mission to reaffirm the cultural and artistic spirit of the publishing industry. We aim to do this by presenting bold works of literary merit, each book, individually and collectively, providing a sonic progression that we believe to be too loud to ignore.
Eric Obenauf and Eliza Wood-Obenauf, a young idealistic couple with a love for books, co-founded and run the press. In 2005, we had just finished undergrad in New York City, where Eric had studied screenwriting and Eliza art education, and moved to San Diego, working service industry jobs and reading a lot. During this time, we were beginning to feel disillusioned with contemporary publishing—it was becoming harder to find the books that we were most attracted to, which was mostly bold and quirky literary fiction.
We were reading almost exclusively work from the publisher colophons he had come to trust—Akashic, Soft Skull, Dalkey Archive—and found ourselves going to bookstores, searching spines for their logos rather than authors we were familiar with.
During a camping trip up the coast to Big Sur, we happened to stop at the Henry Miller Memorial Library, where we found a copy of Andre Schiffrin's The Business of Books: How the International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read (2000). We were both overwhelmed by the book, in which Schiffrin charts the ideological shift in publishing from the post-World War II era to the late 1980s, when corporations acquired many of the independent presses and folded them under their umbrella.
Then one day while Eric was bartending, an inebriated and overly talkative customer, who must have noticed Eric trying to ignore him, said: "Don't mind me, I make more noise than a $2 radio!"
It was the confluence of these events—immersing ourselves in the work of some exceptional indie publishers, reading Schiffrin's book, and clicking with the name "Two Dollar Radio"—that served as the foundation and initial impetus to want to start our own press.
After having lived in both Southern California and New York City, we made the decision to settle in the Midwest, in Columbus, Ohio, where we could afford to make a living working day/night jobs, raise our children, and focus on growing our publishing company.
How would you characterize the work you publish?
Our tagline is: "Books too loud to ignore." In the work we produce, we value ambition above all, and believe that none of our books crimp to convention when it comes to storytelling or voice. Ideally, that contributes to a liberating reading experience. Our primary interest lies with what we would characterize as bold work: subversive, adventurous, original, and highly creative.
Over the past fifteen years we have published a wide range of genres from novels and essay collections to short story collections and memoirs, from Acid Westerns and Sci-Fi to Graphic Novels and Dystopia. No matter the genre, we have become known for curating boundary-pushing writers and for our fiercely punk DIY aesthetic.
Who is your audience, and in what ways are you trying to reach them?
We operate on the Field of Dreams approach: "If you build it, they will come." Two Dollar Radio has found success without pandering to trends. Since 2005, we've published five to six books each year, some of which have been turned into films, honored by the National Book Foundation, finalists for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, picked as "Editors' Choice" selections by The New York Times Book Review, and made year-end best-of lists at O, The Oprah Magazine, NPR, The Washington Post, Slate, Salon, The Believer, Chicago Tribune, Rolling Stone, San Francisco Chronicle, and others. Rather than using our resources on pay-to-play marketing, we focus on publishing books that blow our hair back and we nurture relationships with booksellers and readers who appreciate the work. The most gratifying experience for us is seeing dedicated indie booksellers hand-selling our books, or readers...