- ScenesUgly Duckling Presse: An interview with Daniel Owen
Could you briefly describe your press's history?
Ugly Duckling Presse began as a zine in 1993 and traveled through a variety of incarnations for several years before settling in New York City with an informal group of friends editing the zine and making our own little books, mostly for one another. Little by little, our scope and ambition expanded.
In 2003, UDP incorporated as a non-profit and we published our first trade paperback. Around this time we set up our first studio space in Brooklyn's Dumbo neighborhood, then moved to Red Hook, and eventually to the Old American Can Factory in Gowanus, Brooklyn, which has been our home for almost thirteen years now.
Throughout the 2000s we started to receive regular grant funding and to publish more—and increasingly ambitious—book projects. Our informal volunteer internships grew into a paid apprenticeship program that now provides a comprehensive education in small press publishing. Though in many ways we've become into a full-fledged publisher with over 300 titles to date and a volunteer editorial collective of eleven members, the DIY, artist-run ethos of our early days continues to animate our activities. If, in the beginning, we were making books for ourselves and our friends, one could say that we've continued to do just that, though the constituency of "us" continues to shift and expand, and our circles of friends have both intentionally and inadvertently grown.
At heart, UDP is a mission-driven small press run by a volunteer editorial collective that favors emerging, international, and "forgotten" writers. Our books, chapbooks, artist's books, broadsides, and periodicals often contain handmade elements, calling attention to the labor and history of bookmaking. We're committed to keeping our publications in circulation with an online archive of out-of-print chapbooks and our digital proofs program, through which we make PDF proofs of our full-length books available for free online. The core of our mission is the publication of non-commercial literature, small press and editorial education, and advocacy for poetry, translation, and small press activity in the larger cultural sphere.
How would you characterize the work you publish?
UDP publishes poetry, experimental nonfiction and fiction, performance texts, and books by artists, with a particular focus on writing in translation and hybrid writing that isn't easily categorized. We tend to be drawn to work that encourages us to "challenge our thinking habits" (to paraphrase Rosmarie Waldrop). We are often interested in writers of an experimental or avant-garde bent, whose work is not easily assimilated into the dominant literary paradigms.
Many of our titles fall within a specific series, each of which focuses on a particular facet of our interests: since 2002 the Eastern European Poets Series has published contemporary Eastern European poets in translation, emigré authors who write in English, and influential poets of the Eastern European avantgarde whose work is not widely available in English translation; the Lost Literature Series publishes neglected, never-before-translated, or scarcely available works of poetry and prose, with a focus on twentieth-century avant-garde and marginal writers; the Dossier Series, founded in 2008 to expand the formal scope of the press, publishes works that don't share a single genre or form, but rather an investigative impulse, broadly conceived; the Señal Series is a chapbook series for contemporary Latin American poetry in bilingual editions; and our Emergency Series includes Emergency Playscripts and Emergency INDEX. The Playscripts series brings out one new text per year, creating scripts for unusual performance works that can expand the practice of theater, while Emergency INDEX is an annual print publication documenting new performance in the words of its creators.
Who is your audience, and in what ways are you trying to reach them?
As with any artist-run small press focusing on poetry, our audience is largely composed of poets, students, performance-makers, and artists of all ilks. Our books circulate within and, ideally, give occasion to establish community. Working with an art form whose audience is small, we also try to cultivate new readers through educational programming, social media, and...