As smart as it is viable, Vouched Books is leaving it's mark on literary culture in Atlanta. Spreading small press literature to the public, you may see Vouched at one of it's guerilla book stores at an event, or catch your favorite author at one of their readings. This week BANG! interviewed Laura, the force behind the movement.
BANG! Was this extension of Vouched derived from a lack of literary appreciation in the Atlanta area or from a burgeoning literary community that needed a hub and the appreciation and attention that it deserves?
Laura Of those two options, the latter. Most importantly though, I wanted to get involved in the literary community here in Atlanta. Christopher Newgent, my best friend and the founder of Vouched Books who runs the first table up in Indianapolis, told me that other people had expressed their interest in launching a table in other cities, but wasn’t sure how it would work. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to get involved here as well as bringing small press books to the city that otherwise wouldn’t have distribution here.
BANG! Recently, it seems that fad books have dominated the market with blockbuster success. Are the authors and works that Vouched features stemming from a rumbling popularity from an ear to the ground or strictly from a standard?
Laura If there is a title gaining a lot of momentum in the indie lit circuit it would be foolish of me, as a business owner, to not take note. Heather Christle's The Trees, The Trees was awarded the Believer Poetry Award in 2012 -- and although I carried it long before it won that -- its accolades do help sell copies. My objective is that of any other bookstore (selling books) but sometimes it feels that I have more at stake than other booksellers because of my relationship with the titles at hand -- the standard you mention. I've read every book on the table, love them all, and genuinely believe that there is something universal in their pages that will resonate with the people in Atlanta, otherwise I wouldn't carry them.
BANG! How do you think the impact of immediate information technology has affected the literary market? (Kindle, etc.) Do you think that this new development has fostered or hurt literary communities? What about Atlanta?
Laura The publishing industry is in a state of transition that many other creative industries are experiencing. Distribution models are changing. Marketing and promotions are changing. Readers are changing. It can be difficult not to be daunted by that, but these changes can really foster some interesting and positive evolution. Literature is more accessible than ever, and because of that authors are finding some really creative ways to get their stories out. A friend of mine, and Vouched author -- Brian Oliu -- published a series of stories on Tuscaloosa's Missed Connections section of Craig's List and those stories went on to be his book So You Know It's Me. I've heard of authors publishings stories on google maps -- you can follow the stories and see where the narrative travels. All progress comes with pitfalls, but I'm more interested in seeing how we adapt.
BANG! Our society has been invaded by a craving for exhibitionistic narcissism fostered by social media networks. Do you think that mentality has hindered the whole “experiencing something outside of yourself” facet of literature and reading in general?
Laura People read because they are looking for an escape from their own skin, if only ever for a little bit. I don't foresee that tendency ever falling to the wayside.
BANG! The literacy rate in Georgia is astoundingly awful. What do you think should be done about that?
Laura Well, I'm no authority on education, so I'm out of my realm here. Given the heart of Vouched Books, it's only natural for us to also promote literacy and herald sister organizations that champion it -- such as the Wren's Nest KIPP Scribes program or the Future Foundation. Both organizations are great advocates of literacy and storytelling. Supporting them is a great way to dive in and make a difference -- either through volunteering, donations, or fundraising.
BANG! Accolades, while appreciated, can sometimes be bestowed upon the wrong author. Does Vouched keep that in mind when promoting works? Basically how much of Vouched is dedicated to giving praise where praise has already been given and how much focuses on lesser known authors and works?
Laura Our whole focus as an organization is supporting the underdog, the "lesser known authors and works" that you speak of -- I like to say that Vouched is something between a hype-man and distribution model for small press literature. If an author whose book I sell achieves great success then I'm not going to begrudge him that. It's not about notoriety or fame. If a book doesn't strike me as something that will resonate with the community I don't carry it -- that is paramount.
BANG! What trends in genres are there in the Atlanta community, if any?
Laura Everyone has different taste. I try to tailor my recommendations to that.
BANG! What do you recommend to the fresh writer trying to get published?
Laura Keep writing. Keep reading. Don't stop. Do your research on your literary journals and places you submit (read them) so that you know whether or not your piece will be a good fit. Trust your instincts. Keep writing. Keep reading.
BANG! The Guerrilla Bookstore is a great device. How would one get a place on the table?
Laura The only two prerequisites for a book to become ‘Vouched’ are that it be published by a small press. and that whomever runs the table- be it myself, Christopher, or future Vouched franchises- must read the book and love it.
BANG! Where is the future of Vouched headed? In what ideals are you dedicated to, and where would you like to grow?
Laura Since Vouched Books is an organization that operates on a few different levels there are a few ways to answer that. For the website: it's a joy to work with our current contributors to think of creative and fun new ways to triumph the literature that we love (Tyler Gobble has come up with some really fun ideas for National Poetry Month this April). In addition to that we're always aspiring to get fresh new advocates to join on as contributors, and it's fun to track them down. For Vouched Books franchises: More guerrilla bookstores in more cities. We have some in the works this year -- and that is a thrill. The more tables we have the greater opportunity we have to get these books into the hands as readers as well as support different book tours by facilitating readings in different cities, etc. For Vouched Books specifically in Atlanta: Continuing to establish a presence in the city, bring in visiting authors for readings while continuing to support local writers as well. It's also important to me to support our sister causes -- I've had the pleasure of working with BurnAWAY, the Wren's Nest, New South, Safety Third Enterprises, and Coconut Books on different projects over the past few months and it is really rewarding to rally together in that manner. So yes -- that may have been a bit too thorough of an answer, but I'm brimming with ideas. Hopefully that's not quixotic.
Stay in touch at the website: vouchedbooks.com or on the facebook page https://www.facebook.com/vouchedbooks. Catch their next event at the Goat Farm Arts Center, Wednesday April 17th. Feel free to RSVP on facebook here.