Action Book supports unique authors
Megan Valley | Thursday, January 19, 2017
Over the past decade, Action Books has established itself as the press for both “authors that go too far” and “international superstars” who never expected to have a large American audience.
Founded in 2004 by Joyelle McSweeney and Johannes Goransson — current Notre Dame professors who at the time were both teaching at the University of Alabama — Action Books has helped to introduce Americans to writers from around the world, including Tao Lin, Aase Berg, Kim Hyesoon, Hiromi Ito and Raul Zurita.
“We felt there was an appetite for a type of work that wasn’t being accepted at the publishing houses,” McSweeney said. “This is the sort of stuff that’s stylistically exuberant, vocally exuberant, often in translation, coming from feminist women, at times. We found that work was met with the response ‘this just goes too far.’ So we decided we would start this press and we would be the press for authors that go too far.”
The press publishes six to eight books — most of them poetry — a year, with authors who hail from Japan, Korea, Uruguay, Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, Chile and the Ivory Coast, amongst others.
Goransson said Action Books was part of a wave of small publishers that moved American poetry so it “didn’t need the traditional gatekeepers of the established university presses.”
“They could be open to younger poets or poets in translation who, at that point, didn’t have this ability,” he said. “ … Now, I think poetry is much better. It’s much improved.”
Action Books’ website features the press’s manifesto, another shift from more traditional presses.
“We’ve done several manifestos,” Goransson said. “The established way of running presses was to say ‘we just pick what’s best.’ It would make me furious. … We didn’t want to be a press like that. We wanted to say this is what we’re interested in, this is the conversation we are having.”
According to the manifesto, that conversation is “transnational,” “feminist,” “political” and “for noises.”
McSweeney said another reason for the manifesto was to emulate some 20th-century modernists, who frequently wrote manifestos themselves.
“In a way, writing our manifesto was a way to say we’re aligning with this moment 100 years earlier that was totally revved up with the energy of the contemporary world,” she said.
“ … We wanted that subliminal message that this is our tradition; our tradition is not the Norton Anthology that separates everyone by nation and is mostly interested in the English speakers. We’re going to claim a different tradition that is polyglot and is based on immigrants and refugees and moving around.”
Both Goransson and McSweeney said they see Action Books as a part of something larger, rather than just one press trying to shape what Americans are reading.
“We see ourselves as working alongside other presses, other translators, other platforms, other organizations to make this conversation as expansive — but also trenchant and exciting — as possible,” McSweeney said. “We’re part of a network or a wave of people reaching out and working together and moving forward and changing the conversation to make it more lively and diverse, both aesthetically and in where it’s coming from.”