Doubleback Books sat down to interview Monkey Puzzle Press founder, Nate Jordon.
Doubleback Books: How did your press begin and how did you choose its name?
Nate Jordon: It started with a small literary arts journal I founded with a grad school friend of mine, Mittie Roger. The Jack Kerouac School had an active literary arts journal, but at the time the focus of the journal was not on student work but on the works of established writers and professors. I decided to publish the work of my fellow students and with a little financial help from the university, Issue #1 of Monkey Puzzle was released in 2007.
The name was Mittie’s idea. We needed something catchy and during a brainstorming session she blurted out, “Why not call it Monkey Puzzle? After the tree?” I thought, Perfect – but not because the name conjured up an image of a tree. In my mind I saw the name as a metaphor for the totality of the human condition. I immediately pictured the logo, which incorporated the famous sculpture by Hugo Rheinhold Affe mit Schadel (Ape with Skull), as well as a matching theme and genre.
After the fifth issue of Monkey Puzzle I had an opportunity to break into traditional book publishing, specifically the trade market. Naturally, I chose Monkey Puzzle Press as the business name and kept the same focus.
DB: What are some of your favorite moments running Monkey Puzzle Press?
NJ: Discovering new talent and launching it into the world is by far the biggest reward I have received from running Monkey Puzzle Press. I know the press assisted several writers, poets, artists, and photographers and helped progress their artistic and academic careers, and for that I’m proud.
I also enjoyed publishing the works of my mentors and professors, in issues of the literary journal as well as in traditional books. I was deeply humbled that these men and women trusted me and respected me enough to be their publisher.
Finally, our launch parties for new books and new issues of the journal deserve comment. They were a lot of fun. Over the years I collaborated with many visiting and local talented artists who not only attended these events but performed in them as well. From musicians to visual artists to poets to singer-songwriters, MPP’s events always showcased mixed genres and I was always humbled and inspired by the passion I was surrounded by.
DB: What was your process like putting these titles out into the world?
NJ: At first I had an open call for submissions, reading manuscripts year-round. I would place a few relevant ads in popular magazines like Poets & Writers and, of course, social media. It didn’t take long before I was inundated with manuscripts and I had to change MPP’s submission strategy, implementing periodic submission periods.
After determining which manuscripts had potential, negotiations would begin. I would discuss with the writer the many services MPP would provide and what they could expect during the production and publishing process. Over a brief time we would see that we could work together and then I would offer a contract. Once the contract was signed, it would be off to the races.
While editing the manuscript, which could take months, several things would also take place. We would collaborate on cover designs as well as the interior layout. We would discuss promotional and marketing efforts and begin building websites and social media pages to promote both the work and the author. We would also plan public events such as launch parties, readings, and book signings.
Running a small press, I felt like I was always wearing ten different hats. Not only was I the chief editor, I was the proofreader and accountant, the editor and artist, the salesman and customer service rep, the lawyer and therapist. But I loved every minute of it.
DB: Your press had a strong connection to activism, how did that evolve at the press or was it something you wanted to put to the forefront?
NJ: Activism was in the mix from the outset. While I was at the Jack Kerouac School in Boulder, Colorado, when I founded Monkey Puzzle Press, there was a strong influence through our literary heritage (specifically co-founders Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman) to use our art as a platform for more than just free expression. We were encouraged to use our art to voice our social protests, to amplify our political dissent, and to draw attention to important cultural and societal issues. I was also influenced to use Monkey Puzzle Press as a vehicle for activism by some of my favorite bands (ie. Pearl Jam).