This conversation with Maria Miranda Maloney of Mouthfeel Press is part of Intersecting Lineages, a series focusing on conversations with poets of color following a series of cross-community solidarity readings and panels among poets involved with organizations such as Kundiman, Cave Canem, Canto Mundo, RAWI (Radius of Arab American Writers), Institute of American Indian Arts and VONA (Voices at Our Nations Arts Foundation).
Ching-In Chen: You founded Mouthfeel Press, an indie press which publishes poetry from the borderlands. What inspired you to found the press and what do you think characterizes poetry from the borderlands?
Maria Miranda Maloney: I was inspired to create a space for writers of the borderlands because of the seminal writings of Gloria Anzaldúa and Emma Pérez, two scholarly, theoretical, and creative writers who have influenced the way I think about geographical and metaphoric construct borders, and history. Anzaldúa’s work defines the borderland as a place of in-between, or “nepantla.” For Anzaldúa, the borderlands hold geographical and metaphoric meanings—it is a space of transition and transformation. Pérez’s work, specifically her book The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History, has challenged me to uncover hidden voices that Pérez points out “have been relegated to silences, to passivity, to that third space where agency is enacted through through third space feminism” (XVI). The poetry we seek at Mouthfeel Press are works by both men and women who dwell in these spaces of in-between, of transition and transformation, which I believe characterizes poetry of the borderlands.
CIC: Would you mind defining what you mean—or what Mouthfeel Press means—by “borderlands”?
MMM: When I speak of “borderlands,” I’m referring not only to geography or location, such as the U.S./Mexican border, but also to personal markers where identity, culture, politics, gender intersect and contradict, mix and clash, and negotiation takes place. Thus, “borderlands” becomes a metaphoric space, or metaphoric construct, where the self is in constant flux and negotiation.
CIC: I love that one of your goals is to publish under-represented voices in publishing such as women, people of color and regional writers. What is the selection process for Mouthfeel Press? How do you find many of your authors—is it through unsolicited submissions, recruiting voices you encounter in the community or a mix?
MMM: The process is a mixture of encounter, solicitation, and call for submissions. You can say I scout for poets whose work aligns with the mission of Mouthfeel Press. This usually happens at readings, or if the author has published previous work that resonates with our mission, I will invite the author to submit to our press. I’m particularly interested in poets whose voices have been under-represented in mainstream publishing: women, people of color, regional writers, emerging writers, and bilingual writers. As a poet, I know firsthand how difficult it is to “break into” mainstream publishing. I also know that not everyone in mainstream publishing is interested in the way we look at the world, because for many of us the act of writing is a way to subvert the status quo.
Once a year we have a call for submissions for our chapbook series. We try to publish two to three chapbooks a year, and one to two full collections.
CIC: Mouthfeel Press publishes some full-length collections, but you’ve also published many chapbooks. What do you think makes an excellent chapbook, as opposed to an excellent full-length collection?
MMM: What makes a good chapbook is one that focuses on a strong, cohesive theme, carefully arranged while still maintaining a narrative arc. I would also add that a good chapbook explores something new, like form or style, or new themes that may otherwise not be able to be explored on a larger scale. Chapbooks almost always have to have an element of surprise, of something new.
CIC: How has Mouthfeel Press grown since its inception – and where do you see the press going in the future?
MMM: Mouthfeel Press was established in 2009. In the beginning, the idea was to publish chapbooks only, which is exactly what we did the first year and a half. By the second year, we jumped into publishing three full-length collections.
CIC: I’m interested in your decision to jump into publishing full-length collections. Can you talk more about why you made this decision?
MMM: The decision to publish full-length collections came from the realization that certain voices needed to be out in the world. These collections contained key themes which aligned with the mission of Mouthfeel. It would have been economically viable for us to have asked for a chapbook, but when you get poetry collections that are powerful, as we did, we simply couldn’t say no. To do so would have been contra to what we were trying to accomplish, and that was to publish under-represented voices.
We have now published over 15 authors. As a small independent press, we have to carefully monitor our growth lest we meet the same fate so many small indie presses meet—death. I think right now we have established a rhythm that allows us to publish a steady flow of books without running the risk of going under. What I want to concentrate now is to take Mouthfeel Press to a new level and make it more visible at the national level. While we have had our good share of national visibility, I feel we need even more exposure for the sake of our authors, and our stories.
CIC: Do you have any advice for writers who are interested in getting involved in small press publishing?
MMM: My advice for writers, or people in general who want to start their own press is to start slow and have a business and growth plan. It is so easy to get caught up in the creative side of this business and forget that publishing is a business. Also, it’s important to carve out your audience niche and be consistent with the mission of your press.
CIC: How do you fund Mouthfeel Press? Is it mostly out of pocket, through donations, grants, book purchases, or another venue altogether?
MMM: Mouthfeel is mostly funded out-of-pocket and from book sales. Every penny received from book sales is recycled back into the press. We strategically make small print runs.
CIC: In addition to publishing Mouthfeel Press, you are the Community Outreach Partner with the Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum – and have been organizing an annual virtual Día de los Muertos Dead Poetry Reading on Second Life. Where did the idea for this reading come from? Can you talk about what it is like to participate for those of us who have never participated in that kind of reading?
MMM: Mouthfeel Press has been collaborating with the Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum for the past seven years. We’ve worked together to bring cultural programming as it relates to U.S. Latinos, especially during the Día de los Muertos. The idea of the Smithsonian LVM’s Dead Poet Reading & Open Mic emerged after conducting a series of writing workshops in Second Life, and we realized there was genuine interest among the Second Life community to continue with literary programming. The Smithsonian LVM Día de los Muertos Festival provided a perfect venue for this type of programming. More importantly, for the past seven years, we have been building a community of writers and participants from throughout the U.S. who have never been engaged in this type of platform. The result and response has been fantastic. Second Life is yet another space for artists and writers to explore and exchange ideas. We create our avatars, which is quite fun, and read from the comfort of our homes, or wherever we find ourselves at the time. Poets from all over the country come together in this virtual space to share their work with audiences.
CIC: Any other creative projects you’re excited about on the horizon?
MMM: Mouthfeel Press has just partnered with the Smithsonian LVM to create a podcast series. The series will focus on interviews from artists, writers, and scholars from the U.S., and the platform we are using is blogtalkradio/smithsonianlvm. I am also in the process of creating a podcast series that will focus on interviews from bilingual writers. The latter will be a Mouthfeel Press venue.
CIC: Recently, I heard you read from The Lost Letters of Mileva, which reconstructs the life of Mileva Marić, Albert Einstein’s first wife and the only woman among Albert Einstein’s fellow students at the Zurich Polytechnic. How did you begin working on this book?
MMM: I started writing the book many years ago as a classroom assignment. I believe I was taking a class on physics and art, and I became enthralled with the poetic metaphors in physics. It was during this time that I stumbled upon Mileva Marić’s story one day while watching PBS. I couldn’t get her out of my head. It occurred to me that much of Mileva’s story had been lost in history, so I went on a quest to learn more about her, and the letters she wrote to Einstein while they were apart. This time also coincided with my husband’s deployment to Iraq. At the time the only communication we had was via email, and we wrote to each other daily, so I begin piecing our emails together, and then began reconstructing Mileva’s letters to Einstein. This chapbook collection became a compilation of a variety of forms and overlapping voices. More importantly, I hoped that by writing this collection, I would give Mileva a voice. I’m also happy to announce that the collection has been translated into the Spanish by author and translator Laura Cesarco Eglin, and will be available in December.
CIC: Any tips you have about how you balance your personal life, your community and publishing work and your own writing?
MMM: This is a difficult question for me. I’m not sure how I get things done. I suppose with lots of coffee and a focused drive to create. But seriously, I think one has to have a passion for one’s art in order to really push the boundaries and get out of our comfort zones. The love I have for writing and publishing, and community work has forced me to learn organizational skills I didn’t possess. It has forced me to establish creative schedules and routines, and to seek partnerships with people and organizations who share the same goals and vision. I don’t always do this alone. Behind me is a group of people that support and help out when necessary, and I think that has been key to creating balance in my life. Part of community work is to build a community around you, be it friends, colleagues, and family. I don’t think I would do this if I didn’t have my personal community backing me up.
Maria Miranda Maloney is the founder of Mouthfeel Press, a small independent press that focuses on geographical and construct borderland issues. She is Community Outreach Partner with the Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum (Smithsonian LVM) for the past seven years. Her partnership with the Smithsonian LVM has led her to organize community-based programming that helps national and international communities to access collections, scholarship and research, and educational activities as they relate to U.S. Latinos. She is also the author of two chapbook collections, The Lost Letters of Mileva (Pandora lobo estepario press) and The City I Love (Ranchos Press). Her poetry and essays have been published in national and international journals. She is poetry editor for BorderSenses Literary & Arts Journal, and serves in the advisory board of the Con Tinta: Chicano/Latino Writers’ Collective.