Raised among the corn fields and twisty back roads of northern Illinois, Kristy Bowen has been writing something or other pretty much ever since her dad taught her the alphabet at 3 years old by bribing her with chocolate. Thus, she spent much of her youth making up stories on swingsets, day dreaming in class, and decadently reading bad horror novels and trashy romances while sprawled across her bed. After an ill-fated career path in marine biology as a freshman in North Carolina (tragically ended by her phenomenal badness at even the most basic math), she moved on to Rockford College, where studied English by day and lurked/toiled behind the scenes of campus theatre productions at night. While there, she developed a love of Sylvia Plath, gothic novels, girls with guitars, the cozy labyrinth of library stacks, and brilliant but troubled men (aka the Heathcliff Complex).
Because she is also a sucker for clean white notebooks and the smell of newly sharpened pencils, she moved to Chicago and followed it up with an MA in English Lit from DePaul University, reading, writing and entertaining the notion of teaching her vast knowledge of last minute essay writing and creative distraction to a new generation (the idea of which was quickly dispensed.) She later earned an MFA in Poetry from Columbia College. Along the way, she wrote a lot of poems, started the online lit zine wicked alice, nurtured a passion for book and paper arts, and founded dancing girl press & studio.
She is the author several longer and shorter written (and occasionally visual) endeavors, including the full-length projects major characters in minor films, (Sundress Publications, 2015), girl show (Black Lawrence Press, 2014), the shared properties of water and stars (Noctuary Press, 2013), in the bird museum (Dusie Press, 2008) and the fever almanac (Ghost Road Press, 2006). Her sixth book, salvage is due out from Black Lawrence Press in 2016.
Since poetry & art are highly rewarding but terrible paying endeavors, she splits her days between the studio and moonlighting in the library of an arts college surrounded by way more books than she will ever be able to read. The rest of the time, she lives in a big old drafty art deco building near Lake Michigan with a pack of mongrel cats, even more books, and all sorts of thrifted lovelies. She is obsessed Joseph Cornell, victoriana, carnivals/sideshows, horror films, diagramatic things, vintage housewares, old scientific & botanical illustrations, architectural drawings, postcards, drive-in movie theatres, roadside motels, and all things paper.
WD : When & how did Dancing Girl Press come about? What was the spark to start it & what did its infancy look like?
DGP : In 2001, I had started an online lit zine, wicked alice, devoted to women’s writing and based on the success of that, I thought it might be cool to launch an entity that produced something a little more tangible than the internet allows. I was just starting to work in book and paper mediums after years of only focusing on writing, and was seeing so many micro presses doing interesting things, that I decided to go for it in early 2004. I remember standing in the aisle at Quimby’s Bookstore in Chicago and poring over all the chapbooks and zines and thinking, hey, I can do that! I started by just issuing a chap of my own to get the logistics down—cost, supplies, shipping, marketing. By that fall, we had our first official title from Adrianne Marcus and call out for submissions for the next year. It was a little slow going in the beginning, getting the word out and getting the submissions we were looking for. But it sort of snowballed from there. We steadily built our catalog for the next couple of years, and were moving a bit slower while I finished my MFA, but in late 2007, we moved the whole operation, which had previously been happening in my dining room, into a studio space and tripled the number of books we’d publish the next year. It sort of just snowballed from there.
WD : What does a typical work day look like for you?
DGP : I work a full-time job in a college library from 2-10pm most days, so my studio time happens earlier in the day. I usually get there in the morning and spend some time printing and assembling and shipping books, working on layouts and cover designs, and answering e-mails, depending on which needs more attention at any given moment. I might have some downtime later in the day at the library, where I will read new manuscripts or work on marketing/ promotional stuff, go over proofs.
WD : What’s your favorite part of the job?
DGP : Outside of just getting to read and choose new work, I LOVE working on covers and indulging my visual side. We approach covers in many different ways..sometimes the author will work with a designer or artist friend and just deliver something readymade. Sometimes I’ll work with them to find art or come up with a concept and then hammer out something after some back and forth. Sometimes, the author will just set me loose on my own, with or without some general ideas. Since I tend to work on projects that are both visual and written more and more, I love working similarly with other people’s writing—finding that perfect visual that makes the book complete.
WD : What other indie presses do you adore?
DGP : One of our authors, Eireann Lorsung launched Miel Books, which makes some beautiful titles. Also many of the presses that were pre-cursors to dgp are still putting out lovely books—Bloof, Horseless, Maverick Duck Press, New Michigan, Black Ocean, Octopus, Greying Ghost. And I am of coursed biased toward the presses that have published me—Dusie, Sundress, Noctuary, Black Lawrence.
WD : Tell us an anecdote involving the press!
DGP : My favorite story was how we landed our studio space. I had just finished my degree and had a little extra set aside leftover from my student loans. I was toying rather idly with the idea of getting a studio space where we could also maybe host readings and events. Meanwhile, I had been in love with the Fine Arts Building for years and passed it everyday on my way to and from work, and had frequented a coffeeshop/bookstore housed there at one point. So imagine my surprise at finding a listing for a studio in the building on Craigslist one afternoon. I called immediately on a total whim (even though I wasn’t sure if doing this was even a possibility) and was told that particular studio was taken, but another artist had let them know he was moving out that very morning and would I be interested in seeing his (which was smaller, but more affordable). Of course I said yes, and while the manager hinted that there was actually a waiting list, I offered to write a check right then and there for first months and the deposit. I’m not usually one for swift or rash decision making (Taurus that I am, ) but something felt completely inevitable and right about it and I dove head first. I can’t say I’ve ever moved that impetuously on anything and it worked out beautifully and allowed for us to grow so much in the last 8 years (which we probably couldn’t have done in my dining room..lol..)
Click here to check out all of the chapbooks by Dancing Girl Press here!
Thank you so much, Kristy!
Amanda Oaks is the founding editor of Words Dance Publishing. Her works have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous online & print publications, including decomP, Stirring, Dressing Room Poetry Journal, Glamour, Elle, Parenting & Artful Blogging. She is the author of two poetry collections, Hurricane Mouth (NightBallet Press 2014) & her co-authored split book, I Eat Crow (Words Dance 2014). She likes poems that bloody her mouth just to kiss it clean.