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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Spork Press creates DIY lit


    Courtesy of Andrew Shuta 

    A selection of Spork Press’s chapbooks. The Tucson press prides itself on its handmade, nonacademic works.

    Born the brainchild of fiction editor Drew Burk and poet Richard Siken in 2000, Spork Press represents a selective niche of the Tucson publication community. This for-profit literary press dabbles in many analog experiences, ranging from chapbooks to mixtapes.

    Finding its start at The Safehouse coffee shop, Spork Press initially entered the scene as a hardbound quarterly literary magazine. From 2000 to 2006, Burk, Siken and company maintained this format: publishing literary magazines and the occasional book. Following this format, Spork Press took a brief hiatus and re-entered the Tucson publication community as a new animal.

    “It wasn’t until Jake Levine – poetry editor in Korea, currently working on his Ph.D. – and I joined in 2009 that we changed the format to a book press that occasionally does a magazine,” said Andrew Shuta, designer, art director, producer and managing editor of Spork Press. “Since then, we’ve been exponentially growing.”

    Located on Third Avenue in the Iron Horse neighborhood near the butt of Fourth Avenue and downtown Tucson, Spork Press operates outside of what Joel Smith, fiction editor, dubs “the legendary carport studio.” This defiant little press operates, rain or shine, from a small guesthouse just off Burk’s driveway. Spork Press is an intimate company from humble beginnings, one that requires all involved – employees to interns – to wear the many hats of the trade.

    “On any given night, there’s anywhere from five to 10 people making the books by hand,” Smith said. “It’s a thorough process. We print out the designed end sheets, then you sew them, glue them and bind the interior to the cover, and so on. There are a lot little steps that result in the final product.”

    Spork Press prides itself on its eccentricities, laying claim to the maxim: “WE DO WHAT WE WANT.” All of its works require meticulous attention to detail, as every book is handmade. Everyone within the company participates in some facet of the production, whether that be folding, sewing, trimming, letterpress printing the covers, constructing the spine, gluing books into covers or placing them in the press.

    “We’re all crazy in our own way,” Shuta said. “Drew should be famous already. Richard is famous already. Jake wins academic stuff all the time. Joel has a graphic novel coming out and is nice too. And I’m a scatter-brained weirdo.”

    Producing books en masse, Spork Press currently published 23 titles in its fiction and poetry chapbook series. According to Smith, Spork Press strives to maintain a very broad aesthetic with every medium and author it works with.

    “We work with a lot of authors: some are already established in their field, others are emerging writers,” Shuta said. “We publish a monthly selection of writers online, which are attained by our online submissions or through solicitation. Most of our books have followed the same model.”

    Among its many literary titles, it also releases many musical projects in hardbound and cassette formats; including artists like Nat Baldwin, bassist for the Dirty Projectors, Young Family, an electro dream-pop duo;  and Isaiah Toothtaker, a Tucson rapper and tattoo artist. Spork Press hopes to expand into vinyl sometime in the foreseeable future.

    As the company publishes many new works of fiction, poetry and art, as well as cassettes and soon vinyl, the Spork Press vision continues to grow.

    “We’re looking to expand our operation by getting a larger studio space, which would allow us to open our small press book record shop we’ve been dreaming about for years,” Shuta said. “Also, we hope to expand our production capabilities into screen printing, recording and workshops.”

    Spork Press prides itself on its anti-academic, anti-institutional, no funding, do-it-yourself ethos.

    “It’s taken several years and many failures to streamline [the process] as we have,” Shuta said. “We promote the ideology that anyone and everyone can do what we do — it just takes a strong vision, strong work ethic and a strong group of people to execute the project. It’s taken 15 years, countless hours, buckets of personal money and so much sweat to [get] in the place we’re at today. It wasn’t easy, but we love what we do and so we do it.”

    Spork Press encourages all interested in publication work to pursue it earnestly, as it remains open to anyone interested in checking its production process out.

    “It’s not an impossible task, what we do,” Smith said. “We all started off not knowing how it all worked. It was only through actually doing it that we learned to run a press. Last year, we made over 1,600 handmade books. While there aren’t many places that actually do what we do, it is still doable.”


    Follow Elise McClain on Twitter.

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