This should have been a great year for media artist Dare Greenwald and her partner, artist and curator Josh MacPhee. Last month AK Press released its first full-color book, Signs of Change: Social Movement Cultures, 1960s to Now in collaboration with Exit Art. It’s based on the touring exhibit the two curated, which debuted there in 2008. Inspired by the show, Amy Scholder, executive director of the Feminist Press at CUNY, signed MacPhee for a book on social change, Celebrate People’s History: The Poster Book of Resistance and Revolution, which is also out now. But since the summer Greenwald has struggled with a rare and aggressive cancer, and MacPhee has had to turn down work in order to care for Greenwald.
That’s when MacPhee, who also launched the journal Signal this summer with Alec Dunn, and who has previously published with AK, PM Press, and Soft Skull, really began to appreciate small presses. “Both AK and Feminist Press have been fabulous and supportive,” he says. “I’ve worked with a series of small, independent presses. I sometimes think about going with a large house and getting a big advance. My friends who do have a relationship with one editor, often a tumultuous one. With AK it’s more like a family relationship in a way. I’m friends with lots of members of the collective. I do design work for them, and they help promote projects they didn’t even publish.”
Several small presses are also helping to raise much needed funds for Greenwald’s care not covered by insurance. AK is donating all the profits from pre-orders and from the first month of sales of Signs of Change on the AK Web site (AKPress.org) as well as at tabling and other nonbookstore events, through Monday (Dec. 20). “We've raised quite a bit of money already,” says MacPhee’s editor Kate Khatib. “Folks are calling up and ordering 20 copies at a time to give as holiday gifts.” Staffers at Feminist Press, PM, and Autonomedia contributed rides to the hospital, pieces for benefit auctions, and checks.
Still, Greenwald and MacPhee wish they could participate in the promotion of both books. “The hard part for us,” says MacPhee, “is that we started the Signs of Change project in 2006. Then finally to have all that work come to fruition and not be able to promote it, it’s hard.” He does, however, appreciate the artists who have stepped in to promote Celebrate People’s History, which collects poster art documenting resistance worldwide.
Given MacPhee’s limited time for promotion, Feminist Press has gotten good coverage for Celebrate People’s History. There have been events or displays at City Lights in San Francisco, Spoonhill & Sugartown and BookThug in Brooklyn, McNally Jackson in New York, Quimby’s in Chicago, and Microcosm in Oregon. “We’ve just sold through our first printing of 2,500 copies and ordered our second [for 2,000 copies],” says Scholder.
The AK book, which was also designed by MacPhee was slightly delayed. Still, Khatib describes Signs of Change as “a monumental achievement for us. It’s much higher quality, and it’s definitely in a higher price bracket for us.” Plus she’s excited to have a book by MacPhee, who has worked on layout and design for other AK titles. “It makes it feel like a family project,” she says.
The two books are starting to take off at stores like Busboys and Poets in Washington, D.C., according to bookseller Katie Seitz, who believes that Celebrate People’s History captures readers for whom Howard Zinn’s A People’s History has too much text. Going forward AK and Feminist Press plan to do cross-promotion at independent bookstores as well as museum and gallery bookstores. Today, Friday, they are holding a joint celebration at the AK warehouse in Oakland.