The 3rd Thing, a small press in Olympia, Wash., was set up to be a “publisher of necessary alternatives,” according to cofounder, publisher, and editor Anne de Marcken. “At first,” she added, “I thought of the press as a way to create access to publishing for writers of color, Indigenous writers, queer writers, and writers and artists working outside the bounds of traditional disciplines—a way to redistribute cultural capital, a way to let more people in. But that quickly flipped. Now I see each book as a way out—a gap in the fence, a necessary alternative to familiar patterns and perspectives.”
Promotions manager and editor Alison Bailey put it in more prosaic terms: “We like books that are genre bending,” she said, such as Bloodtide, a collage of cartoons, poetry, and essays about horseshoe crabs by Eli Nixon, and Joy Has a Sound, an anthology curated by Wa Na Wari, a center for Black art and culture in Seattle, and edited by Rachel Kessler and Elisheba Johnson.
The press was founded in January 2019 and launched its first four titles a year later with a Kickstarter campaign that raised $14,000. It released a second list of four books in November 2021. “Our business model is to pay our writers properly and offer royalties,” Bailey said.
Bailey is also a writer, and she met de Marcken while studying at Goddard College, where de Marcken—an interdisciplinary artist and author of The Accident: An Account—was a lecturer.
Each of 3rd Thing’s first two lists had a distinct and consistent look and format: the 2020 books each featured illustrations by Cuban artist Juan Alonso-Rodriguez, while the 2021 books were published in a square, 8 × 8–in. format. Both lists were presented as paperbacks with French flaps. Bailey, who previously worked in printing sales, said the company used Spencer Printing in Honesdale, Pa., which was able to deliver high quality and low print runs—initial runs were just 250 copies each—at a reasonable cost. Distribution is through Small Press Distribution, and several titles have already gone back for second printings.
Bookstores are taking notice. Rick Simonson, buyer at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, said of the press, “Over the years, I’ve seen many excellent literary presses come along, and yet I’ve not seen anything quite like what The 3rd Thing has done these last two especially challenging years. The books both stand on their own—acknowledging and speaking from their own place—and are also in communion with the others published that year, and in times prior. Eight titles in, I look forward to what is to come.”
The 3rd Thing is self-consciously progressive, in so far as the front matter of each of its books includes a land acknowledgement (a statement noting that the organization resides on the ancestral land of Indigenous peoples) accompanied by the work of an Indigenous poet, each of whom is compensated for their contribution. In addition, to make its books available to those with less income, the press maintains what it has dubbed a “Book Bank.” Those who can afford to buy multiple books can make “deposits” to the bank, which anyone can then make “withdrawals” from.
The house is currently focused on promoting its first eight titles and getting them into more bookstores around the country. As such, the next list of four titles will not be published until 2023. These include the novel Sift by Alissa Hattman; Boomhouse, a poetry collection by Summer J. Hart; a 100th anniversary reissue of Cane by Jean Toomer; and a yet-to-be-titled multimedia creative/critical anthology in partnership with the Northwest Film Forum and the Cadence Video Poetry Festival.
De Marcken sees the press as an evolving project, albeit one with a focused mission. “I think stories—poems, essays, theories—that don’t adhere to our expectations of how a story is told or who is telling the story or even what a story is can be experienced as inaccessible, but I want to flip that,” she said. “The press is committed to accessibility on an operational level—we don’t charge reading fees, we don’t require agents, we are excited by first-time authors, we make our books available to readers for free through our Book Bank. But more fundamentally, we want to provide access to a realm of imagination and ideas and connection that is outside the stockade of establishment publishing.”