Jennifer Joseph doesn’t publish books for squares. For 16 years, she’s run her company “like a rock label,” sending authors out on road trip reading tours. Instead of hitting bookstores or college campuses, they connect with a nationwide fringe literary community that features the likes of punk rock chick Pleasant Gehman and comic book artist R. Crumb. Joseph herself hosts weekly slams at the Paradise Lounge nightclub in the press’s home base of San Francisco. These may be unorthodox tactics for publicizing new books, but a renegade business plan is, according to Joseph, “just what happens when you start a company when you’re 22.”
Manic D’s allegiance to live readings has worked well for first-time author Marci Blackman. A librarian heard her read from her novel Po Man’s Child, then nominated it for the 2000 American Library Association GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered] Award for Literature. Blackman, 37, won, edging out works by more seasoned writers represented by big-budget companies. That the nomination resulted from a reading is fitting: The spoken word is crucial to Blackman’s writing. “We have become lazy writers who no longer work to find the lyricism in the words, in the line,” she says. “Every passage I write, I read aloud.”
In Po Man’s Child, narrator Po Childs, a typesetter, tells stories as her lover slices Po’s skin with a scalpel. Then during a 72-hour mental hospital stay, Po recounts a family charged with a deeply saturated sensuality, words, music, scents coming easy, physical sensation coming violent and hard. Po fiercely connects words to the physical, from the names her father called out during violent sex with her mother to the S/M safe word Po can never quite say. Is the book out there? Not for a company named Manic D Press.