Sibling Rivalry Press
There are many small, independent presses out there publishing great poetry. We’d like to put a little spotlight on them in this series of Independent Press Profiles. For our first profile, to go along with our earlier review and interview with Collin Kelley, we’ve heard from Bryan Borland at Sibling Rivalry Press. Read on to find out more about the press’s founding, it’s mission, and the amazing work it is doing.
Can you give a brief history of the founding of the press?
One of the first places to accept my work was Ganymede, a journal of gay culture based in New York, which was published by a writer named John Stahle. As a young, inexperienced writer based in rural Arkansas, being published by a New-York-City-Center-of-Everything journal was a huge thing to me. John, in addition to editing and putting out Ganymede, also did freelance book design, and he convinced me hire him and self-publish my first book, My Life as Adam. Not long after I launched the book, John died, and because it was a one-man show, the journal Ganymede died with him. Because John and I became close through the process of working on my book, and because I placed high value on what Ganymede had done for me as I poet and for others in my position, both geographically and culturally, I didn’t want to let the journal become a footnote in history. John had taught me a bit about design work, and I knew the basics of how he put each issue of Ganymede together. I used previous issues as template, put out a call for submissions, and thanks to the kindness of poets, writers, and artists John had published, I published, in the same manner as publishing My Life as Adam, a tribute issue of the journal which I called Ganymede Unfinished.
I didn’t want to continue Ganymede, but I knew I wanted to create something to fill the void left by its sudden absence, particularly in relation to gay poetry. In Greek mythology, Ganymede was the young man swept up by Zeus’s eagle to serve at the god’s feet. Assaracus was Ganymede’s earthbound brother, and it, along with my book and our first chapbook, Burnings by Ocean Vuong (who has matured into a poet who just can’t stop winning awards), became the foundation to Sibling Rivalry Press.
What are your guiding principles for finding and accepting manuscripts/authors?
The last few years we’ve had an open-submission period from March through June, and we’ve signed some fantastic authors through that process. Primarily we publish what we love; it’s as simple as that. Poetry and fiction that change us when we read it. Words that set us ablaze. We’re not walking some line of literary trends. We’re not scared of causing a stir or upsetting some people.
We’ve also reached out to poets and writers we love outside that open-submission period, and in some cases, poets and writers who love us reached out to us. Books have a tendency, I believe, to find the homes in which they belong, and I’m so proud that SRP is home to so many fine books.
What are the best parts of being a small, independent publisher? What are the most challenging?
The best part of being a small press is the freedom to publish books which might not be picked up by larger presses, such as Stephen S. Mills’s He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices, which won a Lambda Literary Award. We tend to operate by doing the opposite of what is expected of presses. And that’s how we’ve succeeded. The typical and traditional publishing blueprint is what has driven so many small presses out of business. That’s one reason we’re not traditional.
The most challenging thing was getting bookstores and the media to take us seriously as a press. After all, we are based in middle America. That all changed, though, when we started winning awards and appearing on bestseller lists. Now they take us seriously. (Sidenote: the key is to not take yourself too seriously.)
What do you think the press’s most distinguishing features are?
Our purpose is best defined by the incomparable Adrienne Rich, who said to Michael Klein in a 1999 interview:
There’s a lot of what I would call comfortable poetry around. But then there is all this other stuff going on—which is wilder, which is bristling; it’s juicier, it’s everything that you would want. And it’s not comfortable. That’s the kind of poetry that interests me—a field of energy. It’s intellectual and moral and political and sexual and sensual—all of that fermenting together. It can speak to people who have themselves felt like monsters and say: you are not alone, this is not monstrous. It can disturb and enrapture.
We’re guided by Rich’s words. What distinguishes us as a press is that we seek work that disturbs and enraptures.
We often are called an LGBT-oriented press, and while it’s true that many of our titles were written by LGBT authors. But we publish work by anyone, no matter that person’s sexuality, as long as it makes us feel electric.
Does the press offer any contests/prizes/awards?
Not at this time, though never say never.