In my last blog I did my own riff of an obit on Sandy Taylor, the co-founder of Curbstone Press who died last Friday morning. As my wife noted, some of my statements are in fact misstatements, mostly because in my haste to celebrate my friend’s life, I did not fully recognize Judy Doyle his long-time partner, in all senses of that word. She was there at the beginning, plotting and planning into the night, smoking cigarettes, stapling books together, designing them, selling them.
But a common error on all of our part. What is so often not said and recognized outside the Curbstone circle of close friends is that Judy was an equal partner in all that is Curbstone. Or to say it another way, Curbstone would not exist without Judy Doyle. Sandy was the loudmouth, the guy with the quick wit and the hilarious stories and the out-front leftwing politics. He was a vibrant guy and his noise overshadowed the role Judy played in the Curbstone story. Her job description at Curbstone, an operation of four people and a non-profit board, is “Do Everything.” She oversees all the daily operations of Curbstone—supported in her duties by longtime associate Robert Smith and now Jantje Tielken—from the editing to the production to the Public Relations and Sale to buying materials to managing the money. Etcetera. My wife Lee knows full well how a loudmouth can overshadow the person who is actually responsible to get the book out the door. Lee’s mantra is that the process of a book is COLLABORATION. Yes, Lee will grudgingly allow, the noise-maker needs to be there, but he shouldn’t hog all the attention. Sandy tried to make sure that the mantle didn’t rest solely on his shoulders, but we always didn’t pay attention.
Since Sandy’s death, Lee has been re-membering Judy Doyle, her role in Sandy’s life as a full-partner in the cornucopia of books that Curbstone has given us over the years. After reading my blog, Lee poured this out one night—
Well, hey, it’s a collaboration, the whole thing, isn’t it? Publishing—that joyful, terrible, dreadful, miraculous, business—is just that: a collaboration. The author writes the book, and of course the author thinks the book is “his” or “hers,” but all of us who are publishers know different. Especially small press, seat-of-the-pants-publishers like Curbstone.
There’s the acquiring of the book which takes a certain vision, a certain understanding, and it’s not always just one person acquiring, it’s not always a simple decision, sometimes you have to talk a lot and then you have to talk some more, and then maybe you have to cajole and convince the other people who are part of your business—this is important, don’t you get it?
And there’s the editing which is sometimes easy and sometimes not, and the editing makes all the difference, it gives the book a shape that may or may not have been there before. And then there’s the designer, the one you choose by instinct, or because they have more time, or because you owe them less, and that designer gives their own particular spin to the book. And there’s the printer and the distributor, and the guy or gal in the warehouse, and everyone is a collaborator in this incredible business of getting a book out into the world. And don’t forget the stream of other books by other authors, the publisher’s backlist, that provides the money to invest in a new book.
A new book! It’s like a boatload of mothers and fathers giving birth. Or if you’re small, like Curbstone and Cinco Puntos and so many of our colleagues, it’s maybe one, two, three, four people midwife-ing a book—such satisfaction in the delivery, so much angst—will anyone like it as much as we do? Or better, or worse, will anyone buy it?
Oh, godfrey, please buy it!
And so by the end, when the book finally comes from the printer, and you hold it in your hand, you can’t exactly be sure who did what or who said what or whose vision it was. Because it was a collaboration, the best of things. And that’s what Sandy and Judy Curbstone did, made publishing a true collaboration, so that, in the end, the book belonged to everyone.
And we smile (to ourselves) when the author says, “Look at my book.” Well, the author is right. It is her book, it is his book. But it is also our book. That’s what makes independent publishing such a miracle, so satisfying to both the intellect and the imagination.
Yes, celebrate Alexander Sandy Taylor, but also celebrate Judy Doyle—Sandy’s equal partner in business, spirit, imagination, intellect and, of course, the bedroom.
Note: Sandy was always making plans for books and adventures and jokes and fundraisers. Last year he told me, “My funeral will be the greatest fundraiser ever!”
And another note: For a fine interview with Sandy, I recommend Justice, Love, Death and Literature by our friend and former colleague Jessica Powers which appeared in the online alternative lit magazine New Pages.
Alexander "Sandy" Taylor died early this morning in Connecticut. Sandy was the visionary behind Curbstone Press,
a man of courage and jokes and cigarettes and wisdom and laughter and joy. He, in sweet and loving cahoots with Judy Doyle (his longtime partner and Co-Director of Curbstone) carved out an essential niche in the precarious industry of making books. Like so many independent publishers, he started Curbstone in his home, making the books himself and stapling them together. (See the photo of him and Judy below.) The important thing was the words, what they said and how they moved the world. Sandy was not happy with the direction of contemporary literature in the 70s when he birthed the press, and he especially didn’t like the direction of poetry— the academic scene, the New American Poetry, the School of Quietude, what have you. He figured the world had enough of what white, middle-class American men thought and wrote. Especially if they decided to sit on the side of the road and be witnesses to history as it whizzed by. He wanted to promote a literature that was out in the street and at the barricades, fighting for issues and igniting causes against the machine. Truly, he raged war against the machine. No wonder he was at home publishing so much Latin American literature, the literature of peoples of color, the literature of the disenfranchised—literatures that made political issues the rationale of their aesthetics.
Oddly enough, his own poetry is at home within the New American canon. Here’s a poem he dedicated to his friends Grace Paley and her husband Bob. It will serve as a fitting epitaph for Sandy.
Is Something Missing?
I must have lived my life all wrong,
never having had any grief counselors
or psychologists to comfort me on every move--
Imagine! - I endured the death of my friend
all by myself and for me every new town
was a great adventure. Maybe that's why
I seldom cry at movies and am always ready
to kiss death on the mouth...
Sandy was a great friend to Lee and me at Cinco Puntos as we struggled to learn how to make and sell books beyond our original scope. He was generous with his ideas and his lists of names and his honest and open friendship. He loved to tell jokes and to laugh and to punctuate each great burst of hilarity with a cigarette. When I explained to him once that it had become almost impossible for Cinco Puntos to publish poetry, he told me not to worry, “Publishing poetry is suicidal!” Then I looked at his list. It had three books of poems on it.
And another time he told me about how he and a friend of his, a big stout red-headed guy, drove a truckload of medical supplies down to Nicaragua during the revolution. It was a humanitarian expedition. The medical supplies were destined for the poor in the mountains that were suffering because of the on-going war. When inside the country, the army stopped them at every possible turn and searched the truck, sure they were smuggling arms or some sort of contraband. Finally, he delivered the medical supplies. And, of course, the truck—the truck was the contraband he smuggled to the FSLN!
I think Sandy would say right now, “Well, they wanted me to quit smoking, didn’t they?” And then he’d laugh and cackle and cough, give me a hug and walk off all bones and elbows toward the darkness, a cigarette stuck in his mouth. Of course, if he had his druthers, he’d go to hell. He would start a little press in some corner of that confusion. He would figure he could do some good in hell. It would be like being at home in Willimantic with George Bush in the White House.
Curbstone Press is a non-profit press. Please pay attention to their books, buy their books and, if you have a few dollars, give generously to their on-going journey. You will honor a great spirit.
This is a Christmas Card (dated Dec 12 1996) from the late poet Harvey Goldner to his two girls who were living with their mother. His awkward handwriting reads:
Solving the Mysteries of Christmas: (#3) If God is the Prince of Peace, Why Is There So Much War?
Last night I went to Jack-in-the-Box & ate 2 Jumbo JACKS. Shortly afterwards I got diarrhea real bad & began to hallucinate. I had a vision of God's face on the side of my bathtub. I asked Him the above questions. HE said: "Don't blame ME; it's Santa's fault. If only good little boys go what they want for Xmas, Santa would be Out of Business. Except for 1 or 2, all little boys are BAD, and some want bikes and some want AK-47s. I'll let you in a secret: Santa is really Satan. If you don't believe ME, ask Pat Robertson."
Cinco Puntos Press will publish his book of poems The Resurrection of Bert Ringold in late January 2008.