Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Conversation with Will Walton: Small Press Edition!

Will Walton wears many hats: novelist, Avid bookseller extraordinaire, cat dad, and kind friend to everyone in Athens and beyond. He is also our local small press expert. As curator of Avid on Prince’s small press section and moderator of our small press book club, he possesses a wealth of knowledge about many tiny, amazing publishers. In addition to these concrete responsibilities, Will is also possibly the greatest champion of small press on a daily basis. Stop by Avid on Prince any time he's working, and I guarantee he'll have a new and strange and wonderful small press title to share with you.

Following is an interview with Will about the nature of small press inspiration, recent discoveries, favorite presses, and the importance of reading small press in these politically charged times.

EW: So, you love small press. What kick-started this obsession?

WW: When I went to Winter Institute 2015 [a book selling conference] and sat around with the staff of Diesel in Oakland. Brad, who works at Diesel, just started talking about all these amazing-sounding books, and I was like, "Why haven't I heard of these?" I remember he spoke about The Wallcreeper in particular, and that book blew my mind.

EW: Can you talk to me about the ways in which small press inspires you specifically?

WW: Small press titles force me to look up and look beyond. The term "great American novel" is too BIG for me, and it feels relative to a gaze that's specifically white, cis-male,  hetero,  and . .  . oh yeah, American! I don't need it. I need a story that feels human and personal, and I don't need to feel like the author sweated over it for ten years in order to produce it . .  If it's a little rough around the edges, so what? It's liberating! And so is life!

EW: You brainstormed the idea and carried through the reality of Small Press Book Club. Avid has nine book clubs (!), but, in my opinion, this one is really unique and exceptional. Discussions are so vibrant and thought provoking; it’s perhaps the most provocative of all our book clubs (and I say this as moderator of my own club, which I adore). Would you talk to me about how you conceived of your vision for the club, how you see it now, what has surprised you about it, etc.

WW: Yes! I'm so happy you love that club, and that it has delighted you! It has delighted and surprised me, too. I think, given the nature of the books we read, our discussions tend to be sprawling! We get a lot of ground covered! And we get to talk about form, which I LOVE doing. Form and style. If we talk about plot and character, too, well . . . that's just gravy.

EW: Would you tell me about the small press you’ve most recently discovered and fallen for?

WW: That's hard! I've fallen for so many! Lately, though, it's Sarabande Books.

EW: You’ve done so much great work building Avid’s small press section from the ground up. Has the active curation this physical section of the shop taught you anything new about small presses that you’re care to share?

WW: Aw, thank you! . . . Well, it has taught me how hard it is to curate a section in a bookstore! Haha. I'm always looking to see what's sold and trying to order it promptly back in again. And I'm getting a sense of what our customers like the most, which is always good!

EW: Okay, here’s a tough one: If you were absolutely forced to choose a favorite small press title, what would it be? Then, if you would, explain why everyone should RUN to their nearest indie bookstore and buy this book.

WW: Yes, that is tough! Ooh, ooh, ooh . . . hmm . . . Bluets by Maggie Nelson (Wave Books). You know why, Elizabeth Willis! [EW: Of all of the books, Bluets is my favorite. Click that link to read my staff pick on Avid's website, and you'll find out why].

EW: Do you believe that there is any particular necessity in increasing support of small presses and their authors post-election? Clearly from this question, I do, but maybe you think small press was as vitally important in 2015 as it is in 2017. Please, feel free to disagree with me! I’m eager to fight it out.

WW: I definitely do. I mean, the arts are going to take a hit in the next four years. And the new regime is corporate. So, yeah, anything small that ferries goodness into this country--whether it's a press, a bookshop, or an art house cinema--we need to make a conscious effort to support. Especially over the next four years. As believers in free speech, we're all in this together.

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