Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela on Thread Makes Blanket and small press publishing

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Can you tell me a little bit about Thread Makes Blanket? How did the press get started and what did you contribute to the OYO project?

Initially, Thread Makes Blanket (TMB) was started in 2011 as a small-scale chapbook press because (in no particular order), 1) I wrote a zine in high school and my first year of college and missed a lot of things about that production, but I didn’t want to write a zine again, 2) I had a free copy hook up at the time and my 16-yr-old self would’ve been ashamed of me if I didn’t use it, 3) I knew many excellent women of color writers who I hoped to help push their work into the world, and 4) I seem to have a more optimistic than average relationship with time.

Then, as they do, things evolved. Soon TMB was not just publishing poetry chapbooks, but we have maintained a commitment to writers of color and/or books related to social justice. We are most interested in publishing projects that might not otherwise find a home and in working with authors who are interested in working within a fairly non-traditional model as each project is its own collaboration with authors, editors and artists. That said, “we” generally refers to me and Nico Amador, a dear friend who has brought his talents as a poet, editor, and thinker to TMB for the last 2-3 years. TMB is smarter and stronger than ever because of his involvement.

vona_dismantle_cover_final_web_front Actually, this is maybe better answered with TMB’s mission statement:

“Thread Makes Blanket exists to provide a home for excellent writing that may otherwise have trouble finding a home.  We have no hard and fast criteria for who or what we publish, but we operate with a consciousness that too often the most necessary writing— writing by people of color, queer and trans writers, work that is political, work that is “about” something, and work that prioritizes community above the individual artist—  is less likely to be read, published, distributed, and/or legitimized.  We are here because we believe in the voices of those writers, those communities, and the lesser known histories that their works call forth.  We are not about empty, pretty things.”

We see each publication as an opportunity to embark on a collaboration with the artist or artists to give their project the backing it deserves and find the readers it is intended to reach.  We believe that the process of publishing is as important as the final product and we seek to engage with our artists in a way that is supportive to their vision, creative in its means of distribution, and anti-capitalist in its intentions.

My contribution to OYO is two-fold.

First, let’s stay with the press. I was invited to develop a public project for OYO, but was encouraged to think of overlap with what I was already working on. I mulled over some ideas and then seemed to stumble on the obvious: the book that would eventually be named TREASURE | My Black Rupture. My press had already committed to publish Martine’s hard to pin down book about Blackness, where a body begins and ends, and imagination. I’d started to, in an overly simplistic shorthand, refer to it in my mind as a BlackLivesMatter text because some of what the book contains responds to recent events, for example there are photos from Eric Garner’s death in which Martine has removed Garner’s body from the frame. And this maybe led me to the connections that now seems so clear? The connections between art, organizing, imagination, the inevitably incomplete “your”, and questioning of place within family and community that are so much of OYO is getting at.

Second, I was invited to write a poetic piece to share at the opening reading for OYO in Philadelphia. I read two poems that were “linked” by a poetic essay. A version of that essay will be included in the OYO catalogue.

And, because it still makes me smile, arguably one of my most important contributions to OYO was when I got much of the audience in the jam-packed Kelly Writer’s House to sing along to a Boys II Men verse. This was part of one of my poems.

As you know, OYO is rooted in a historical legacy of self-organizing and self-determination, and I’m wondering what of that history you were drawn to as you were developing your contribution. Are there particular aspects that impact your work outside of this contribution or are you coming to these ideas for the first time? This is maybe a clumsy way of asking about your relationship to self-organizing and self-determination.

The “own” in OYO was my starting point. It’s possible I took it a little too personal? What the hell was my own? Who have I organized or should I organize? I’ve been asked “what are you?” my whole life and likely that’s led to a particular relationship with the concept of my “own”– a sense of between-ness. I am far from the circumstances and place that I grew up in, so for me, for so many others, there will be no traditional organizing of my people. And then one’s definition of “own” is subject to change right? The archival materials that provided the foundation for OYO are very much rooted in neighborhoods and change, and in creative responses to systemic oppressions, so I decided to start with an actual corner in the world: the collective corner house in Philadelphia that I’ve mostly called home since 2000.

That said, I wasn’t coming at these ideas for the first time. When I read my piece for OYO, I started with a sort of paraphrase of an idea Robin D.G. Kelley’s Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, that if we judge movements on whether or not they reach their goals then almost all fail, but if we judge them on what they were able to imagine then we truly have something to build upon. I also included a direct quote from the intro. that emphasized the importance of imagination. Additionally, I made reference to the significant amount of time I spent in Zapatista communities learning about the importance of new tactics in struggles for dignity and self-determination, and to the radical organizing in the U.S. I have witnessed and, at times, been a part of.

Other important references that didn’t make it into my contribution, but were much of what I recalled and revisited as a result of my participation with OYO are: the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association of Oxnard, CA in 1903 (one of the most beautiful examples of cross-race and language organizing I know) and the history of the Revolutionary Union Movements (DRUM and ELRUM) detailed in the brilliant Detroit: I Do Mind Dying.


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