Justin Hocking is the Executive Director of the Independent Publishing Resource Center in Portland, Oregon, which is maybe the coolest place in the universe. Perhaps you would like to letterpress something? Perfect-bind your own books? Silkscreen with chocolate syrup onto pancakes (no, really)? Mm hmm. You go there. Justin is also a writer and survived a publishing career in New York before sensibly fleeing for greener pastures. We asked him some questions.
Please tell everyone a little bit about yourself and what you do.
Well, first and foremost I’m a writer.I did an MFA in creative writing at Colorado State University, and afterwards moved to New York City, where I worked for a couple years as an assistant editor.As someone with a background in DIY culture—skateboarding, zines, etc—I felt uncomfortable working in corporate publishing.I’m always thinking about ways we as writers can independently produce and publish work, similar to the way a band like Fugazi produced their own music for decades.So I jumped at the chance to take the Executive Director job at the Independent Publishing Resource Center in Portland, OR.Our mission is to facilitate creative expression, identity and community through providing public acess to tools and resources for self-publishing.We have a huge zine library, a computer lab, copiers/commercial printers, a letterpress studio and a perfect binding machine.It’s a totally unique place where you can bring a book or zine project from idea to final fruition, and you can do it all entirely by hand.Rather than a publishing company, we’re a true publishing community —something I think the world needs more of right now.
Zines are clearly more awesome than what people think of when they think of self-publishing. Why is this so, do you think?
Traditionally there’s been a disdain—mostly in academia and New York publishing circles—for the whole concept of self-publishing.In some ways I can totally understand this—“vanity publishing” is generally about wealthy people wasting large amounts of money to print unreadable books.But there’s a sea change taking place.So many of us young or young-ish writers grew up making zines and putting work out ourselves on tiny budgets. We are into the actual craft of making publications, and we don’t wait around for anyone else to validate us as artists. Zines have always been a fusion of book arts, DIY culture and literature, and I believe this kind of fusion needs to spill over into the book world.My prediction is that as more and more people read text off computer screens or the Kindle, the kind of physical books that will survive are those with a hand-crafted, artful aesthetic.I mean, if someone can have an entire library on their Kindle, why else would they want to own any actual books?It’s akin to the “locavore” movement, where people are increasingly choosing locally grown heirloom tomatoes over factory-farmed produce.So yes, zines are not only awesome—they’re also the future.
What's a day in the life of Justin Hocking, IPRC Executive Director look like?
It looks like me sitting here at work on a Saturday, covering for a volunteer who couldn’t make it. Running a nonprofit is a huge amount of work and I have to wear so many hats:the grant-writing hat, the fundraising hat, the administrative hat, even the taking-out-the-garbage hat, which is made out of old take-out Thai food containers and scrap paper.But I really love this job, especially now that we started a new yearlong Certificate Program in Creative Writing/Comics and independent Publishing.So on top of everything else, I now get to teach a weekly creative writing workshop with a group of talented writers who will go on to publish their own books through the IPRC.
Trick question: how important do you think it is to support independent media in a culture that is increasingly dominated by corporate media?
I’m obviously skeptical about certain aspects of corporate media/publishing, but then again I know from experience that there are many, many great individuals working in that field—people with a passion for books and amazing editing skills.They bring cutting edge projects like The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao into the world.And you know, though I put out my own little books through the IPRC, I also really hope to get my current memoir project published by an outside company.Something I’m always trying to impress on my creative writing students is the importance of playing the publishing game on all levels.So I believe in spending money to support the Simon and Schusters, as well as the Soft Skull Presses and the zinesters of the world.Just be aware that when you buy a Simon and Schuster book, most of your dollars go to Viacom.
Some books you've read lately that you found pleasing?
As mentioned, the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.Diaz is like a street-smart Shakespeare, plus his work is all heart.A new memoir by Portland’s own Kevin Sampsell called A Common Pornography .Also Cash: The Autobiography of Johnny Cash. I return to Moby Dick on a pretty much daily basis.Oh yeah, and I just read a book by Matthew Dickman, one of the identical twin poets from Portland.I’m blown away by his work—he’s a relatively young guy writing ecstatic poetry in the tradition of Whitman and Mary Oliver—the kind that strikes spiritual chords without pretension or over-intellectualiziation.