A Conversation with Adam Robinson
March is Small Press Month, and with the celebration of thriving small presses, it is important to catalog, as well, those that close up shop, how we must support the indies in order to keep the presses enduring that we love, when it’s just time to say goodbye, and when something new comes of that departure.
For over five years, Everyday Genius was the online-journal arm of Publishing Genius*. The magazine, which will be archived forever here, and in the short term here, featured a new selection every weekday and was edited by a different guest every month. Recently, editor Adam Robinson announced he was closing its doors. Alternating Current Staff Interviewer Lori Hettler had an opportunity to talk to Adam about this decision.
Lori Hettler: Five successful years. That’s quite a run. I can’t imagine that decision was an easy one. How did you know it was time?
ADAM ROBINSON: Whenever a press or journal shuts down, I pay attention to how they do it. It’s a difficult thing, primarily because the publisher has a responsibility to honor the work he’s taken. As a writer myself, I’ve had a lot of work published online that doesn’t exist there anymore, poems I loved and linked to from my website, only to find that the URLs are all broken now. I guess that’s the nature of things, water off a duck’s back; I’ve always been more worried about what it’ll be like to close down the press, Publishing Genius, where I have whole books that people could have entrusted to someone else, but they chose PGP. With Everyday Genius, it wasn’t a hard question. I think after the journal had been around for a few years, it had fully realized itself. Everyday Genius was always fun, right up through the last piece it published in January. And in the last couple weeks, I’ve received a few emails telling me how much it meant to people, which has been meaningful to me. Still, I was surprised by how not difficult the decision was.
In Everyday Genius’ closing post, entitled “End,” you mention that one day it just occurred to you to start a daily journal. How did you take the journal from an idea to turn it into something that lived and breathed on the Internet?
And it kind of ended the way it began. Like, I didn’t obsess about shutting off the lights, in the same way I didn’t have much of a game plan going in. But the journal prospered because of the hard work of the guest editors and the writers they included — and also because the readers were usually really engaged.
Every new venture is born with a mission in mind. What were you hoping to accomplish with the journal? What sort of impact or aesthetic were you going for?
At the time, I was just really into the idea of new posts every day. Journals were (and are) still trying to figure out how to use the Internet to publish, because, for example, it doesn’t have to be a quarterly issue anymore. Also, I was definitely interested in how the daily fleetingness would affect the work, not to mention the limitations and opportunities the Internet offers. All of that shaped the aesthetic.
Do you think you achieved what you were after?
Absolutely, and what I was after changed through time, but in the end the question for me became about choosing the editors, who would then go after their own visions.
In what ways did the journal differ from its big brother publishing company, Publishing Genius?
Well, it was a lot easier to run the journal, and I didn’t have to worry about money. And when good things happened, like winning awards from Wigleaf or even just seeing someone post a link on Facebook, that was gravy. Everyday Genius was stress-free. It only ever felt good. Oh, also, EG got tons more traffic than Publishing Genius. I always wondered if I should join the sites so I could capitalize on the popularity of EG and maybe sell more books. But it made sense to keep them separate. I didn’t even really advertise for PG at EG, because they were such distinct entities.
What are some of your favorite Everyday Genius moments or experiences?
May 2010 stretched things. In that month, I just assigned four writers four different weeks to do a whole project. Matt Bell drafted a story in a public document, so you could see him writing. Then the next day he edited it, then let Lily Hoang and Michael Kimball edit it, then let anyone edit it who wanted to edit it. For May 2013, Sarah Jean Alexander put together a month of poem videos, really beautiful stuff. In June 2012, I made it a print journal and called that a “unique online journal,” kind of going the other way with it. We had one February where writers made Valentines for each other. One month, Matt Walker paired each piece with one of his beautiful photographs. The format allowed for so many different ideas. Writers responding to GIFs. A food month (twice). I remember in 2010, there was a lot of discussion about an online journal that only had work from one woman. It created a lot of tension. I quietly asked Kate Zambreno if she’d put together a month at EG that had only work from women. She nor I ever mentioned that detail about it, but Roxane Gay picked up on it and mentioned it on Twitter or something. People noticed, which I always felt was the case with EG. Do something a little different, and people figure it out.
There’s always that “one who got away.” Who is the one person you wish you could have featured or brought on as an editor?
This time there isn’t the one who got away. I can’t think of a person or an idea that I wanted but couldn’t make it work. I’m sure there are more people I would have liked to include, more off-the-wall ideas, but I have no regrets like that.
If you could go back and do it all over again, what would you do differently?
Good question! I would have started it on Wordpress so I could actualize some of the technical things I couldn’t do on Blogger. For instance, when you go look at a piece from April 2012, I’d like it to be clear who the editor was. And I’d like the work to be sortable by category, like fiction, poetry, video. All of which can be done easily now, but I didn’t think about that when I started, and I’ve never had the resources to go back and put it together the right way.
As Everyday Genius prepares for its long sleep, what is awakening in its place?
Real Pants! That new site was a big factor in shutting down EG. Real Pants is a new literature-themed website that’s updating daily with a variety of content. Publishing Genius is the publisher of the site, with a brilliant executive editor, Amy McDaniel, heading up an expanding team of contributors. And this time, I understood my technical limitations, so we have a developer who is building a future-proof design. It really feels like the beginning of something at Real Pants, where we’re thinking about a lot of questions that started around the time of Everyday Genius and literature on the social web. Real Pants is totally different from Everyday Genius, but in a lot of ways it feels to me like a continuation.
Also, I’ve been thinking about EG2.0, being a site where anyone can create an account and just post whatever they want. Just like Everyday Genius started by thinking about how online journals can break the publication schedule mold, I’m thinking about how EG2.0 can break the editorial mold. But for that, the seed is just taking root.
*Publishing Genius started in 2006, first by publishing broadsides around Baltimore, Maryland, then as a chapbook press, and finally, as it exists today: a publisher of exquisite poetry and challenging fiction in book form. Their books have gained attention from trade magazines like Variety and Publishers Weekly, writers’ magazines like Poets & Writers, and other places like Flavorwire, Nylon, and The Fader. Through it all, the Publishing Genius mission has always been to publish genre-defying books in the most interesting and progressive ways.
Interview originally published on 3/13/15