A Conversation with KMA Sullivan

Lori Hettler talks small presses, design, and editing with author and YesYes Books editor KMA Sullivan.


Lori Hettler sits down with KMA Sullivan, poet and editor of YesYes Books. KMA is the author of Necessary Fire (Black Lawrence Press, 2015), winner of the St. Lawrence Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Boston Review, Southern Humanities Review, Forklift, Ohio, The Nervous Breakdown, Gertrude, diode, and elsewhere. Recent essays have appeared in The Rumpus, The Good Men Project, and Nailed. She has been awarded residencies in creative nonfiction and poetry at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Vermont Studio Center, and Summer Literary Seminars, and she is the editor-in-chief of Vinyl and the publisher at YesYes Books.


Lori Hettler: Can we start from the beginning? When did you first decide you wanted to create your own publishing company?

KMA SULLIVAN: I was in the third year of my MFA program at Virginia Tech and was trying to figure out what to do with this huge love of poetry that had come upon me (I originally entered VA Tech as a fiction candidate.). I was truly intoxicated by poetry — reading it, writing it, editing it. Vinyl was alive; I think I had put out two issues by that time and I enjoyed my work with that project, but I knew it was not enough for me.

Add in running a press. Turns out to be enough!


How did you land on the name YesYes Books?

It was the sweet meeting point of my general attitude toward life and the Bukowski poem, “Yes Yes.” It just felt right.


Everything about YYB is aesthetically arresting, from web design to book covers to page layouts. How did you determine your ‘look’?

The design of the website was originally a collaboration between Thomas Patrick Levy and me. John Mortara, our current web design guru, and I will be working on a redesign of the website over the next year. Alban Fischer is our current graphic designer and has done most of our book covers and interiors. He is brilliant. The search for cover art or a cover artist that fits each book project is generally a collaboration between the author and me. It is a wonderful adventure each time!


How difficult was it to find like-minded and passionate people with whom to staff YYB?

To my surprise and delight, not hard at all. Every time I put a call out for a new editor or two, there are so many talented writers and editors who show up that I inevitably feel compelled to bring on three or four of them! I am immensely blessed to be working with Heather Brown, our publicist, who is also straightening out our bones a little and making sure our communication and scheduling runs smoothly; Phillip B. Williams and Mark Derks, the poetry and fiction editors of Vinyl, with whom I have been working for four years now; and the amazing editors that make up the rest of our staff, including those already mentioned, plus Stevie Edwards, Jill Kolongowski, Amber Rambharose, Mary Catherine Curely, JoAnn Balingit, Beyza Ozer, and Robert Whitehead.


As a published writer yourself, how do you think YYB holds up amongst other small publishers when it comes to the relationships you’ve cultivated with your authors, designers, and readers?

There are so many wonderful small presses out there right now. I’m not really a fan of comparison with others, though. Our job is to determine what we are trying to do and then kick ass until we get it done. Our primary goal is to lift up new voices whose art sets us on fire, help collections from these voices come into being where the physical or digital product is art in its entirety, and push out the work we believe in to as many readers as we can. With the help and devotion of the amazing editorial staff at YesYes Books, I believe we are doing exactly that.


If you could add any one poet or poetry collection to your catalog, dead or alive, who would you choose, and why?

The limitation of this question makes my teeth hurt. The literary world is awash in brilliance right now. It is an amazing time to be in this beautiful poetry bowl. If I had to choose just one, though, I would say Claudia Rankine.


Within YYB, you play with poetry in many different forms. There’s Vinyl 45’s Chapbooks (a print chapbook series), Poetry Shots (a web chapbook series), Frequencies (a chapbook and music anthology series), and your full-length collections. How did each series come to be? How are they different from one another?

Please Don’t Leave Me Scarlett Johansson by Thomas Patrick Levy was our first Vinyl 45 and our first YesYes Books production. We have produced four Vinyl 45’s, have four in the works right now, and are in the process of choosing this year’s finalists for our Vinyl 45 Chapbook Prize. We are devoted primarily to full-length collections and chapbook collections, but each year we do an experimental project. Our first experimental project was the Poetry Shots which was also our step into webbooks. They are brilliant collaborations of art and poetry. Our next experiment was the Frequencies anthology, which brings together three chapbooks with music from three artists. Volume One included poetry chaps from Bob Hicok, Phillip B. Williams, and Molly Gaudry, and the accompanying music files are from Sharon Van Etten, Here We Go Magic, and Outlands. Our most recent experimental project was last year’s full-length graphic poetry collection with poetry by J. Bradley and art by Adam Scott Mazer.


What’s on the horizon for YYB?

We will be publishing our first memoir in the fall: Mental Hospital by Ross Robbins. It is a collection of prose poems but is a memoir in a very real sense. I suspect we will be stepping more clearly into both creative nonfiction and fiction collections from there. We recently released the first title in our Pamet River Series, which publishes first or second books from women and gender queer writers. We are currently reading the finalists for next year’s Pamet River Prize. We are freaking excited about this project. And our Open Reading Period is open for submissions right now (until May 15). I can’t wait to see what that brings in!


What’s your greatest —

Challenge as a small press poetry publisher? Having enough time for my own writing. Still working on that balance!

Accomplishment to date? Raising my five children and still having the life force left to work in art.

Fear? That there will never be enough hours in the day to accomplish what is in my mind or that I will exhaust myself trying.

Desire? I want to figure out a way that independent presses can be financially sound while maintaining the highest level of art product in their books. We are trying out different things here at YYB and will happily share our conclusions when we determine them!

I want to bring YesYes tours to Europe.


Interview originally published on 4/24/15