Todd Simmons

Conducted at Matter Bookstore

HOW DID YOU GET MATTER STARTED, BOTH AS A JOURNAL AND A BOOKSTORE?

I started Matter five years ago with friends. I’m the only one who has stuck around since the beginning, for good or bad. It was and still is a collaborative project between many different people. I had been working governmental jobs for a couple of years and wanted to do work that was more meaningful, more honest. Some of the inspiration arose from anger and rebelliousness, and although that’s not always the best reason to do something, it seemed the best outlet at the time. I was writing a lot at the time, and wanted to publish what I wanted to publish, not what other’s said I should.

CAN YOU TELL ME MORE ABOUT WOLVERINE FARM PUBLISHING?

Wolverine Farm Publishing was established so we could publish quality literature. It owns Matter Bookstore and has a board of directors. We have three paid employees and the rest are volunteers. It started as sole-proprietorship and now we’ve moved to non-profit. First it was strictly a publishing company, but we’ve grown it in a way so we can now be involved in scientific work and research, as well as literacy projects. We started getting our funding through grants initially, but the bookstore has actually given us a steady income and that is what has allowed us to extend our reach past a publishing company and into the community.

WHAT DO YOU FEEL THE DEFINITION OF GRASSROOTS PUBLISHING IS?

Grassroots publishing is hard to define. But I think you need to look at the intent first, why it’s published. Matter Journal is not published for profit and we’ve been able to keep it, luckily, at $10 so everyone with an average income can buy it. We just want to share voices and vision, and it does build a community, though community wasn’t our original intent. But it does that by keeping people engaged in conversations. People want to stay involved these days. I think Save the Poudre is a great example of grassroots. There isn’t any formal collaboration, but the group is getting people together to do something good. Hot Lunch zine, which was started in Fort Collins just recently, is another great example of grassroots publishing. There are tons of zines on both coasts, Portland especially. You need a lively community for zines to thrive.

HOW MUCH INTERACTION IS THERE BETWEEN YOU, THE EDITOR AND THE AUTHORS?

I directly edit about a third of the material that is in the journal. There are five other editors as well. Some of the time we work face-to-face with authors, but if they live elsewhere that isn’t possible. Also, as an editor you don’t want to get too involved with a piece of work, or with the author, because that can lead the work somewhere it wasn’t intended. There are some pieces that come in and are perfect just the way they are and don’t need editing. Others take quite a bit of work. But that’s the hard part-how far can you take someone’s work before they get angry or lose confidence in themselves. We spend more time with the visual artists, spending time getting what we want. The poetry is the hardest to edit, it’s like it has a platinum shield around it and you can’t touch it.

DO YOU FEEL YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE COMMUNITY HAS GROWN, EITHER PERSONALLY OR AS A BOOKSTORE, SINCE YOU BEGAN THE PUBLICATION?

Yes, definitely. Being involved on a day-to-day basis makes it hard to see it objectively. But I’ve never felt as much a part of something as I do now and it’s great. Makes it daunting but wonderful to know something that you start and are part of is going to last past your involvement. I want to stay humble. I am excited about the literacy projects and to do something sweaty and labor-intensive. I want to encourage kids to help their parents get rid of lawns and put in xeriscape gardens. How great would that be to go by and see kids ripping up lawns to put in native plants? I want more people to get excited about it. If more people went home and took more showers together and cared about our water and how we both use and mis-use it, it would be more beneficial than sitting in a meeting discussing it to death. We can all be involved to effect change.

WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO FOCUS DIRECTLY ON THE COMMUNITY RATHER THAN, LIKE A TRADITIONAL JOURNAL, INVITING GENERAL SUBMISSIONS?

The journal is usually 75% Colorado based. Good writing is good writing and if it fits the theme, we aren’t going to reject it because it’s outside of Colorado. We find that word of mouth is our best advertising. We don’t actually do much advertising. We don’t have a big game plan, we just like to get out there and do good work. Sometimes, when you go national, it gets too big too fast and that’s not what we want. We want to remain small and true to our own artistic and stylistic visions.

WHAT, IF ANY, ARE YOUR GREEN PRACTICES WHEN PUBLISHING?

We are involved in the Green Press Initiative collaboration which is out of San Francisco. I think it was established by Julia Butterfly Hill, the woman who sat in a tree for two years. We do our part by printing on recycled paper and with soy based inks. We also utilize less wasteful practices in our office and in our bookstore, where we try to operate on a no-return basis. It’s a slight loss of money, but worth it. We support causes by giving free advertising in some of our publications. Our best way of supporting sustainable practices is by talking about them. A great many people are getting involved in sustainability because it’s hot and trendy and profitable. We are trying to look beyond that and see how people can live fuller lives, live more self-sufficiently, and hopefully leave the planet a little better than we came to it.

CAN YOU TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR NEW INITIATIVE WITH COMMUNITY LITERACY?

We have started a literacy outreach program called “Project Sweatshop.” It is a work-based project for fifth graders. We are going to teach them a skill and have them execute it. Once they have finished their work, we are going to have them write about it, in memoir, a pamphlet, an essay, whatever they want. So it’s kind of a backwards approach to literacy. Rather than teaching them that this is a sentence and this is how you use a period, we are having them practice the skill. We want to show kids how to positively affect the world. We are also trying to reverse the negative idea of sweatshops and show that kids can learn useful skills to positively impact the world.