Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Reviving the Underground Literary Alliance?

There's an ongoing email discussion taking place among four past ULAers about bringing the outfit back. The four are Jeff Potter, Tom Hendricks, Michael Jackman, and Frank Walsh. Is their idea feasible? How would you go about it?

The first thing to state is that, up to a point, the ULA was amazingly successful. As late as 2007 we were part of the conversation. The Guardian, one of the planet's major news outlets, included us as one of only three American lit groups worth mentioning in their overview of new lit, "Surfing the New Literary Wave." The other two, n+1 and McSweeney's, are extremely well-funded. How in the world did we get into that conversation? What caused our cred and buzz?

Was it our web site? Our membership list?

Or was it not our commitment to our cause, evidenced by the exciting "Howl" protest in NYC in 2006, and other actions which generated talk behind the closed doors of the established literary world? Talk that spread even across the ocean.

To know where you're going you have to understand where you've been.


Pat_King said...

Something LIKE the Underground Literary Alliance is probably needed. Hell, I'd even host their website, if that's what's needed. Anyway, I think like we discussed via e-mail some months ago, something like the premise of the early ULA would make sense right now. Anyway, I have a feeling I wasn't supposed to know about this ULA reunion idea in the first place, so I feel a bit alienated from the get-go. I mean, Bill Blackolive forwards most of his e-mails to me. Not the ones he gets, the replies that he sends to folks. And I feel apathetic, kinda. What is the average age between Hendriks, Walsh, Potter and Jackman? They're all unique and cool individuals but they're really gonna be seen as being from a different era if they don't add some newer, younger writers.

Still, I've felt some nostalgia for the brother/sisterhood we all shared for a while, especially when I lived in Philadelphia. If I recall correctly, when we e-mailed in July, there were a few things I believe both of us wanted to see in a new group:

1) Fresh faces, younger folks
2) A shared aesthetic (important)
3) A common (something) to make noise about.

The aesthetic thing seems really important, right? If you got asked in 2006 what kind of writing the ULA put out, you'd have a hard time answering that in one sentence. But in the beginning maybe two years or so, for the most part there was a kind of perzine autobiographical narrative writing that dominated. I mean, compare the first couple of issues of Slush Pile to the last one or two. There was a real sense of aesthetic unity in them. Steve actually rejected a piece of mine for #3, I think, because it was "too artsy-fartsy" as he said. What that meant, of course, was that I wasn't writing the kind of straight forward prose exemplified by Jackman and Kostecke. If this sounds, in a weird way, like I'm saying I should have never been let into the ULA myself, well, maybe so! Maybe I shouldn't have been let in until I developed a similar style.

OK. Brain stopped working. That's all I have for now.

K.I.N.G. Wenclas said...

The younger faces thing was a big reason between the divide between Mr. Potter and myself. I was pushing for print books from Jellyboy and Jessica D, chiefly because I saw them as an easier sell.
The thing is, Jeff still doesn't get it.
In the current discussion, he references a Detroit street fair at which I encouraged him to have a table. I joined him and sat with him for five or so hours. We sold quite a few books.
He attributes the sales to the way he had the covers lined up. Bullshit! We could've sold a lot more if the selection wasn't all old white dudes. Keep in mind this fair was in Detroit's bohemian/punk neighborhood. A little diversity, like some women authors or authors of color, would've helped.
We sold copies at ten bucks a pop because when I got there, instead of sitting back, I strood up and started hawking the books, talking to people, calling out, talking 'em up-- old fashioned ballyhoo selling. Period.
Caught Leah Smith's attention anyway, who was in the passing throng.
For a dynamic new group, yes, youth is very important. A young "Zeen Elvis" type who can open the door for everything else.
Even with the ULA's first go-round, I became front man purely by default. Had others slotted for that role, but they shied from the spotlight.
Believe it or not, the prospect of success is frightening to some people. Many personalities can't handle the idea-- maybe particularly writers.

BradyDale said...

I think the underground is on fire and the writing is on the wall for dead-tree publishing. The ULA did its thing, ran its course, everyone should move on and do their own thing.

The world doesn't really need more organizations.

K.I.N.G. Wenclas said...

Thanks for the comment, Brady-- but you couldn't be more wrong.
Study nature and you see that it's a constant battle between breaking apart and consolidating.
This is seen often in business, in industry after industry, new ones and revived ones.
The auto industry began with hundreds of entrepreneurs building cars with bicycle parts in their backyards. Several decades later it'd consolidated into the "Big Three." Then became topheavy.
Natural cycles.
Yes, traditional publishing is breaking apart. There will be new players, new consolidations, hyperefficient new organizations.
The trick is to never see what is, or even what's right on the horizon coming down the road, but another step past that, which will be upon us soon enough.
The idea of evry writer doing his/her own thing-- a million microniches, is fantasy. Even in the nascent ebook world there are dominant players.
Names, personalities, branding, will break up the microniche idea.
That big publishing is slowly disintegrating means that right now there's great opportunity for those with vision and hustle to take a leading role in the game.
I hope you keep reading.