ORGY — Independent Press Night at The Old American Can Factory

1. Jimmy Newborg (fiction forthcoming in Art Faccia), Julia Kayser, & Holly Hilliard from Hillsboro, Ohio, all fiction writers and the interns for One Story. 2. Zach Pace, editorial staff at Akashic, and Lonely Christopher sharing an intimate moment.

4th Avenue is a wind tunnel, and as my umbrella fought to survive in the rain and wind on my way to Independent Press Night at the Old American Can Factory in Gowanus last Tuesday night, turning onto 3rd Street felt like I was stepping into a parallel reality. In this inconspicuous building down the way from a Staples, five — FIVE! — independent presses with serious street cred publish stellar literature. At the risk of melodrama, the prospect of hearing work representing Akashic Books, Archipelago Books, One Story, Ugly Duckling Presse and Habitus: A Diaspora Journal + snacks felt a little like a haven.

The reading was held in the Issue Project Room of the OACF, which is a long room with a lofted ceiling and low couches that pretty much scream sex. The building — which was built in 1886 and manufactured cans — now houses over 200 people working in creative industries. This isn’t a factory where ideas are manufactured. Here, the vehicles of these ideas are assembled with verve. The room was filled to capacity by the time the readings started, and the energy in the room was palpable: everyone buzzed with excitement and love for the work these five presses do and what literature provides. To experience it in one night seemed like a wet dream.

1. Ross Benjamin (translator of Hyperion and Job) reads from his favorite work of German Literature, Job. 2. Lonely Christopher (The Mechanics of Homosexual Intercourse and a founding editor of The Corresponding Society) and dead horses.

I can’t describe the event as anything but sexual: each of the five authors brought work specific to the aesthetic of their press, and when heard in succession it was like the sex dream you tell your therapist only. Ross Benjamin (who was just awarded a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts), read for Archipelago Books from his translation of Joseph Roth’s Job, the story of Mendel Singer, a poor and pious children’s Torah teacher whose faith is constantly tested. Benjamin’s reading was tinged with the bittersweet and sad, which nicely prefaced One Story’s Rachel Cantor, who read from a work in progress about very mature 10-year-olds being spies. Next was Lonely Christopher for Akashic Books, who read a “funny little story about [his] life that really happened” that revolved around a dead horse. Lonely Christopher made good use of the microphone — for the father’s dialogue, LC would nearly kiss the mic and say “Don’t,” which reverberated through the room like the Wizard of Oz, except more doom.

After a short break which consisted of lively mingling, overdosing on baby carrots and complimentary Brooklyn Lager, John Surowiecki read from “Mr. Z., Mrs. Z., J.Z., S.Z.” (Ugly Duckling Presse), his labyrinthine short story-in-poem which took the audience through a maze and the 18th hole of mini golf, complete with ominous clown. Irina Reyn read from a work-in-progress titled “What Happened to Anna K.” for Habitus: A Diaspora Journal, whose titular character’s first visit to NYC is the experience of a foreign, excitingly new landscape. The excerpt is forthcoming in the next issue of Habitus.

1. Readers Rachel Cantor (“Picnic After the Flood” in One Story), Irina Reyn (Habitus) and Lizzie Skurnick (who blogs at The Old Hag). Rachel’s Google+ experience includes but is not limited to friend requests from software developers in India. 2. Anna Zalokostas, Development Assistant at Litmus Press and Liana Katz, co-founder of Damask Press, pretending I’m not holding a camera. They’re good at that.

Afterwards, authors, editors and audience drank the last of the booze and listened to some excellent dub and reggae in the low light and bought books just outside the room. Independent Press Night was fucking awesome. It reflected the vibrant vitality of the independent literary scene, especially here in Brooklyn, and how important and essential independent presses are for not only emerging authors, but established writers too. Give presses and journals your money: they do excellent work for the reading hungry.

— Ryan Chang is a writer and student living in Brooklyn. His work has previously appeared in Thought Catalog. You can find him on Twitter here.

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