Interview with Lisa Pearson: Siglio Press

'The Nancy Book' and a limited edition Artist Edition | Siglio Facebook

Young Voices is a series of interviews conducted by Occidental College students, assisted by the Keck Grant, for Professor Jan Lin's Urban Sociology course. Each interview highlights an individual who has made an impact in their communities.

Lisa Pearson is the founder and publisher of Siglio Press, which operates out of her garage in Eagle Rock.

For those who are unfamiliar with Siglio, could you briefly describe the overall identity of the press?

Siglio publishes books that live at the intersection of art and literature. What that means is that these are works by artists and writers that do not fit categories well. They are sort of literary-visual hybrids, and mostly use the book as an object, not just as a container or vehicle for content.

Who are your inspirations and what are some influences on your work here at Siglio?

Well, there's a few. Certainly the independent press movement over the entirety of the 20th century is a huge influence. So everything from Surrealist and Dada publications in Europe, to the Fluxus press Something Else, to independent presses in the seventies and eighties in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. But I'm also very influenced by individual writers and artists whose work I've always felt has never gotten its full due, because the work has been forced into categories that don't get the widest reach or audience.

How did you formulate the image/text focus for Siglio when first beginning your independent path in the publishing industry?

Basically the problem with corporate publishing is that everything has to fit very traditional categories and genres. That means that work that is visionary in some way, and really disrupts or departs from those kinds of paradigms, is often ignored, rendered invisible, or gets one audience but not another. I'm really committed to that kind of work because, as someone who is a writer but has also been tremendously influenced by the visual arts, I've always felt that those works and those artists are just not well known enough. They're not appreciated enough, and they could be more loved and embraced by a much wider community. Personally, I really love these hybrid works. I think they expand language and narrative structure in really interesting ways. I think that the ways in which language augments the visual does something really interesting. And I just really care about that kind of innovation.

Have your goals for the press changed or developed since you started out?

From the beginning I've really always wanted to publish a very eclectic set of titles, so that as the books accumulate, and there's shelf after shelf, all of these books fit in, but also don't. They also spill over, so that there are interesting, unexpected conversations between the books. As I've done the press, it's always been changing, because every book adds to the press as a whole in a really different way. And I never know what that next book is until I find it. So I'm not looking for another work of fiction that does A, B, and C. I don't know whether there's going to be another work of fiction or whether there's going to be an experimental memoir. I've never published a memoir before. That's sort of the beauty of it. It is constantly in flux. Which is, again, contrary to what publishing is about. Publishing likes linear trajectories, that one can project the future.

And you purposely select different types of books to avoid repeating yourself.

Yeah, I do not want to repeat myself, absolutely.

Who are some primary people or organizations that you regularly collaborate with at Siglio?

On the production end, I'm always collaborating with people who are working to make the books as beautiful as possible. And that often varies from book to book. More than anything, participating in the community of independent presses is really critical. There is CLMP, which is the Council of Literary Magazines and Small Presses, whose advocacy on behalf of Siglio and hundreds of other small presses is really important. I've won consultancy grants with them so that people could help me learn how to do things I didn't know how to do before.

We recently collaborated with Ugly Duckling Presse, which is this amazing poetry press in Brooklyn that I admire immensely, on an event in Chicago that went off beautifully. But it wasn't an event that they would've thought to have done on their own, and it wasn't an event that I could've pulled off on my own. So it was sort of a perfect match of two of their authors and two of mine, and we found this other space that was willing to host it. And people loved it.

'Tantra' | Siglio FacebookSo to what degree are social media such as blogging, Facebook, or even the official Siglio website important to your outreach to potential readers and buyers?

Well, the website is really important because I have to sell a certain percentage of every print run through the website. Firstly, because that keeps the enthusiasm of my core supporters of readership really active, and secondly, because the net is higher, which then helps keep the press afloat. But it is not just an E-commerce site. What's really important about the website, too, is that it is a hub of information, where people, even if they're not going to buy anything, can find something interesting to read, something to look at, something that leads them in a new direction. And the blog feeds into that, too. So the blog is an extension of the publishing mission, and often contains exclusive material, unpublished material, material that may augment one's reading of a Siglio book, by relating tangentially. We currently have these interviews with booksellers, which is also about participating in the independent press community.

The other part of the community that I didn't mention earlier is independent booksellers. They're a huge, essential part of being able to do what I do. They are people who connect with readers in really direct ways. And the booksellers that do it best are the ones that really curate their stores, who are thinking that they are a way to find books for people that people might not otherwise find on their own. You can always find the next big novel that everybody's writing about, but are you going find the gem that only a couple people so far have talked about? That's what independent bookstores are really good for. So my blog is really critical for getting people to find us through other channels. And Facebook is all about promotion. It's about letting people know when there are reviews, when there are events, when there is a new blog entry. I don't use Facebook probably as well as I could on that front, but we'll work on that in the future.

Who does Siglio hope to influence most with its unique books?

To answer the first question: every Siglio book is different, so every audience is different. Sometimes I can predict who those people are, and sometimes I have no idea. So "Tantra Song," for example, which is a collection of tantric paintings, you know, has an audience that is everybody from designers and artists, to people who are interested in spirituality and tantrics specifically, to people who are just in awe of these really gorgeous things, who want to step outside of their daily life to just appreciate something beautiful. I mean, who are those people? Those are all kinds of people. I don't know how to break that down into a demographic. That could be anybody.

On the other hand, there are other books that are much more clearly specific. The first book I published was "The Nancy Book" by Joe Brainard. There is a poetry community that cares a lot about Joe Brainard's work, as he's a New York School poet and artist. There is the gay community who cares a lot about his work. There are the avant-garde comic people who are way into subversions of comic books. There are the people who love pop art. The list goes on.

Do you feel that Siglio has a significant impact specifically on the Eagle Rock community's identity?

Now, I sit in my garage twelve hours a day, and I tell everybody when they ask, "I'm in Eagle Rock." So I know that that sort of filters through, but I don't really participate in Eagle Rock, per say. Not that I wouldn't want to, I just haven't had time to be out in the immediate world. But I do think that on a national basis, people know that Siglio is in Eagle Rock. So hopefully that has some kind of a positive impact.

So what are your impressions of the local cultural scene here in Eagle Rock?

There is a feeling that there are a lot of artists who live here. But I guess what I really love about Eagle Rock is that it feels like there is what has always been, and there is what possibly could be. And that's a really interesting confluence of things. It does not feel like the kind of neighborhood that is going to turn into Silver Lake. It feels like it's the kind of neighborhood that is always going to have that friction, because it won't ever become this other thing.

I don't think it's a hot bed of the LA art scene, but there are people here doing things, making things, living their lives as artists and writers, or interacting with artists and writers, and that's really great.

bookofruth.jpgThough Siglio is run from your home office, and thus keeps you away from the dynamics other businesses must regularly undergo, do you perceive that the press is affected by racial and/or ethnic transition in the Eagle Rock neighborhood?

No. I know I'm personally contributing to the gentrification. I'm white, I'm 44 years old, my husband is a college professor. There is an economic level and a race identification there that is clearly contributing to the gentrification. However, that said, I look around me and I see a lot of families raising their children here who are all ethnicities. And it seems like it is a place where it doesn't feel like it is going to do what Echo Park is on the verge of doing or what Silver Lake has long done. And that's really why I like it.

My next door neighbors are immigrants from the Philippines, but their kids were born and raised here, totally American. The house on the other side of me was the first house in the neighborhood, and was built by this woman who died at the age of 93. She was white and her daughters still own the house and rent it out now. You have these multi-generations that are either already in play or are about to come into play, which is really lovely. But Siglio itself has nothing to do with any of that.

How spatially mobile is a business like Siglio? Would there be the benefits or repercussions of moving the Siglio office from Eagle Rock, or Los Angeles in general?

I'm pretty mobile. Everything is done on my computer. I have lots of books and files and things that I need but I could essentially do this anywhere. But I love doing it here. And I love the cache of doing something not only in Los Angeles, which is seen as the outer reaches of publishing -- I mean you are really an outlier if you are publishing in Los Angeles, according to the New York publishing world -- but I love that I'm even more of an outlier by being Eagle Rock, which is not Silver Lake, not Culver City, not a place readily identifiable with cultural production.

So it's as if you like the identity of being outside of a label, being in both Eagle Rock and Los Angeles.

Yeah, that's exactly it.

How do you view your social role as a younger adult in the business of publishing? Or, how might Siglio attempt to influence a younger audience?

Well, I really hope younger people love my books. One, because the book has to do more now that it is competing with E-books and digital content, there is a sense that people must really understand what a book can do. So I think the time is ripe for a real, conscious appreciation for all the things a book can do, and is now being called upon to do. I think the other part of it is that I'm an idealist. I really believe that particularly young people want to be moved, they want to be inspired, they want to be challenged to see the world in different ways, they want to understand and learn about things they don't know and don't understand. And my books do not reinforce widely held views. They do not imitate experiences that one has already had. So hopefully that makes a contribution.

Are there any more not-so-secret plans for the future of Siglio Press (or yourself, personally) that you would like to share?

Well, we've got the book that is coming out now, "Between Page and Screen," which is this artist/E-book hybrid which is all about the experience of reading. And then in the fall is Sophie Call's The Address Book which is a really big coup that a little press like me gets to publish an artist like Sophie Call, who is my hero. And then there is "Jess," which I think is a pretty extraordinary book because this is an artist who people love but never really get to see the work and spend time with it to really engage in. And there are some other things that I can't say yet but are quite big on the horizon.

This interview was conducted in May 2012.


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