I heart small presses. Without the agenda implicit in a mainstream publisher’s decision-making process, a small press can put out something risky, something original and challenging. A small press can fill in the holes left by the big publishing houses whose larger teams and budgets can lead to what is essentially a watered-down product. They can cater to a smaller audience. They have the freedom to be truly edgy.
Indie publishers are where some of the century’s most exciting writing is happening, and yet these are publishers who often struggle with visibility. One of our goals at Book Punks is to support independent publishing in any way we can and to help magnify the voices that these passionate, hard-working folks are putting out into the world. To that end we will be featuring an indie publisher here six times a year and reviewing as many of their books as we can fit into our swollen reading schedules. Today I’m happy to introduce Aqueduct Press. Cue the confetti because these folks are awesome.
Evidence of the lack of visibility among indie publishers: Until I decided to write this series, I had never heard of Aqueduct. Not one single peep. A few minutes of googling though and my jaw was on the floor. THERE IS A PUBLISHER DEVOTED TO FEMINIST SCIENCE FICTION?!?!?! Well holy fucking shit. I am a feminist, and I love science fiction. The combination of the two almost always—writing style willing, of course—leads to books I enjoy. While the Aqueduct catalogue contains a few of the bigger names in feminist science fiction—Ursula Le Guin, Gwenyth Jones, Tanith Lee, and Lisa Tuttle, for example, and feel free to translate “bigger” as “names I had heard of and possibly read”—it also contains many more names that were new to me. Their catalogue is a minefield of Nikki’s New Potential Favorite Novels.
Sexism in science fiction has become a hot topic in the last few years, with more and more voices speaking up—loudly—to call out misogyny in sci fi, to call for gender parity among characters and writers, to open up the door for a feminist perspective throughout the genre. Just a quick glance at their catalogue will tell you that Aqueduct are doing important work in this direction: publishing and promoting feminist voices, voices that are being silenced in some arenas, voices that sometimes aren’t even let through the door. I got in touch with L. Timmel Duchamp, one of the founders of the Seattle-based press to ask her how it all started and who was involved. I had been imagining a group of friends sitting around the kitchen table, joking (sort of) about starting a feminist science fiction press. It turns out that wasn’t too far from the truth.
“Kath Wilham, Tom Duchamp, and I are the core of Aqueduct is. Tom is my life partner, and Kath has been our close friend for all the time Tom and I have been together. For years the three of us spun a recurring fantasy about starting a press together. But it remained a distant fantasy until the early aughts, when several things began coming together. The development of the Internet, of course, was of critical importance; financial stability, which resulted from Tom’s receiving substantial salary increases from the university that employs him, gave us the needed capital; Kath’s gradual acquisition of skills it would be very expensive to outsource—typesetting, copyediting, graphic arts production; and finally, my own understanding of and networking in the larger field of sf as well as in the particular corner Aqueduct is sited, feminist sf. And so, during one of our sessions grousing about what was happening in US publishing, it dawned on us that we could actually do it.
“Gavin Grant’s inspiring WisCon sessions talking about the basics of small-press publishing and the example of his and Kelly Link’s Small Beer Press made it seem actually do-able. Once we set things in motion, we went to Gavin for help in finding a fulfillment service to handle our books, and other highly specific information. Later, Jacon Weisman, of Tachyon Publications, also gave us advice. Eileen Gunn, who had a career in advertising, taught me a great deal about promotion and publicity. Without question, the entire undertaking would have been a lot scarier without Eileen, Gavin, and Jacob’s generous counsel, and would have resulted in my having to continually reinvent the wheel of independent press publishing.
“Lynne Jensen Lampe, who has designed many of our covers, has, with Kath, created Aqueduct’s look. She has been such an enthusiastic supporter of Aqueduct throughout that she’s given us a substantial discount on the work she’s put in for us. She was also in on the initial brainstorming session that resulted in our Conversation Pieces series.
“We’ve also benefited from occasional volunteer work, particularly with proofreading and writing back-cover copy. In short, although I’m the public face of Aqueduct Press, it’s very much a cooperative venture.”
Despite the frequency of harassment on the internet of women and particularly of feminists, Aqueduct has had to deal with surprisingly little in the way of hate mail. (What’s your secret, guys?) Outside of the occasional troll on the blog, what they do get a lot of is support from people who admire what they are doing. “Probably the highest compliment,” L. Timmel Duchamp told me, “is the number of fine writers who take pride in being published by us.”
I tried to pry a few favorite books out of Timmel Duchamp, but as with any parent would there was no finding out which “child” she loves the most. On the subject of the publishing house’s success, however, she had this to say:
“‘Successes’ is a difficult word to nail down, since it can mean such different things to different people, and different things in different contexts. One sense in which I think of success requires taking our list as a whole, rather than considering individual volumes in isolation. I’ve often been told that Aqueduct Press has made a difference to the sf/f field as a whole, and in particular to feminist writers. Aqueduct has insisted that the work of feminist writers be taken seriously, as a continuing important presence in the field. Certainly I take pride in having brought brilliant work into print that would otherwise have languished in a drawer—novels such as Gwyneth Jones’s Life, Andrea Hairston’s Mindscape and Redwood and Wildfire, Vandana Singh’s Distances, to name four works that have been critically acclaimed and won awards. More than one editor at the major trade publishers has told me that the field needs small presses like Aqueduct, able to publish the books the field needs but that the large publishers don’t see as commercially viable. I do have favorites, but since singling out two or three or even four of them for special notice could conceivably hurt the feelings of authors whose work I also respect and even love, I’d rather not name them.”
This year Aqueduct is turning 10 (happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you…), and to celebrate they hosted a party at this year’s WisCon—a feminist science fiction convention held in Madison, Wisconsin from May 23 to May 26th. Promotions and giveaways got the party started, as well as the release of the Aqueduct Gazette, distributed for free or available for download online. They also debuted three new titles at WisCon this weekend: Andrea Hairston’s Lonely Stardust, The WisCon Chronicles, Vol. 8: Re-Generating WisCon edited by Rebecca Holden, and Hiromi Goto and N.K. Jemisin’s Systems Fail. Happy Birthday Aqueduct. We’re glad to have you in the world.
Later this week we’ll be publishing two reviews of Aqueduct books: Necessary Ill by Deb Taber and In the House of the Seven Librarians by Ellen Klages (available in the Firebirds Rising anthology), hopefully just the first of many Aqueduct titles we will have the chance to discuss here.
Ambling Along the Aqueduct (Aqueduct blog)
The Cascadia Subduction Zone (A literary quarterly)