Bringing genre-defying works to the reading public
In 2017, Erin Segal and Julie Cho met in the California desert for a weekend getaway. Segal, a DC-based social worker, had just completed a storytelling group with senior citizens raised in El Salvador. She thought Cho, an L.A.-based graphic designer, might be able to help her figure out a way to commemorate the experience.
“I felt inspired to make something tangible that expressed the seniors’ amazing stories and our group process, and I thought Julie might be interested in the project,” Segal said.
“As we brainstormed possibilities, Julie told me about the world of chapbooks, artist’s books, and utopian artistic publishing practices. It soon occurred to both of us that we could start our own cross-disciplinary publishing practice!”
Thick Press was created from these initial conversations. The press’ first book, Recuerdos de Nuestro Pasado, was written as a collaboration between Segal and the four seniors in her workshop: Angela Celaya, Sergio Guzmán, Jose Lovos, and Gloria Revelos. Recuerdos is a “multi-vocal memoir about growing up in El Salvador and growing old in Washington, DC.”
The four narratives, expressed in a lyrical prose poetry, tell a powerful story of the history of two countries. The design of the book was handled with as much care as the authors’ words. The end product reflects the publishers’ mission to combine literature and design.
“We are interested in collaborative, emergent practice,” Segal said. “We work with others on a project from start to finish, beginning the design process early so that it will inform the content.”
Thick Press does not take submissions. Instead, Segal and Cho initiate projects with people they know or are introduced to who share their interest in care, community, and justice. The name of the press derives from the founders’ desire that their books “emerge from the thick of the human experience.”
Their forthcoming book, selfcarefully, written by Gracy Obuchowicz, a self-care coach, and designed and illustrated by Maria Habib, is billed as a “self-helpish book.” It contains 30 vignettes that look at self-care from various unique angles and entry points. The book cycles through external factors like racism and consumerism to internal considerations such as perfectionism and setting boundaries.
A third book, slated for 2020, centers on interviews with nursing-home staff, conducted by writer/artist Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, that are interspersed with passages about the author’s life as she navigated her 20s. As with all of Thick Press’ work, it blurs the lines between genres and mediums.
“We’re interested in making unusual books about care work, community-building, and justice-seeking,” Segal said.
“We also have a project called book, emerging, whose purpose is to give form to emerging work. Our books range from photocopied zine-like pamphlets to a clothbound book printed in Iceland. We find ourselves at the crossroad of independent artist publishing and literary nonfiction, but we also try to appeal to folks who aren’t necessarily interested in the fine arts or literary arts.”
Cho and Segal run the press while also raising kids and working their regular jobs. They believe that each project should be given as much flexibility and time as it needs to come to fruition. It is a situation that seems complicated but truly embodies the mission of the press.
“We somehow have managed to create a substantial body of work that makes us proud,” Segal said. “And the most rewarding part of the experience is making beautiful physical objects together and with others.”
Michael Landweber is the author of the novels We and Thursday, 1:17 p.m. His short stories have appeared in a variety of places, including Gargoyle, Fourteen Hills, Fugue, American Literary Review, and Pank. He is an associate editor at the Potomac Review.