APOLOGIA: A "critical" essay deliberately kept completely positive, often to convince others to believe the same way the author does about a subject
Why I Signed 'Famous Drownings in Literary History' -- An Apologia
Like any other small press, CCLaP gets its share of cold submissions; and like any other small press, the majority of them are mediocre to okay, a few are outright terrible, and a tiny little sliver are good enough to sign and publish. We're going to have a lot more of them in 2013, as a recent feature in Poets & Writers magazine has significantly increased our national awareness among unsigned writers, and soon our catalog will not just be dominated by Chicago authors but also ones from New York, California, Florida, Pennsylvania, and various other places; but the first cold submission we ever accepted and published was Kevin Haworth's Famous Drownings in Literary History this past October, which came to us by way of Athens, Ohio, because of Kevin's friend David Ebenbach reportedly having a good experience with us in 2011, when publishing a short story in our group book Amsterdamned If You Do: An Anthology About Setting. And it's not just the first cold submission we ever published, but kind of a miracle that a manuscript of this quality was made available to us in the first place; because to be frank, this college professor's collection of essays about being liberal and creative yet traditionally Jewish in the 21st century is something that could've very easily gotten published through any number of academic presses much more prestigious than us, and in fact it's my understanding that Kevin is the subject of some discussion among his academic peers about his decision to go with a "hipster" commercial outfit rather than the traditional academic-press route. (Or at least, I have to imagine that he's the only person in his circle to have a book published with a comics-style illustration on the cover.)
And that's because Kevin's writing is as impeccable as you would expect from a full-time writing academe and a former winner of the Samuel Goldberg Award; analytical yet poetic, with the dry humor of a Sarah Vowell NPR piece but the clipped serious style of Denis Johnson, he weaves together journalistic research and the creatively personal into a kind of addictive hybrid of essay, not traditionally scholarly and not exactly Chuck Klosterman but an engaging, thought-provoking blend of those extremes. And hey, what better subject to tackle these days than the struggle to reconcile a traditional faith with the kind of liberal, creative lifestyle that puts one in touch with a lot of bitter atheists, all while raising a young family as well; especially since it seems that conservatives have claimed a kind of monopoly in the last thirty years on faith and religious belief, and have committed a string of atrocities around the world using logic that a lot of religiously faithful don't believe in at all. Kevin does this in a way that pulls you into the book more and more as you continue, a rare and wonderful thing among a collection of unthemed short pieces like this, and picks subjects that have a strong natural interest of their own: circumcising his son, that son then developing an obsession at the age of five with wearing frilly girls' dresses, the rituals that tie in so closely with Jewish holidays, Israel and Zionism, the black Jews of the African Diaspora, the Catskills in the 1970s, and on and on and on, a cornucopia of funny and serious subjects that you don't have to be Jewish to appreciate, but that helps explain contemporary Jewishness in a way a hundred Wikipedia pages could not.
I knew this was a special manuscript the moment I saw it, and thankfully the external world has backed me up since: it was the winner of a grant from the Ohio Arts Council, has received large write-ups in the Chicago Tribune, NYU's The Revealer and Ohio University's Perspectives, and is currently in the running for the prestigious Grub Street Prize (keep your fingers crossed), along with a multitude of praise all over the blogosphere. It was a privilege to put it out, precisely because I knew it was this good, but also because I like having a chance to support manuscripts like these that can be sometimes tough to land at a commercial place: it's not quite academic enough for a lot of academic presses, not quite pop enough for pop presses, something for a thinking person who also wants to be entertained, and I like to think that CCLaP is particularly good at putting out these kinds of stories, the kind that sit on the borders of so many traditional genres and styles. We'll be sending Kevin out this spring on a virtual book tour, to about twenty other litblogs and the like, so just drop me a line and let me know if you'd like to take part; but in the meantime, I hope you'll get a chance to stop by the book's online headquarters if you never have, to either download a free electronic version or order a handmade paper edition.