Ink Press Productions’ Tracy Dimond and Amanda McCormick interviewed by Michael Tager

Beyond a handshake or two, the first time I met Tracy Dimond and Amanda McCormick was at the launch of their independent literary press, Ink Press Productions, years ago at the Sidebar. I didn’t know what to expect; after all, I just went along because I was new to the writing scene and looking to see what was out there. And Ink Press blew me away with their hand-made aesthetic, their deep artistic ambitions and talent, and their poetry, both in the spoken word and in the tactile.

I’ve been keeping up with their publications ever since, learning more about their idiosyncrasies and how they tick, and they graciously accepted my request for an interview.

MT: What makes Ink Press Productions different?

AMANDA: What sets us apart is that we are a high speed neon unicorn machine decidedly not over-concentrated on wheels or feathers.

TRACY: We’ve been called a micro press, a vanity press (we have disdain for that term!), a small press—independent presses are hard to define. We’re interested in the physical manifestation of the written word which leads us down a different creative path for each project.

We publish books, put together events, host workshops—anything we deem an interesting pursuit. Our mission is intentionally vague. Think of us as two people to approach with an idea.

AMANDA: [Tracy and I] came together on the excitement of the commonality of being productive and seeking art in our everyday lives. Art—Literature—Aesthetic—Purpose—Performance—Ink Press Productions. (IPP) is a way to contemplate these concepts.

TRACY: We both had ink in the names of our respective ventures, and bonded over wanting to publish [others]. Amanda founded a literary journal, espresso ink while in Florida. I was hosting Gin & Ink with Cari Peri in Baltimore. Hence, Ink Press Productions as the name for the collaboration and publications.

I remember watching the light coming through the windows, surrounded by passionate people, and thinking, why the fuck not when the idea of collaboration came up. We decided to work together without having a set plan.

Before meeting Amanda, it never crossed my mind to follow a nontraditional path. The environment, in school and in the Baltimore reading circuit (Artichoke Haircut at Dionysus was the first series I frequented), changed something for me. Other than submitting poems, my publishing experience was limited to an internship with the science and medicine acquisitions editor at Rutgers University Press.

We’re both inspired by publishers around us, plus female writers that set the precedent. Looking at the history of publishing, women like Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein had multiple avenues of publication and brought writers together, in addition to their genre-bending writing.

I’m constantly learning something new about the publishing industry—for example, at the 2016 Mencken Memorial Lecture, hosted by the Enoch Pratt Free Library, I learned about Blanche Knopf’s role in early 20th century literature. Publishing is relatively new. There are no rules, which I started to embrace when collaborating with Amanda.

AMANDA: My interest in publishing and the production of books began as early as grade school where I would take little things I found and make them into books, believing that the matter of the world needs a story, a representational language to embody it. I have also always been a ravenous reader so books were my friends. Then, when I was a teenager I got really into the idea of the newspaper and periodical publications. This interest grew with the discovery of DIY art and aesthetic and it was fueled by my stubborn determination to well, do it myself. I was hanging around with writers and I wanted to be a philosopher and poet so I started putting out zines. Soon enough it became my identity and moving to Baltimore encouraged me.

I am still so inspired by the inspired here in Baltimore, the city that calls for MORE, that is eager and able to enhance itself in pockets of people willing to investigate and explore.

MT: I thought I knew what a book was, but now I’m not so sure. Can you tell me?

TRACY: You know it when you see it!

AMANDA: I propose the same question to my students. I have taken the risk to pin this idea down a bit but really the question needs to remain unanswered. It’s about the process—looking to find the answer but always having more questions.

All books have their main components—a cover, pages, language (which exists in words but also everything), binding, a creator and receiver. More than that, it has rhythm, pacing. A book is sculptural and profound by way of its very composition. Our books are no different, in fact, they pander the original book. I look at them now and I am not sure how they look so unified yet individually unique. It must be because of me and all the collaboration boiling down our hearts?

MT: How does IPP collaborate?

TRACY: IPP works closely with authors we publish. I think this is a common practice at small presses. If someone has a creative idea and we have space in our publishing schedule, we want to work with them. We also collaborate closely on the aesthetic. We want it to represent us, but we also want the author to feel like it is a unique object that physically represents their work.

AMANDA: [Working with the authors] is the aspect of the process I think we are still trying to navigate. We have been so lucky to work with amazingly talented and diverse individuals and each experience is refreshing and unique. We want to be as invested in the work of art—the book and the surrounding elements—as the writer.

Of course, given that we are writers, we understand what it means to put work into a publisher’s hand and in turn, have a physical book with composition entwined. It’s a vulnerability. And I like to think that it’s reassuring that we too are making ourselves vulnerable through the process.

We begin the process with an open exchange of ideas. We want to know how the manuscript makes the author feel, how they have thought about it embodied in physical, conceptual, and interpersonal ways. We try to create a safe space for openness. When you’re collaborating, sometimes people disagree but it is more important that everyone have voice than to be worried about [disagreement].

I think about it as a relationship: honesty and openness is key. And then we just keep chipping at it until we find the core and everyone is as satisfied as humanly able.

Once that happens, we get to work. I begin making mockups of the physical book and Tracy often gets to work on the interior design. After that we complicate what we’ve done. We want let the thing come out of itself. All the while, we are also thinking about working with other artists for cover art.

The quiet magic happens that can’t be described, at the last minute but also in advance. Really I think, part of it is trying to figure it out…

TRACY: Amanda hit it. It’s finding out someone has a project, meeting and deciding if we’re going to be able to work together within a time frame, and working independently while checking in with each other. We start working with authors that have manuscripts in all different stages. The process is flexible.

The IPP timeline isn’t looking to hit a schedule like a perfect-bound book. If someone is looking for that, we know it’s not going to be a good fit.

MT: Fitting together is important in any partnership. How does the collaboration between you and Tracy work? What about duty split?

AMANDA: I view collaboration as more of an organic, untraceable, shared experience. It’s a relationship really, shared with a person or a group of people sure, but also a relationship with material or circumstance, concept or value. It’s an extra headspace you can’t have independently of the collaboration.

If we were employees, I’d be full-time, Tracy would be part-time. But that is only because I have marinated on the dream of having an accessible and opportunistic arts organization for more than a decade now.

I do a lot of the big ideas and creative directing but I am only able to do that under the headspace that I have her as a collaborator and friend. I have tried to do it alone and I got so sad. What’s the point, really, if there is only you on a ship?

TRACY: Generally, I manage the social media presence and interior design of publications. Amanda updates the website and envisions the physical book design and construction. We share ideas all the time, but I could never materialize what she does with physical books, from the shape and feel of the book to the binding.

AMANDA: Tracy’s way and aesthetic is really inspiring. She plays the role that keeps things grounded enough to translate. I would just do weird shit all day and wonder why no one gets it. She has also been essential in terms of outreach, getting our name out there and on the internet, granting us a place in the writing community beyond Baltimore.

What I’m saying is: we make a great team. I love you, Tracy!

TRACY: I’m the how does this happen in practice voice and Amanda is the I have a big idea that needs to be implemented voice. I think it’s a balance that never gets boring.

MT: Keeping away from boredom and sadness is key. Are there current projects motivating you?

TRACY: We’re publishing Heather Rounds’ book, She Named Him Michael (2017), an eerie exploration of the true short and strange life of America’s only living headless chicken, Miracle Mike (1945-1947). I’m constantly saying the aesthetic feels like American Horror Story, but well-written. Heather is magnificent at using words to build an energy, to say much more than the language on the page.

AMANDA: We are also working on a book project with Tyler Mendelsohn which was chosen from an open call for ideas we made last year. This one is unique in that they didn’t have a manuscript when we started working together so we are not only involved in the process of creating the book but also einvolved in the composition of the manuscript.

Beyond that, there are a few unmentionables in the works but the world will just have to stay tuned!

MT: Are there other projects you can talk about?

AMANDA: Over the past year we have put a lot of energy into the future of IPP and have given a lot of focus toward sustainable components such as workshops and other community-engaging events. We love THE BOOK and being publishers of that medium but in the spirit of IPP, we know the identity of THE BOOK can exist in both tangible and conceptual ways and we want to embrace and enhance that in whatever ways we can concoct.

TRACY: This spring, Amanda will be hosting a workshop for teens at the Light Street Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, then she is hosting a workshop at the Baltimore Museum of Art. In July 2016, we had a phenomenal experience at the Walters Art Museum. I get emotional when I think about how interested major institutions in Baltimore are to invest in local artists. You can’t continue to be an artist without funding. Anyone that has applied for grants knows how hard it is.

AMANDA: I can hardly believe that we’ll be celebrating our 5th year anniversary this February 15. To honor that, we’re throwing a Dark Valentine open mic at The Room in Mt. Vernon where we have also established a reading series Unicorn Pizza, titled for the fantastic talent represented through many artistic combinations, and is fundamentally an effort to mingle and expand literary audiences in Baltimore as well as bring visiting talent to our city.

TRACY: IPP is about to turn 5. We’re hosting a Dark Valentine Open Mic at The Room on February 15 at 6pm. Our first event on Amanda’s roof was an open mic.

Gin & Ink is a monthly-ish poetry workshop [without] a set schedule. It moves around so people can adjust to their changing availability. Sometimes we have more than one meeting a month, sometimes we skip months. It exists as a reminder to keep writing and talking with other writers.

Unicorn Pizza is a reading series where we bring local and non-local writers/performers together. The series is held together by a theme—which is a prompt we propose to the performers about a month before the event. They can do what they want with the prompt.

I’m also working on a full-length manuscript.

MT: What are future “pipe dreams,” i.e. big plans that you can’t promise will happen, but you really want them to? What kind of sacrifice do these pipe dreams require?

TRACY: An event and creativity space would be ideal. Let’s fight for the NEH.

AMANDA: The ultimate pipe dream is to create an artist-run event space/studios/hostel where artists can have a safe place to exist [and] be valued while still having the essentials they need.

When I think about modeling the idea, I can’t help but think about hostels around the US. People are working together and living communally. There is creativity everywhere.

I have dreamed extensively about this but in some ways, it feels poisonous to go too deep in all the details. Maybe it’s because it feels super far ahead. I don’t know if it’s inappropriate to say this but we don’t have money! I hear that’s like a big thing?

TRACY: We could dream all day, but in the end, time and money are necessary. Sustaining spaces have been gifted or a result of a grant or “right place, right time” luck.

AMANDA: Right now we are in a sort of transitional period where we are gathering our resources, establishing our own individual professions, and considering the “next phase” of IPP. It seems like ages ago (but also yesterday) that we established Ink Press Productions.

We published something like 15 books in less than five years while earning MFAs and let’s face it, that’s a lot. Frankly, hand-binding a publication is kind of a pain in the ass. It’s a lot of work and it’s worth it. I love it. I want to do it forever but my practical side doubts that we can keep pumping these things out on our own time and dime forever.

Nothing is mutually exclusive. Which is part of the reason books will still be relevant as long as we can foresee. When I say we’re in a transitional phase, I mean we are trying to decide if what we’re doing is lining up with what we want to do. If we are not people, we are not anything important to Ink Press.

So, focusing on readings and workshops is a way to keep it all fresh, make some capital, and minimize overhead. We’ve wanted to do [both] from the get go but we were making books instead. I kind of want to allow myself to believe there isn’t a matter of lack—it’s only a matter of rearranging.

I think in the next year things will come into fruition. I hope they do. We have been totally committed and we still are but it’s tough always asking yourself the question how much can I afford to give, to sacrifice?

There it is, my heart, poured all over everything.

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Author Michael B. Tager is a Baltimore-based writer and editor with a reasonable wariness of bears. You can read more of his work at his website.

Tracy Dimond co-curates Ink Press Productions. A 2016 Baker Artist Award finalist, she is the author of three chapbooks: I WANT YOUR TAN (Ink Press 2015), Grind My Bones Into Glitter, Then Swim Through The Shimmer (NAP 2014), and Sorry I Wrote So Many Sad Poems Today (Ink Press 2013). She holds her MFA in Creative Writing & Publishing Arts from the University of Baltimore. She teaches composition and works in library event programming.

Amanda McCormick is a performer and writer whose work has appeared in a variety of forms & mediums over the past decade. She is the founding curator of Ink Press Productions in Baltimore where she explores the art & craft of DIY printing, publishing, and handmade books. Her latest, AMANDA, is the recipient of the 2016 Plork Award. AMANDA is a project of poetry that deals with the physical, experienced, and internalized selfhood of the artist-poet-human who navigates society and the natural world in a slant framework of love and existence.