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Chicago's Featherproof Books gets heavy with post-election activism
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Gregg Shapiro
2016-11-15

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Founded in 2005 by writers Zach Dodson and Jonathan Messinger, Chicago-based Featherproof Books is known for publishing "strange and beautiful fiction and nonfiction and post-, trans-, and inter-genre tragicomedy." This is in keeping with Dodson and Messinger's original mission to publish whatever they wanted. In 2014, Tim Kinsella ( author of Featherproof titles All Over and Over and The Karaoke Singer's Guide to Self-Defense ) took over as publisher and Jason D. Sommer was named editor-in-chief.

Under Kinsella and Sommer's guidance, Featherproof experienced its greatest success in 2015 with Jessica Hopper's The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, now it its sixth printing ( featuring Hopper's writing on queer artists including Tegan and Sara, as well as St. Vincent ). Kinsella and Sommer are making waves again, this time with a planned donation to organizations benefiting disenfranchised populations in light of the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. Windy City Times spoke with Sommer about this and more a few days after the election.

Windy City Times: The homepage of the Featherproof Books website ( Featherproof.com/ ) reads, "We are gutted and terrified by the recent revelations of just how dark, small-minded, scared, and hateful the American collective unconscious can be. But we are ready to fight the long fight ahead for the basic rights and dignities of all people.

"We are a small company and wish we could do more, but this is what we can do: From Nov. 10—17, with the discount code LOVETRUMPSHATE, our entire catalog is 20 percent off and 100 percent of all sales will go directly to Planned Parenthood, Black Lives Matter, Equality Illinois, and the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights." What was involved in the process of coming up with this discount/donation program?

Jason D. Sommer: It wasn't much of a process and I do have to give Tim [Kinsella, publisher] credit for this. He sent me an email yesterday [Nov. 10] morning, saying, "Should we do something? Give our stuff away?" I said, "Yes, we absolutely need to do that." Tim had written that message and I put it in an email, online and on social media.

WCT: How has the response been to this generous offer?

JDS: It's been really great. I can't say it's been viral, but we definitely have been getting orders from all over the country. I think that last time I checked, we've gotten 35 orders in the last 24 hours. Which is extraordinary for us; we'll maybe get one a day. It's all been really positive. Even people who aren't buying our stuff have been sending emails and contacting us via social media saying "Thanks you so much for doing this. It's wonderful. I'm going to tell everybody about this." In fact, the only complaint we got was from someone who emailed us to say that I forgot to put a link in the email for the website, [laughs] which is totally my fault. Other than that, it's been overwhelmingly positive.

WCT: Is this the first time that Featherproof Books has done something of this nature?

JDS: To my knowledge, it is. I do have to say with a caveat the Tim and I have only been running Featherproof for about two and a half years now. Before that it was Zach Dodson for 10 years and he may have very well done something like this.

WCT: Did you watch the election returns on the night of Nov. 8?

JDS: I actually stayed up to watch. I didn't go to bed until 2:30 in the morning or something like that.

WCT: Do you personally consider yourself to be an activist?

JDS: I guess in some ways, yes. I've been working for non-profits for most of my career. This probably isn't widely known, but Tim and I do Featherproof as a side project on nights and weekends. We squeeze it in in-between the jobs we do to live, to make money. I think Tim would certainly consider himself an activist. We have talked about it at Featherproof, whether we need to be more vocal as activists. I think this is probably our first step into doing that.

WCT: For the uninitiated, what can you tell me about the genesis of the name of Featherproof Books?

JDS: I think it has something to do with the inherent conflicting ideas that are involved with the name Featherproof. A feather is light and wispy. Proof is hard, like making a case with hard facts. The confluence of these two things that don't necessarily go together. I think they do. Lots of people love our name. I love our name.

WCT: You mentioned that you've been editor-in-chief at with Featherproof Books for about two and half years.

JDS: I think I started in spring of 2014. Tim had come on, taken it over from Zach, a few months before that.

WCT: What brought you to the world of publishing?

JDS: I got an MFA [in creative writing] from Eastern Washington University. I had worked for a literary magazine out there. I was their managing editor.

WCT: With whom did you study at Eastern Washington University?

JDS: Sam Ligon and Greg Spatz. Sam Ligon is actually the person responsible for getting me involved with Featherproof. He had run into Zach at a conference. Zach told him he was looking for help. I actually started out as a volunteer with Zach at Featherproof back in 2012. When Tim took it over, Zach said, "You should probably work with this guy." There was an opportunity for me to move a little higher up in the organization, like a co-owner.

WCT: LGBT organization Equality Illinois was selected by Featherproof to be one of the beneficiaries of proceeds from the LoveTrumpsHate sale. Do you know if Featherproof Books has any queer writers currently or forthcoming on its roster?

JDS: You could look at See You In The Morning by Mairead ( Case ) as something that would appeal to the community. We don't usually ask authors' sexual orientation or gender when we're looking at their manuscripts. It is entirely possible that one of our current or forthcoming authors is, I just couldn't say for sure.


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