From 20 feet away, the new anthology of The Minus Times magazines looks like a folded grocery bag, an abandoned personal journal, or even a small UPS box. With its cardboard-colored cover and faded black lettering, "The Minus Times Collected: Twenty Years/Thirty Issues (1992-2012)" looks like anything but a mass-produced book that includes original fiction from Sam Lipsyte and Patrick deWitt, interviews with Dan Clowes and Stephen Colbert, and illustrations from Dave Eggers.
Yet "The Minus Times Collected" is that and more — a multifarious and eccentric collection of fiction, interviews, illustrations, collages of newspaper clippings and general miscellany.
The first 20 issues of the publication, founded in 1992, were single broadsheets written, produced and distributed entirely by Hunter Kennedy, a writer, editor and residential designer at his own firm in Charleston, S.C. In 1996, Chicago-based publisher Drag City funded the transformation of Kennedy's glorified newsletter into a full-fledged magazine.
The magazine is celebrating 20 years of publication with this assemblage of issues, including the first 20 broadsheets. Kennedy discussed the magazine's evolution in a phone interview. Here is an edited transcript.
Where did you get the idea for this project?
I was really interested in the epistolary tradition. I had a good friend, David Berman, who had done a similar project called "Civil Jar" where he was sending out a single sheet of paper, what was essentially a newsletter. I thought that was an interesting way to let others know what he was doing, so I started The Minus Times in part to let others know that I was writing. This was in 1992, so that was well before the Internet, and the tradition of letter writing was still very much alive and well. I really enjoyed getting letters from others, but you had to prime the pump (to get letters), so this was a good project for that.
Where do you find inspiration for the magazine?
The magazine was really inspired by the Dadaists' projects and the early American almanacs like "Poor Richard's Almanack" by Benjamin Franklin, which kind of included everything but the kitchen sink between its covers. When Drag City started distributing the magazine, I was convinced that there were original stories that may not be told in the traditional venues for "good writing" and that there were talented writers outside of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago who weren't able to crack through the glass ceiling into the New Yorker or the Paris Review. (The Minus Times was the first magazine to publish fiction by Patrick deWitt and poetry by Jeffrey Rotter.)
How did Drag City get involved?
I had been sending Drag City the one-page version, and my friend David Berman of the Silver Jews was a Drag City recording artist. Drag City provided an opportunity to get this magazine into stores that I couldn't because they had such great relationships with independent record stores all across the country. They were also paying for the publication costs upfront. They were essentially putting money at risk to see if this experiment would work. At that time, record stores were beginning to carry more mixed media like books. We've sold many more magazines in record stores than in bookstores because the people who listen to the type of music that Drag City puts out are interested in reading material from the contributors who are in this publication.
Every story in this book is in typewriter print. Do you retype submissions?
Yes, I retype everything on my typewriter. I typed and laid out all 434 pages of this book by hand.
On the cover, you list a lot of famous contributors. How did you get Stephen Colbert to participate?
I have had good luck acquiring contributions and interviews from folks who have gone on to bigger and better things. Stephen Colbert is a case in point. I needed an interview from someone who might register on the American cultural radar and had run into several dead ends. Then, while out at a Charleston bar, I happened to run into a friend of mine and his stepsister, who was in town from Los Angeles. It turned out she used to baby-sit for this reporter on "The Daily Show" named Stephen Colbert. I explained my situation and asked for an introduction, without having any idea he would be launching his own show within the next year.
One of the best features in The Minus Times is the centerpiece interview in every issue. So now it's your turn to answer those same questions.
A family trip that made an early impression: Arizona, 1982. We showed up at the Hilton in Phoenix for the AIA (American Institute of Architects) Convention and were told they'd lost our reservations. My little brother and I got our own room on the 16th floor overlooking the turquoise kidney pool on the fifth-floor roof deck. One night, I woke up next to an ice maker on the fifth floor. I was only wearing Adidas shorts. I had been sleepwalking again, but this time I'd tried to go swimming.
An awkward moment with a stranger: An acquaintance in Austin, Texas, invited me to his birthday party. We weren't good friends, but I decided to go. It was at his girlfriend's apartment, and he was all excited, putting together the finishing touches when I showed up. "Have a beer! Relax!" I tried, but the only other person at the party was the girlfriend's roommate, who was looking squeamish. Thirty minutes ticked by, then an hour. Nobody else showed up for the party, not even the girlfriend. I was trapped. "You can't leave! Please don't leave! We're having fun, right?" The girlfriend finally answered her phone, and they got in a shouting match. When he started crying in the bathroom, I took my beer and ran.
A top-40 confession: The soundtracks of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
Courtney Crowder covers the Chicago literary scene for Printers Row Journal.
"The Minus Times Collected"
Edited by Hunter Kennedy, featherproof books and Drag City, 434 pages, $16.95