Who better to kick off Earth Day week than Amy Guth? I only recently “met” Amy but I can already see that she is an up and coming mover and shaker in the literary world (and the green world). She is the founder of Pilcrow Lit Fest and author of Three Fallen Women (So New Publishing, 2006). She has written for The Believer, Monkeybicycle, Ninth Letter, Four Magazine, Bookslut, The Complete Meal and Outcry. Nervous Breakdown and Hungry City. She also hosts the Fixx Reading Series in Chicago where she currently resides. And Amy is obviously working very hard to be green. So is it easy being green? Read her post to find out.
Great things happen when people come together with common interests. Or, with somewhat compatible interests. Since my first novel, Three Fallen Women, came out in October of 2006, I’ve traveled a great deal to many places and met a lot of people, and it has all been wonderful.
Small press– nay, publishing in general– being what it is, most, though not all, of this traveling was done by car. My car. When I set to plot out my initial travel plans, I started thinking that maybe it was possible to keep a book tour environmentally-conscious. My initial thought was a small one, as I wondered how an author could possibly offset the environmental impact of her own book printing. I’m a little of a purist, okay, a lot, so the idea of making my book available only as an e-book wasn’t an idea I was wild about. There is something dependable and comforting about touching a book and sitting with it. I dismissed any thought of offsetting the impact of books with the hope that maybe if my novel was going to get chucked by someone, hopefully that someone at least had the heart to pitch it in the recycle bin, rather than say, the trash. I put book paper out of my mind and thought about greening up other aspects of my book travels.
I didn’t entirely succeed. I didn’t drive around the US and Canada in a hybrid, I didn’t make my book available only in electronic form. But, I did what I could. Rather than living on truck stop fried whatever or fast food of tons of over-packaged, over-processed foods, I brought healthy food with me on each trip and bought locally as I traveled near farmer’s markets and the like. Granted, I’m a vegetarian, so this was partially out of necessity– hello, scrounging for something healthy and vegetarian while driving past signs for the Trigg County Kentucky Ham Festival is, well, it’s worrisome to say the least. I found corn on the cob at a snack stand off the highway, but even that was fried in chicken something, and, hi, woman cannot live on corn alone, much less be anywhere near her best.
Later in my travels, maybe a year after Three Fallen Women was out, I made a donation using Driving Green, an organization that helps calculate carbon emissions from cars, planes and the carbon footprint social events. I braced myself to feel like a jerk as my information was calculated, but it was affordable, really. Easily an eighth of what I thought it would be. I was happy to offset my travel, but, still, wondered often about how to offset book printing.
In my traveling around, I went to Atlanta and enjoyed speaking on panels, meeting, talking and brainstorming with writers and publishers at the Decatur Book Festival. Then, I went to Omaha (two years in a row) and enjoyed speaking on panels, meeting, talking and brainstorming with writers and publishers at the (Downtown) Omaha Lit Fest. Then, I went to New Orleans, and did the same at the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival.
I have a long-standing love for the city of New Orleans (my mother is from near the area, originally) and the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival was the first time I’d been to the area since Hurricane Katrina. It was, without exaggeration, stunning to see so much damage and so many things still in disrepair such a long while after the storm. Even as the hurricane was happening, I was thinking about how the rest of us were going to help. I did what most people did— participated in food drives, gave a little money, sent clothes, yadda yadda. Just some basic things yet I’ll admit it didn’t feel like I did much.
I met a lot of people the weekend of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival and the stories I heard were incredible. Hearing about loss on television is one thing, but hearing personal stories was quite another. A couple of conversations in particular really stuck out to me– one being the conversation I had with Ronald Biava, campaign coordinator for the New Orleans Public Libraries rehabilitation campaign. During our conversation, he showed me several photographs of sturdy hardcover books reduced to mud, tiny children’s books completely disassembled, libraries washed away, and historical documents completely gone. I really wanted to help the NOLAPL, yet, well, I’m far from wealthy, and what these libraries needed was money.
Somewhere, during all of this touring around and thinking, I realized that the festivals I’d attended, and the gatherings I enjoyed at my readings, and other authors’ readings, in bookstores here and there, were more than something I enjoyed attending. There was something about the execution of these three festivals and something about the fun glow in the room at readings that I wanted to not only combine, but I knew it would all translate extremely well in Chicago, which I’ve called home since moving here from New York in 2001. So, between travels, I founded Pilcrow Lit Fest and, I knew as soon as I started planning that I wanted to somehow benefit the NOLAPL during the festival.
Pilcrow Lit Fest is all set to happen May 22nd-25th in Chicago, kicking off with the monthly reading series event that I host, the Fixx Reading Series, and continuing on through the weekend with a series of panel discussions, lots of authors (local and from around the US), workshops and a cocktail party or three. One of these cocktail parties, though, is very special.
I’ve asked authors, not just Pilcrow-attendees, but any author with the inclination, to disassemble their own book and rebuild it into a piece of art of some kind to be auctioned off at a reception for the NOLAPL. So may people said yes and I couldn’t be more pleased. The eveing is going to be a whole fun, NOLA-themed night, complete with the “Rebuilt Books” book-art auction, and a local competitive jambalaya star. (Is that a great title, or what?). I have no idea how much we’ll raise for NOLAPL, but it’s my hope that we can send the NOLAPL staff home with a nice amount— their initial campaign is for $150,000 just to move forward a bit, and any tiny part Pilcrow can help out with, we’re glad about.
Then, it got even better! I partnered with a local environmental activist and friend, Kathleen Boyle, to make the festival as eco-friendly as possible and she put me in touch with one of my new favorite organizations, Eco-Libris, a group based in California who plants trees to offset book printing. They were happy to be part of Pilcrow Lit Fest, and will make stickers available to authors during festival weekend for their own titles or others, with each sticker purchased going to plant a tree to offset the printed book for which it was purchased. But, when Eco-Libris heard about out Rebuilt Books party, they generously offered to double their tree planting for each sticker purchased on behalf of the NOLAPL. Needless to say, I am beyond excited for all of this.
Moving forward, I’m working with Eco-Libris to make stickers available at the monthly Fixx Reading Series and, very importantly, I’m working with them again when my second novel, Lights of Waters Brought, comes out later. So, okay it took a lot of driving and flying, a lot of readings, and starting a lit fest, for me to satisfy my initial curiosity about how I could offset my books’ environmental impact, but I’ll take it. I’ve traveled a great deal to many places and met a lot of people, and it has all been wonderful.