After the community was rocked by scandal, Shabby Doll House’s new e-zine is helping alt lit rise from the proverbial ashes
It’s highly likely that you’ve stumbled across Lucy K. Shaw’s outfit Shabby Doll House before, if you’ve a taste for internet-flavoured literature. The online art/lit publisher, helmed by Shaw along with Sarah Jean Alexander and Stacey Teague, has been around for three years now. In that time, Shabby Doll House has been a few different things. It has been a monthly-then-quarterly publication, a video curating project, a female-only mega-event, and more. Now, they’re looking to the future with a monthly electronic zine called, fittingly, The Reader. Dazed caught up with Shaw (whose book THE MOTION you can read an excerpt of here) to talk about the new venture and its place in the alt lit landscape.
The Reader just came out with its second issue, and it's as much of a dreamboat as its predecessor. It’s a zine and it’s on the internet but – guess what! It ain’t free. Each monthly issue costs you a princely $4 (£2.62 or €3.63). But if that weeds out the waverers, Shaw doesn’t care. “I don’t wanna just have thousands and thousands of people who sort of know what we do,” she said. Writing online used to be something a bit special. “What I really missed about two or three years ago was the close-knit sense of community, where you really knew other people. It was way more involved.” Then writing online started to get more about status, having a lot of followers, trying to promote your stuff outwards. Shaw says that she “wanted to bring it in and be like, who actually really cares? Who needs this for what it was originally? In the beginning I just wanted to help people who didn’t have anyone to talk to.”
I really solidly believe her when she says this, because The Reader feels like an extension of Shaw's personality and her ethics. It's her voice. The first issue opened with a long meditation on The Re-Up, Shabby Doll House’s stonkingly massive collection of incredible writing by women and women alone.
I asked Shaw why she wanted to look back so carefully at that moment, and she knew. Not only had she and her co-editors Sarah Jean and Stacey ‘never really explained’ what they were up to, but the climate of online publishing needed its temperature taking. “I guess you know all about the scandal,” she says, referring to the fallout following Sophia Katz’s sobering and excellent essay about her shitty experience staying with a prominent alt lit editor in NYC.
“Who actually really cares? Who needs this for what it was originally? In the beginning I just wanted to help people who didn’t have anyone to talk to” – Lucy K. Shaw
“When all that stuff happened,” she said, “it marked the end of a period of time – it was like an economic recession: everything’s great and then all of a sudden you’re like, whaaat? How does that even work?” Shaw's analogy is a good one. When an economic crash comes, everything in retrospect fits the narrative leading to the disaster. While it’s happening, it doesn’t. “Everything had just been going along without much reflection and trying to make everything progress, but then I thought: what am I supposed to do now?” Part of the problem facing the ‘alt lit’ writers, women in particular, has been the moniker itself. Shaw says, “I’ve never really wanted to be considered ‘alt-lit,’ but we were being and we always will be. So, now we’re associated with this thing that has really terrible connotations. It would be completely possible for us to just stop and not be this any more, but I didn’t wanna do that. We have a responsibility.”
So, The Reader fills a gap in itself, in that it is an easily-digestible, fun publication with a great voice and an ace array of contributors, but it is also a serious opportunity for writers from the so-called alt lit scene to stop, take stock, and exert some agency. Like Shaw says, “This didn’t happen just by chance. We’re good at this, and we’re the only ones who can play this part. I just wanted to make it feel more personal again.”
The Reader certainly feels personal. Each issue is just a few pieces long, a combination of features, original creative work, and conversations. The second issue contains the beautiful embroidery of Meggie Green, for example, and each edition ends with a poem written in response to another poem (issue one’s was by Rachael Lee Nelson, issue two’s is by Matthew Bookin).
We won’t give too much away about the new issue, except for sharing with you Luna Miguel’s beautiful piece explaining her book of poems, Los Estómagos, and some of Green's lovely embroidery. Read it over and then, when you’re done, click on over to The Reader – it’s worth a couple of quid.
THE SHAPE OF LIFE TO COME, FIVE NAMES TO HELP UNDERSTAND LOS ESTÓMAGOS, BY LUNA MIGUEL
The day that Delhi, a huge three-colored cat, appeared in my room in my first house in Barcelona, my whole life changed. It was then that I started to figure out the theme of Los Estómagos, my fifth book of poems, which recently came out in Spain. And it was then that my husband and I started to think about the possibility of becoming vegetarians. Delhi’s tremendous peacefulness, her way of breathing & moving was having an effect on our lives. On our guts. And so I had to start writing.
TWO. TED HUGHES
When you have an obsession, it starts to color the way you see everything. I started getting obsessed with animals & asking friends and acquaintances if they knew of any poets who had written about animals or maybe even vegetarianism. A lot of names came up & I found out about the existence of a number of amazing authors including Nichita Stanescu, Brigitta Trotzig, Joyce Mansour, & Yanis Ritsos. The poet who moved me the most, however, was definitely Ted Hughes. I had previously read Sylvia Plath, as a teenager, but neither her nor her personal history had caught my interest. It’s funny how sometimes the myth surrounding a writer can make you feel alienated by them, and it’s also funny how, ultimately, that same writing & type of literature can lead you to reconcile yourself with them. The Hughes-Plath family is all over these poems, even if a lot of the time it may not seem that way. Their dogs, their jealousies, their blood-red sky lives here, not so much as a tribute, as as a way of invoking them.
THREE. ALEKSANDRA WALISZEWSKA
She’s been my favorite illustrator ever since I started following her a couple of years ago on the recommendation of a painter friend. Waliszewska’s world represents everything I dream of, everything I fear, everything I love. So when I finished the book I asked my editor, Elena Medel, to help me get in touch with her. I owe a lot of images to her images, especially those from the fourth part of Los Estómagos, in which I imagined violent conversations between humans and animals. This scenario could only have come from the mind of Waliszewska.
Madrid was never an inspiring city, even though I wrote there a lot. In Barcelona I feel as though I have written less, but everything that I have done, I’ve done with a lot more work, & concision. Barcelona is a village, a wild city. In Barcelona you can walk among sea gulls, parrots, sparrows & pigeons. Among rats & mice. Among cockroaches, cats, dogs, drunk humans. Barcelona is a jungle, a cacophony of noise, a place that is equal parts horrible & beautiful and that, additionally, smells like the sea. I don’t love the beach all that much, but every day, secretly, I look at the sky & thank fate for bringing me to this city the borders of which are all blue, wherever you look.
FIVE. MY MOTHER
One of the things about this book that I am the most thankful for is that, before she died, my mother had a chance to read it. She never told me whether she had liked it or not, but I know that some of the things in it made her cry. I wrote Los Estómagos during her second relapse, when the cancer metastasized. Some people have asked me if the book is about her death, & I have told them that no, it is a book about her life. Later, I decided to introduce just one more poem, as a kind of annex to the book. It is the first poem I’ve ever written that she will never be able to read. Which is a strange feeling. But you have to keep moving forward. With strength. With ocean. With love. With guts.
Translated by Oscar Bruno d’Artois
Issue three is available from 5 April, 2015. For more, click here