Interview with Editor: Robert Stapleton

7 mins read

Robert Stapleton is the founder and editor of Booth. He teaches writing at Butler University and has published stories, poems, and criticism in Riprap, Journal of the Gulf War: Poetry from Home, OC Weekly and other places.  He has also worked as a little league umpire, carny, stakebed driver, public relations director, and substitute teacher. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife, two daughters, and three pets.

Natasha Stagg: Why “Booth”?

Robert Stapleton: There are a bunch of reasons why. We like a title that evokes geographical space, a place for connection, refuge, solace. And there are so many ways to think of and locate booths in the world. Also, Booth Tarkington is from the neighborhood here. Butler University’s MFA program brings in a Booth Tarkington Writer-in-Residence (currently Michael Dahlie). For this position, we’re creating an office with Tarkington’s actual desk.

NS: How does your magazine fit into the world of publishing today?

RS: Booth lives at the intersection of the past and the future. Our website publishes new work every Friday. We hope readers check in regularly for new literature. We also print an anthology of material culled from the site. And while we love to publish great stories and sharp poetry, we also get excited for new forms, innovative voices, writers pushing the boundaries of shape and structure. We’re not after experimental work, but rather the arresting marriage of concept and content. We also love lists and comics.

NS: Does Booth do anything that no one else is doing?

RS: There are so many wonderful literary projects out there, especially with the freedom of the internet, so I can’t claim that we’re different than every other. One thing that might distinguish us, though, is that we find a way to offer free copies of our anthology at the AWP conference. This year we shared books with every one who made a pledge: agree in principle to subscribe to any two literary publications out there for a free copy of Booth.

NS: Where are you from, and where do you live now?

RS: I’m from Southern California, a little Orange County, a little Long Beach. My wife and I moved to Indianapolis in 2003.

NS: How do you feel about literary journals in general: simply a necessary means to an end, or something more worthwhile than even anthologies these days?

RS: I love everything about literary journals. I loved them as physical objects before the internet. It’s always the first thing I look for when I go to a bookstore. What lit journals do they carry? I pick them up, feel the weight, the finish of the cover. I flip the pages, test the integrity of their arrangement, the binding. I scan the table of contents, read first lines, look at the contributors’ notes. I love the possibility of them. Everyone with a stamp and an idea has a shot to be published. I love the aesthetic of most of them, the whimsy, the edge, the possibility of new voices. Now, it’s easier to find some of these offerings on the net, though there is perhaps less initiation, prestige. Seeing your name on the internet doesn’t carry the same wallop as finding yourself between the covers, printed on the paper with a page number and all.

NS: What kind of stuff does your journal publish?

RS: We publish anything with a sharp voice and literary bent. We have some length guidelines posted on our site, but the truth is if we fall in love with a piece we’ll find a way. Our call for submissions reads: “Booth publishes fiction, poetry, non-fiction, comics, lists, and other expert miscellany.” We get plenty of prose and poems. We’d like to receive more of the other stuff.

NS: How do we submit?

RS: We read from September 1 to May 15. If you submit over summer we’ll get to it when we can, but it’s going to sit for a bit.  Submissions must be entered online, through our Submishmash page. Simultaneous is fine, but withdraw your work if accepted elsewhere. No reading fees for general submissions, but we do have a slate of cool contests in 2011. Those will require a $10 fee and offer a $500 prize. Currently our Chapter One contest is open. We’d like to read the first part of your novel, up to 25 pages. Richard Russo will select the winner.

NS: Do you think literary journals are endangered?

RS: Literary journals are not endangered, though traditional funding for them is. The new world of lit journals embraces technology, offers a different footprint, and is more sustainable if not reliant on vanishing university resources. Becoming a ‘writer’ is a culturally prized position, though. There will always be demand for arenas that foster this process.

NS: Is becoming “online only” something to be worried about?

RS: There’s some pushback here because the old guard is less fluid and adaptable. That’s how generations shake down. And everyone loves the physical space of a printed book, so that will always be available and offer more distinction. But we’re obviously seeing less garage zines and more internet publishing. I’m not sure if that’s a concern as much as it is a bend in the road.

NS: Will only the fittest survive, and could this be a good thing?

RS: Only the fittest will be for sale at Barnes and Nobles. But you can’t stop the flood of voices struggling to break out.

NS: Had you heard of Sonora Review before this?

RS: Absolutely. I’ve picked up a few of your issues over the years. Great stuff.