When I saw on Monday evening that Small Press Distribution (SPD) had started a GoFundMe to stay in business, my heart sank.
It’s not that I was surprised; I’d donated to Lambda Literary’s similarly urgent call last week (and you can, too, here). I’m battening down the hatches here at The Rumpus. The coming months will be challenging for all of us in the literary ecosystem, and devastating for many of us. Certainly more than a few organizations, magazines, small presses, and independent bookstores won’t make it through this crisis.
But SPD must make it through. There is no other organization like it, and the work they do is critical to independent publishing.
SPD was founded in 1969 with just five independent publishers. They now distribute over three hundred thousand books a year and are the nation’s only exclusively literary nonprofit book distributor, serving nearly four hundred small independent publishers across the country. But more than that, SPD is a bastion of small press innovation and community.
I was twenty-two the first time I set foot in the SPD office and its adjacent magical warehouse. I’d missed the first day of my internship there because I’d gotten very lost—so lost I drove over the Bay Bridge into San Francisco—and then had a panic attack about getting lost. I was new to the Bay Area, having recently moved to Oakland for graduate school. I was terribly embarrassed, but everybody was kind and understanding when I did make it in successfully for my second day. That’s the thing about SPD: if you’re there, and you want to help, and you love books, you become part of the family immediately.
What I loved most about my internship was spending time in the warehouse stacks: wandering, stopping randomly when a cover or title caught my eye. I bought so many wonderful books from those stacks. I found Vera & Linus by Jesse Ball in the SPD warehouse, and then got to share that story with Jesse Ball—who in the intervening decades has become one of my favorite writers and whose work has enormous influence on my own—two summers ago when I had the opportunity to meet him. I found gorgeously designed chapbooks filled with challenging and exciting poetry that opened up new ideas for me about what a book can look like, and what poetry can be and do.
Thinking back now, I wonder why they let me spend so much time wandering the stacks when I should’ve been working. My guess is it’s because of how much they value their staff. I was a young poet looking for inspiration, so they let me search it out in between writing book blurbs and helping to organize fundraising events.
Nearly twenty years later, I’m still in touch with friends and colleagues from SPD. I often daydream about moving back to Oakland, and when I do, I sometimes imagine myself working at SPD. It is the sort of place that feels like a home, like the door is always open.
Please help keep the doors open at SPD. I know that it has meant as much to many other writers and publishers as it has meant to me, and I know that our literary landscape would be significantly diminished without it.
Featured photograph courtesy of Trisha Low and Small Press Distribution.