By Brianna Baker
Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela is a Philadelphia-based writer, activist, educator and (sometimes) DJ. In 2011, she and fellow writer Nico Amador founded the independent press Thread Makes Blanket (TMB). With the help of a small volunteer staff, TBM has published seven poetry and essay collections by authors in and outside Philly, as well as Dismantle: An Anthology of Writing from the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop (2014).
Johnson-Valenzuela recently spoke to Qwerty Philly about her work with the press.
Qwerty Philly: What is the mission of Thread Makes Blanket?
Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela: Essentially, Thread Makes Blanket is a small press that tries to provide a home for really great work that might otherwise not find a home for various reasons – it’s an odd fit, it’s doing different things, the person doesn’t know a lot of people. We’re geared towards women and people of color and weirdos and activism type stuff. We think of most of our publications as collaborations with the authors — in part because we’re so small scale that is has to be that way. But that makes it worth doing because you really get to know and work with folks and learn through the whole process.
QP: Where does the name come from?
MJV: It’s a line in a story I wrote. To me, it just kind of embodied what we were trying to do in the beginning, which is to have a really small thing, and small things add up, right? That was the idea in the story, too, for that scene, for that character, for the press — intending to start out smaller than we ended up being, thinking about the value of little things and how lots of little things can be as comforting as a blanket. It’s a little emo.
QP: What makes Philly a fitting home for TMB?
MJV: I think if we were in NY or LA, we would be sexier or more well-known, but we would be kind of trapped in some of those things. I think a lot of good people get caught up in the game and who-knows-who and we’re still really outside of that. And maybe that doesn’t help us with distribution, but I think it helps us do our own thing with just the wealth of people who are here and who are unseen a little bit. So while not all of our authors come from Philly, I think they all have that in common – they’re emerging. I think the location matches the projects. There’s just a lot of talent here. It’s not about money. We don’t choose our projects based on, “Oh, this will sell a lot.”
QP: What’s in store for the future of the press?
MJV: I don’t think it’s going anywhere, it’s just a question of what form will it take. I think we want to be open to digital publications. I don’t read them that often, so I think it’s harder for me to get behind that or harder for me to imagine it. And we’re open to more hybrid events that are different from others and push the standard, sort of passive reception. So we’re looking at new venues and new models to get them in the hands of folks who maybe don’t have that many other poetry books. I think it’s definitely going to continue because it’s too rewarding not to. There’s so much good work that needs a home and that we feel like we can support — I don’t see there being a shortage of that.
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