inAuthors: A Conversation with Richard Peabody
February 21, 2013 by Lisa Marie Basile
Richard Peabody, a DC-based writer, editor, publisher, and teacher, edits Gargoyle Magazine–which is releasing its 60th issue–and also edits Paycock Press. He has edited and written several books, both short story anthologies and longer fiction. He has taught fiction writing at the University of Maryland, University of Virginia, Johns Hopkins University, and the Writer’s Center, among many others. He has discovered many incredible writers and remains an inspiration to the writing community.
inReads: You’ve recently published Gargoyle #60. The Gargoyles on my bookshelf take up so much space the other books are jealous. Your contributors have won countless awards. The recognition must be incredible to receive. But it’s a lot of work. And now you’ve received the Beyond the Margins Above and Beyond Award for all your dedication—more than an estimated 40 years. What is it that keeps you going as an editor, as a writer?
Richard Peabody: Yikes, that ages me. It’s really only 37 years so far. My wife is always asking me why I bother. Dunno. Some days it feels like the only thing I know how to do. Other days it’s an incredible pain in the ass. (I just did my taxes so it’s one of those depressing PITA days.) Like most editors, I want to discover somebody. Some new voice. Some work that knocks me out. And every time I really do consider quitting, somebody comes along that fires my engine again. Keeps you young, if you’re open to that electricity. “I have to get this into print.” That drive. Plus the satisfaction of creating an object that never existed before, of mixing the old and the new, big names and newbies. A good editor friend, who had quit his mag before I even began Gargoyle, told me to get out when it stopped being fun. True, that.
Other books are always frightfully jealous of Gargoyle’s.
inReads: Indeed they are. Gargoyle #60 includes some of my favorite writers and poets–Rae Bryant and Kristina Marie Darling (of my press, Patasola Press), Susan Tepper, CL Bledsoe, Nin Andrews, Sara Uribe, Helen Vitoria, Meg Tuite. The quality of each issue is consistent, and that literary stamina is often difficult to keep up for many literary magazines.
My second question: How would you compare the DC lit scene to that of, say, NYC? Some call NYC a bloodbath. Do you see a great deal of support and generosity in DC amongst writers?
Peabody: DC is a company town, but it’s selling the government. NYC is Wall Street and so much more. I’d never describe NYC as a “bloodbath.” Shark tank, maybe. No, I think it’s a very expensive place for any writer or artist to live. Yet, if you could afford to hang out in Manhattan or Brooklyn every weekend you’d eventually make networking connections that others only dream about if they’re creating in say Milwaukee, or Phoenix, or Boca Raton. The rise of the internet has made “place” less important, still, most agents and publishers are located in NY. NYC is Mecca for the lit world. That’s where the game is played. (In fact, a lot of DC journalists end up in NYC at the Times, The New Yorker, Village Voice, et al.)
When I was growing up, I wasn’t aware that there were any living poets or writers until I was in grad school. Really. We didn’t read US lit because it wasn’t considered up to scruff. There were no poets in the schools. That’s all changed for the better. My daughters have been to readings, they read, they know something of the lit world. I think that encountering living breathing artists would be automatic in NY. A huge plus. We are very tribal in the arts and I find that networking is pretty easy to do if you’re serious about your craft. Like attracts like. Some days I regret that I didn’t have that access to agents and publishers from the start. Might have changed things. Might not. Who knows?
Gargoyle travels in a peculiar strata. We pride ourselves on looking good despite creating the misconception that we’re bigger than we are. I get resumes from college kids who want to work for me and will “settle for $40-50,000 a year.” LOL. They don’t understand that we’re basically a 3-person bedroom op. That nobody gets paid. Doesn’t compute.
inReads: How interesting. Most of my writer friends in NYC struggle for under 30,000k per year. I’d take 40-50k any day to work for Gargoyle! However, it still surprises me, as well, that people would assume a literary magazine makes enough to cover its expenses and provide a decent salary to its staff. People I’ve met work as volunteers. It hurts the wallet, but passion is passion. You’re right. It’s a bedroom operation of passion.
Peabody: The “name” lives via longevity more than anything. The argument being “if you last long enough you attract attention.” Likewise, the longer you exist, the more poets and writers with reputations become aware of you. And yet, the splash of any new NYC litmag launch is bigger than anything we’ve accomplished in terms of press, audience, certification. We have made the trek up to launch issues at the Knitting Factory, the West Side YMCA, and Galapagos in Williamsburg. All memorable and fun to do. A kind of literary cross-pollination. But we have no illusions that we’re competition for any of the bigger markets in NYC.
I do think the DC lit community is generous and helpful despite varied cliques because we’re a smaller beast and need to help each other in order to survive. DC tends to ignore the arts rather than celebrate the work or the artists. There have been inroads to that rule in music and the visual arts. Many bands and artists still leave DC in order to make it. DC is often a way station for people passing through. A temporary posting.
inReads: New York, be friendly. Your new book, Blue Suburban Skies, is out with Main Street Rag. Tell us about it! Do you ever find that working as an editor clouds your sense of self while writing? Does it help you grow?
Peabody: Wearing another hat—editor, poet, book publisher, teacher—has to help you grow. You get so much input related to the writing tribe that it grows you up. I’ve never had my writing sense clouded but I have had my time compartmentalized and reduced to such an extent that writing has often seemed like the last thing I do, when in fact it began as the main focus. I haven’t taught at Hopkins this past year and that’s freed me up to regain that focus—to write a lot, submit work, and to land BSS and a book of poems as well. I find it nearly impossible to write fiction and teach during the same semester. At this point I have one more book of poems and two more story collections making the rounds, and my main writing focus is now on a novel.
BSS is perhaps less experimental in terms of technique than my Hopkins students expected but still skewed away from normal realism. Experimental by subject matter in some cases. It’s fun to bend people’s expectations. The two unpublished fiction collections are more experimental—one being mostly flash, the other gathering longer works, including the stories that were up at The Literarian and Connotations Press in 2012.
inReads: Your book takes place in Virginia. Do you view location as a character, and if so, what sort of character would DC itself play?
Peabody: I’m a native Washingtonian, an Inner Beltway Kid, and have lived all over DC, the MD suburbs, and Northern VA. I guess that’s equivalent to being born in NYC and living in the city, Greenwich, and Red Hook. About half of the stories in BSS are set in Virginia. I went out of my way to gather stories that varied in setting, so you also get Woodstock, Taos, Charleston, the North Carolina mountains, Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and a hint of New Orleans and Texas as well.
I love what George Pelecanos does with DC. He captures all of the DC local color head on. The real DC for natives isn’t the Hollywood DC. It’s about a lot more than the government and monuments.
DC could be any overachiever with political ambitions, or diplomat, government wonk, or K Street lobbyist. But my DC is an aging discord punk, a kid living in the shadow of Frederick Douglass’s house, a Salvadoran maid, a go-go loving barista, a suicidal bike messenger with too many tats, an Outer Beltway sports fan, a gifted busker in the Metro, a dying gallery owner, or perhaps a 20-something middle school teacher who doesn’t know what to do on the first warm day in May when the students split, never to return for the final month of school…
Inreads: On that evocative note, we ended our interview. Thanks, Richard Peabody, for sharing your thoughts with inReaders.
About The Author:
Lisa Marie Basile is a Pushcart-nominated poet and freelance writer. She's a graduate of The New School’s MFA program in Writing. She is the author of Andalucia (Brothel Books) and Triste (Dancing Girl Press). Her chapbook, war/lock, is forthcoming from Hyacinth Girl Press in 2014. She is the founding editor of Patasola Press, a NY-based micropress that focuses on emerging, established and female writers. She is an assistant editor for Fifth Wednesday Journal. Lisa has taught poetics and culture at The Brooklyn Brainery and is a managing producer of the Poetry Society of New York.