Q&A: Danielle Dutton, Founder of Dorothy, a publishing project

What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?

On our website, we say we’re looking to publish “works of fiction or near fiction or about fiction, mostly by women.” Over the past five years, that’s meant a couple of first novels, a reprint, a collection of stories, a translation, a novel in stories and even a novel in verse. At this point, I’d love to get my hands on the “about fiction” part of it—something that thinks through fiction in wonderfully idiosyncratic ways. I want a book of essays, each as strange and fascinating as Amina Cain’s “Something Has Brought Me Here,” recently published at the Paris Review Daily. I want a book that does for fiction what Maggie Nelson did for blue!

Overall, I’m always looking for a submission to surprise me. Despite publishing (mostly) women, Dorothy has quietly but steadfastly resisted the notion that women have particular topics they write about or particular ways they write. To this end, we publish two books each fall and work to ensure that the books we pair demonstrate, together, something of the multiplicity—the wild and exciting range—of work being written today.

What topic don’t you ever want to see again?

My first instinct is to say something like: I don’t really need to see any more query letters that begin with, “My book is about X, a young woman in her 20s dealing with tough relationships.” But the trouble with saying that is that one of our fall titles, Nell Zink’s The Wallcreeper, is about Tiffany, a young woman in her 20s dealing with tough relationships, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. Of course, it’s also about birds and sex and eco-terrorism. The truth is I rarely think in terms of topic. What matters to me is always going to be how the thing is written—its particular voice and energy and form—so I guess what my instinct is really saying to me is that I don’t want to see anything that doesn’t feel original and full of energy. And a book about a troubled young woman in her 20s could obviously go either way.

What is unique about your corner of the industry?

Well, ours is a tiny corner. We’re perched up on our tippy toes over here! The press operates with help from my husband, a handful of volunteer advisers and a fantastic intern from the MFA program I teach in at Washington University in St. Louis. Being this small has its drawbacks, of course, but it also affords us the freedom to publish who and what we want and how and when. We don’t worry about a book’s commercial potential when we decide to take it on, only that we love the book and think it needs to be in the world. I don’t know that this sort of freedom is unique to our corner; certainly it’s not unique to our organization. If anything, our sense that we share editorial values with other presses is what makes us feel a part of a larger community, and I’d be remiss not to mention the important work being done by other small presses, from Siglio in Los Angeles to Two Dollar Radio in Ohio to Wakefield Press in Cambridge. It’s an exciting time for indie publishing—and for brilliant, innovative, beautiful books—I think.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Only that we’re thrilled to be publishing Joanna Ruocco’s Dan and Nell Zink’s The Wallcreeper this October. Both novels are smart and funny and readable and weird; they’re also totally unlike one another. Taken together, I think they absolutely illustrate that multiplicity I was talking about before, and we offer them together at a discounted price through our website (www.dorothyproject.com) in order to encourage readers to pick up both when they might have only been looking for one and to encourage people to engage with our project as just that—a project, an ongoing conversation about what fiction can do and be.

Danielle Dutton founded Dorothy, a publishing project in 2010. Since then, the press has published books by Barbara Comyns, Renee Gladman, Manuela Draeger (translated by Brian Evenson), Suzanne Scanlon, Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi, Amina Cain, Joanna Ruocco and Nell Zink. Dutton, an assistant professor at Washington University, is the author of Attempts at a Lifeand S P R A W L, which was a finalist for the Believer Book Award. In January 2015, Siglio Press will publish Here Comes Kitty: A Comic Opera, a collaboration between her and the artist Richard Kraft.