A Female-Helmed Lit Port of Solace: A Conversation with Babe Press by Michael B. Tager
It’s mostly disheartening to turn on the news or social media these days. Feelings of hopelessness can run rampant; there’s disenfranchisement, literal earthquakes and hurricanes, rage and hate all over. This is why it’s so important for artists to create ports of solace. Attention needs to be paid to those brave enough to generate beautiful works of art and provide forums for others to speak out and come together.
Babe Press, created by local poets Mandy May and Mary Walters is just such a port and their inaugural issue, the journal NASTY, was among other things, a response to the bitter turn in the world today.
MBT: What did you do before Babe Press?
MARY: Wonderful literary and publishing doors opened for me when I started my MFA degree. There I met people who literally wanted to create because it’s in their blood and it’s their life force. There was no sense of intimidation or ruthless competition among our classmates. I found it easy and fulfilling to engage in the lit scene, which included attending local Baltimore readings, submitting my work to publications, and cultivating creative partnerships, such as the one I have with Mandy May.
Together, we created Babe Press.
MANDY: I’ve been writing since I could. I’m also a Doctoral student in UB’s Information and Interaction Design program.
I guess you could say the first time I self-published was online in middle school. In my teens, I was kinda obsessed with web and graphic design. I hand-coded websites to serve as writing portfolios. Later, my high school best friend and I would make zines and spend every dime we had to make copies at Kinkos. In college, I served on our lit journal’s poetry editorial team and took a seminar on creating an online lit journal with Claudia Emerson.
I can definitely say I feel like I’ve entered the book design world, since moving to Baltimore, finishing the MFA, and debuting Babe Press’ inaugural publication.
MBT: Tell me about Babe Press. And Nasty.
MANDY: Babe Press is a feminist love child. We’re an independent press birthed in Baltimore but womanned from both Baltimore and Frederick MD. We believe words are magic that create incantations and spells. We started Babe Press in hopes to cast spells to inspire, to empower, and to create.
MARY: Its birth was half organic, half cosmos/universe. The Universe brought [us] together into a powerful, electric creative partnership—we instantly connected on our shared affection for moons, witches, ghosts, sexy stuff and most of all our unapologetic, fierce feminism. We joined together on a project one summer and featured a bunch of fabulous poets in a handmade zine entitled Poems by Poets…and thus was born Babe Press.
MBT: Tell me more about Poems by Poets.
MARY: During Summer 2015, Mandy and I decided to take a book arts indie study together in order to make Poems by Poets happen. We wanted it to be a little preview of all the 2016 graduating poets from the MFA program. So we got our cohort to send us some work and then we utilized the artistic tool of ekphrasis to create digital collages based on their poems. Each poet had their own spread. It was so fun. We hosted a reading at Blue Pit BBQ at the end of the summer to celebrate the book and our upcoming thesis year.
MANDY: It was a celebration of our peers and ourselves and all the hard work getting to our thesis year. It was a run of 50 hand-made zines, covered in pink craft paper, and hand-sewn stab-bound style with embroidery thread. Even though printing it was a nightmare, it was an excellent first real foray into zines and indie publishing.
MBT: And that led to NASTY?
MARY: NASTY is a dream pub. It’s full of grotesque, beautiful, subversive powerful art. We wanted it to be a lil’ note of resistance to our current cabinet.
MBT: Why did you decide to start a new journal? Why theme it the way you did?
MANDY: NASTY was in part a response to the 2016 presidential campaign and election. It’s more than that though. The rampant sexism that was revealed by that election elicited a certain amount of outrage but not enough. People should have been outraged before the election, much like people should have been outraged by rampant racism before the Charlottesville VA incident. None of this is new but there are more people listening. It seemed like an opportune time to gather and give voice to some well-deserved pride, outrage, and exhaustion.
MARY: NASTY is a way for Mandy and I to speak up and say NO to the current political realities/atrocities. We wanted to give our audience a collection to read and return to when feeling discouraged or void of hope.
The NASTY contributors seriously delivered. There is so much resistance in the book—pages of it. We hope readers/viewers leave the book feeling empowered to DO something that day, whether it be donating time, money, or simply reaching out to a friend in support.
MARY: Babe Press was ready for its first project/pub rightttt around November 8, 2016, and it felt wrong NOT to respond to the election/current admin. And we hope potential readers will see it as collective, productive outrage. There was so. much. palpable. emotion. during the months following the elections—there STILL is. We are breathing it in—people’s anger, glee, hatred, love, remorse, etc. It’s shifting the energy of this earth in major, major ways.
MANDY: We knew we were going to start a project in the fall of 2016 and as strong, independent, intelligent feminists I don’t know what else we were supposed to respond to at that time. It was the only reasonable call. Plus, we’ve always had some nasty in us. We’ve always had a little of that Hillary shoulder shimmy.
MARY: Of course I wish T wasn’t our president, but the amount of feelings people were/are feeling really gave this pub a big, angsty, volatile, passionate richness that is unlike any collection I’ve read. I feel proud, and I think Mandy does, too, that we were able to give people an outlet for their rage, one that hopefully inspires readers to remain outraged…to resist.
MANDY: I am so proud of the work of our contributors. Outrage over Drumpf is really only a small piece of this anthology; it’s also so much about giving voice to the endless range of experience that being a woman entails and expanding the idea of what a woman looks like and feels like and sounds like and if isn’t intersectional and inclusive, it’s not woman.
MBT: It’s important to have female-helmed literary organizations.
MARY: I think “representation” is the main objective of our female-helmed lit org. The more women heading creative projects, whatever they may be, the more girls will see and hopefully be inspired to head their own creative projects.
MANDY: It’s important to have female-helmed literary organizations because females are humans and all human voices deserve to be heard. It’s important to hear the voices of women with wombs, without wombs; women of color; small women, large women; women with round hips, narrow hips, hip dips, and no hips; women with “feminine” faces and women with faces; women with disabilities, hidden illnesses; women with long hair and buzz cuts; women in waist-cinching, breast-bearing dresses; women in slacks; women in both.
MARY: Female/femme-hood is an intersection of marginalization. So we try to give voice and power to the underrepresented, or the other intersections, whether that be POCs, members of the LBGTQ+ community, etc.
MANDY: The female experience is one that needs to be shared, understood, and respected—not feared and ignored because how could we ever control our emotions, wandering wombs, hysteria, etc. What better organization to share that story than a female one?
MARY: Also, there is something truly magical about the female/femme experience. I know it’s easy for me to say, as I don’t have any experience outside of being female…but it just feels like we have each other’s backs, and we want to build each other up. There’s an unspoken language between females/femmes that shows up in our creativity and it’s powerful to witness and be a part of.
MARY: Babe Press’s aesthetic is dark, pop, grotesque, raw, sexy, witchy, daggers, mystical, bloody, etc. Our submissions to “Babe o’ the Week” should incorporate these vibes somehow. We will accept writing, photography, various other medias of art, music….if we can upload it to a webpage and we LUV it, we will take it. We want to make the contributor of the week feel like a king, queen, or non-binary royalty.
MBT: Babe o’ the Week? What’s that?
MARY: Our next project is to improve our website and to start up our “babe of the week” online publication, wherein we will feature one writer or artist’s work every week up on our website.
MANDY: I hope Babe o the Week looks like what we haven’t seen before, but feels like what’s been itching in your gut. It should fit somewhere in the Babe Press aesthetic but be the voice of the artist.
Right now we’re riding the NASTY wave and are accepting submissions for Babe of the Week, a rotating online publication.
MBT: Sounds like a good way to bring attention to a new journal.
MANDY: Baltimore is an incredible city with a rich, varied, and well-bodied literary community. Getting attention isn’t easy.
I think we used pretty typical avenues to gather submissions [for NASTY]. We promoted online (website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter). We also direct emailed members of the Baltimore literary community that we met through various writing groups, readings, etc. I think polite persistence and gratitude is a good trick for promotion.
MARY: It IS hard to get attention to a new journal. We were so, so lucky to have such renown and talented contributors in our first collection. Having such wonderful contributors for our first compilation is helping us to rally and create a community of readers and writers that we hope to continue to speak to and nurture. We also want to up our social media game…I am a type B person for the most part, so I am learning how to prioritize and stay consistent with lit magazine responsibilities. Mandy is more detail-oriented and even when we are both feeling a little frazzled or disorganized, Mandy comes through with some grounding, wise words that puts us back on track.
MBT: How important is collaboration?
MANDY: First of all, Mary is a dream babe to create with. Her communication with everyone is on point and she organizes all the events. But our collaboration is based on communication and friendship. We get tea and snacks and have a conversation about conceptualizing projects. We set a timeline together and work to our strengths. I am the design maven, graphic design, book layout, website in the works.
MARY: Mandy is design queen [and] I am communication queen (i.e. organization of events, keeping in contact with contributors, etc.). We both read our submissions and collaborate on what to include in the pubs. She is the goddess of keeping it real. I am perhaps a bit more of a dreamer…or so I’ve been told. We work really well together. I respect Mandy’s writing, design, and person so so much. We also both get anxious in different ways and (I think) know how to comfort the other’s anxieties. There’s a lot of witchy love between us. I want to create alongside her forever.
MANDY: The more voices the better, right? Mary has amazing ideas and I pull my weight. We make all of our decisions together and it’s very much the collaboration that has led us to our success.
…and I’m a middle child so I’ve collaborated my entire life.
MARY: The best part of our collaboration is we can laugh at ourselves—there’s very little stress or disappointment…even when the printer breaks the week before our launch. We are just great creative partners.
MBT: That’s a great outlook. So does that mean more is coming? What does the future look like?
MARY: Another journal is absolutely on top, as well as growth of our online presence.
MANDY: The future looks female.
Mary goes by Mary Adelle in the literary/publishing scene. She is also a co-host of the podcast Give Me the Deets! with fellow UB grad Erin Drew, and she writes a monthly column about self-care for Baltimore Style—none of this would have been possible without the thriving, welcoming, weird, beautiful Baltimore writing community.
Mandy May is a moon-worshipping, tea-drinking, cat-loving poet. She’s from Fredericksburg VA and lives in Baltimore MD.
For more about Babe Press and NASTY: http://babepressbaltimore.wixsite.com/babepress