ROAR CALL: Olivia Taylor Smith of Unnamed Press

As the executive editor of Unnamed Press, how do you select titles? One of your recent releases, “Blue Money” by Janet Capron, details the real experiences of a NYC prostitute in the 1970s, but it is neither apologetic nor glamorizing of the profession. It’s this very authentic, richly drawn portraiture (and compelling story). How did that book come to you?

Blue Money was sent to me by Janet Capron’s wonderful agent, Emma Parry. When I first read Blue Money, Janet’s voice came through loud and clear — it’s fresh and exciting, self-aware and unafraid. It’s also hilarious, even as the narrative intensifies and becomes violent. Janet is a true original. And as an editor, that is what I look for. We can work on the structure of the narrative, on the character’s development, on the pacing, but I can’t conjure up a voice.

What kinds of work do you think are underrepresented in the publishing industry right now?

The industry is still so rigid when it comes to genre, I’d like to see the barriers come down, the lines blurred. I’d also like to see more writing from other countries, other communities that are concerned with the present or near future. What’s it like to be a woman in Cairo in 2017? Or Hanoi in 2025? Where is that novel? Those are the stories I’m interested in, which is why I’m very excited for Mother of All Pigs by Malu Halasa (November 2017), which follows a weekend in the lives of several generations of women in contemporary small-town Jordan.

How do you define feminism?

A feminist is someone that believes that men and women are equal, and should be treated as such. I think an important distinction to make though is why the word is so important, why we need to acknowledge that we are feminists and it’s the simple fact that for the most part in our society and in the world, women are not given equal rights. I went to a very liberal university and I still remember when our media theory professor asked everyone in the auditorium to raise their hand to indicate if they were a feminist and only a few of us did. It was chilling.

What is your preferred method (marches, petitions, donations, etc.) and/or medium (essays, visual art, music, panels, etc.) for protesting oppression?

I do think of my work as an editor as a form of resistance; novels are inherently political for me. Art is my preferred medium for resisting oppression, it’s the most effective, which is why the United States government invests zero infrastructure in the arts and education (this is nothing new and one of the few bipartisan agreements: it is easier to control an under-educated populace).

What single event, either personal, professional, or global, do you hope will occur by this time next year?

Universal healthcare for Americans. A girl can dream!

Which country do you think is the most enlightened in the world?

Probably Finland. Though I find places that are too perfect really stifling. Maybe Nepal? There’s an awareness there of the past, of how fleeting and immaterial the present is. Everyone belongs to a different religion and no one cares what you believe in. There’s also an acknowledgment that people in positions of power are just always going to be corrupt. No delusions. I know there are some really horrifying anti-woman practices happening in rural villages but I do think that’s changing, and the country is shifting towards a more cosmopolitan world view.

I think you can judge a lot about a country’s enlightenment by its accessibility to cold beer of quality (not Budweiser…).

What book(s) are you reading right now?

The Angel of History by Rabih Alameddine.

When is the last time you had to stop what you were doing because you were overcome by an instance of beauty (and what was that beautiful moment)?

Jacaranda season! But honestly it was definitely something to do with my tortoiseshell cat Monkey which is completely embarrassing. I marvel at her beauty on a daily basis.


2 Replies to “ROAR CALL: Olivia Taylor Smith of Unnamed Press”

  1. Jacarandas and cats? I see you, sister. Today I saw the Jacarandas from the air as I landed in San Diego. My heart. And then I came home to my cat, {Elizabeth Cady} Stanton …

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