Profile: Sarah McCarry

This profile interview is part of a series where we highlight the many interesting, talented people who use Hoban Cards in their everyday lives.

Sarah McCarry is a writer who's released three novels. She's written for The New York Times Book Review, Glamour, and, among others. She also works on her own publication called Guillotine – an erratically published chapbook series that's beautifully produced by hand and features, in her words, "work that’s explicitly queer, feminist, anti-racist, anti-colonial."

We were especially excited about Sarah's involvement in the physical construction of the chapbook and her use of letterpress printing. We were able to ask her some questions about the publication and how Hoban Cards plays a role in promoting it.

Guillotine is a beautiful publication. Can you explain why you were inspired to produce a chapbook rather than a more conventional publication? Does the history of the chapbook mean something special to you?

Aw, thanks! I started out making zines of my own writing in the late 90s and early 00s, and that was how I got into letterpress printing and bookmaking and bookbinding. And I've worked off and on for a lot of small presses and book artists and printers and in print shops, and came up in punk and DIY scenes where people were making their own art and writing and music--so the form is more natural to me than working with a web-based publication or a traditional magazine format. It's also a lot easier for me to produce as a one-person operation. I had been thinking about starting a small press for a long time as a way to showcase some of the amazing writing I was coming across and chapbooks made the most sense to me--I like to think of them as beautiful homes for beautiful ideas.

Left: Hand production of the Guillotine chapbook. Right: Letterpress printed covers on a Vandercook proof press.

I was thrilled to see you have the cover to Guillotine letterpress printed. I'm curious what you like about letterpress printing?

What isn't to like about letterpress printing!!! I got into letterpress a million years ago when I was living in a little town in Washington. One of my co-workers, who was in her fifties, was a former job printer who had this incredible studio in her house and taught me to use her treadle C&P and I was just an absolute goner. I love the history, I love old books, I love these huge ridiculous amazing machines. I can't stay out of a print museum. I love the patience letterpress printing demands and the limitations it imposes on you, especially if you're working with hand-set type; it makes you think in a whole different way, because the constraints are very literal. Like, you run out of the letter "A" literal. I have an imaginary alternate life as a tramp printer, ha.

It's a hard thing to describe exactly--I worked briefly in a shop in Brooklyn that had a cabinet of original type cast by Goudy (for people who don't know him, his story is fantastic--he was a forty-year-old accountant who considered himself a total failure and then just decided, starting from scratch, to become a type designer, and went on to become one of the most successful type designers in history) and I would just, like, pet it gently when no one was looking. Just dumb love and heavy machinery, I guess.

Are you directly involved in the physical printing and construction of Guillotine?

Yeah, it's all me, from the editing to mailing out finished copies! I work with a designer who lays out the text and does the cover design, the interiors are printed by the excellent folks at McNaughton & Gunn, and then I letterpress the covers myself at the Arm, a truly fantastic studio space in Brooklyn, and sew them all by hand. Sometimes I succeed in roping in friends to help me bind chapbooks and sometimes I end up sewing 500 copies myself in front of six seasons of The Vampire Diaries or what have you. It's not a high-efficiency business model.

On your website, you explain the chapbook as including "speculative fictions and radical nonfictions." Can you explain why you describe it this way?

Well, it sounds slightly more professional than "stuff I like." I am really drawn to writing that's boundary-pushing and weird and genre-bending, and personal, and political, both fiction and nonfiction, and my interests are all over the place. So in some ways it's a very personal project, but I get to work with writers I admire so much and publish essays and short stories that I think are truly, genuinely brilliant and important. I like to think I have a good eye.

You've ordered letterpress printed calling cards from us (The Agent), presumably to help spread the word about Guillotine. How do you use your cards specifically? What situations prompt you to hand them out?

I give them to everyone! They're so beautiful and so distinctive and the design of the calling cards is so clean visually. People always want to talk to me more as soon as they're holding one. I have literally seen people's eyes un-glaze--I'll say, "I run a small chapbook press," and they're like "Mmmm," looking for an exit, and then I hand them a card and they're like "Oh!" I think even people who don't know the first thing about printing connect with letterpress in a visceral way--it's so tactile and personal. Also I can't cut down a business card straight to save my life so I really appreciate your hard work there.

Support Sarah McCarry

Be sure to visit the Guillotine website to learn more. If you like what she's up to, Guillotine accepts tax deductable donations to keep it on the press. She's also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. On her personal website, you can checkout the novels she's written.