by Lauren Eggert-Crowe
Early in 2017, Women Who Submit invited Nikia Chaney to one of our submission parties. It was the beginning of the year, so the room was packed with writers excited and motivated to accomplish their goals and renew their commitments to good work. We hung posterboard on the wall with goals like “Submit to Residencies,” “Get Paid For Work,” “Finish a Project,” and “Activist Writing.” We each scrawled our names in marker underneath the goals that spoke to us. Still buzzing from the spirit of the Women’s March and the inspiration of powerful intersectional feminist leaders, many of us were eager to connect our creative work to community building. Nikia Chaney, of Jamii Publishing, led new and seasoned WWS members in a great discussion about starting collaborative projects like a press or a journal, and how to best involve the community in the artistic process.
It’s safe to say Nikia knows a lot about goal setting. Jamii, an independent press based in San Bernardino, beautifully lays out its vision, mission, and goal: “Our mission at Jamii Publishing is to foster the communion of artists from all genres, foster growth in the artistic world, and to bring these arts to the community. We strive to work with artists who are already active in the community as well as those who have a desire to reach outside of their comfort zone and share their art with the larger world. We want to gift books to these dedicated people and help them in turn help others.”
I asked Nikia some follow-up questions about being an editor of a community-focused independent press.
You talked a little about this at the WWS submission party, but could you tell us how Jamii Publishing was born and what inspired you to create the press?
Jamii Publishing was born out of a desire to change the publishing world a little. I felt that there were artists who could not or would not jump through all the hoops of traditional publishing, but who were more than deserving to have books out in the world. I wanted a press that would pay attention to the type of work (community service) that often goes unnoticed and unappreciated.
You’re in the Inland Empire. What are some of the rewards and challenges of having a press that is more outside of the major metropolitan area of Los Angeles?
One of the challenges is that San Bernardino has a very small literary arts world. Getting individuals to come out to readings and events can often be hit or miss. However, there is a beauty in working in this area as we are not in competition with other arts organizations. We are truly free to do programs that focus on women, minorities, homeless individuals and families and other members of underserved populations.
As an editor, what are you looking for in submissions? What separates the really great submissions from the good ones?
Our main goal is to find artists who are working hard to better their community. We require potential artists to send up a list of ways in which they have served the community. Unfortunately, we end up saying no to really good work that does not have a strong community service portfolio. We also look for exciting and unique projects. We love work that is surprising to us, and fresh.
What are some of the upcoming Jamii titles that you’re excited about?
Right now we are working on a few anthologies. We will publish the second volume of poetry from a poetry series based in Pasadena called Poets & Allies for Resistant. We will also at some future time publish another anthology from Women Who Submit, an organization that is bringing together women to empower themselves in the literary world. Other works include a broadside series for individual poems and a children’s book.
Jamii’s goal is to publish works by authors who might not have a chance otherwise? What is your process for finding voices who aren’t getting as much attention? Do you solicit work?
Yes, we do most of the recruitment by direct solicitation, but do have an open submission period once per year in January. For the most part, we keep our ears to the ground, following projects and local organizations and talking to the writers involved. This is truly the best way of finding writers who often don’t think or feel the need to promote themselves.
Do you have advice for people who want to open their own independent press?
Yes! I would say get your feet wet by publishing an anthology or a small magazine. Get a feel for what you want to accomplish. Have a clear goal, but truly jump right in! A press is just another way to get out voices in the world that need to be heard, and if you are interested then, by all means, don’t let fear or lack of knowledge stop you. Learn, and have fun, and know that publishing others is a gift you can give like no other.
Nikia Chaney is the current Inlandia Literary Laureate (2016-2018). She is the author of two chapbooks, Sis Fuss (2012, Orange Monkey Publishing) and ladies, please (2012, Dancing Girl Press). She is founding editor of shufpoetry, an online journal for experimental poetry, and founding editor of Jamii Publishing, a publishing imprint dedicated to fostering community among poets and writers. She has won grants from the Barbara Demings Fund for Women, Poets & Writers, and Cave Canem. She teaches at Chaffey College.