We know of many activist periodicals, but much less of young publishing houses that commission or translate literature and essays, which convey politically-active imaginaries. The three editors behind the Toulouse and Paris-based métagraphes tell us how they do it and what their goals are.
Translated from French by Nadia El Hakim.
Métagraphes is an independent and non-profit publishing house. We are three 26 year-old Black, Arab and white women, feminist and queer. We publish literature (novels, poetry, theater, etc.), as well as political essays.
We made the choice of situating ourselves and encourage the authors we seek to do the same. Indeed, we favor an epistemological approach focused on points of view and situated knowledge. We assume that, even in narratives, neutrality doesn’t exist. We always tell and relate stories from a specific place and context, and social relations influence our perceptions. In a context where minorities have first been made invisible in arts and society, and then exposed to be better stigmatized and exoticized, the reappropriation of our narratives is a major challenge. It’s about telling our story with our own words, images and codes.
We chose an association status as a legal framework for the publishing house to exist, to allow time for the books we publish to find their way to the literary landscape. Working as a company would not allow us to be consistent with our commitments since we would have to chase after figures: reach a certain number of publications per year, run the race for profits, distinguish the subjects that sell and those that don’t.
We don’t want to feel overwhelmed and caught up in a system. It’s difficult enough to thrive within capitalism, especially if we want to prioritize human relations: no hierarchy between the actors behind the books, full freedom of creation to the authors with whom we work, etc. We don’t ask for public subsidies so that we can avoid all forms of control and imposed ways of thinking. In the same logic, we don’t use crowdfunding, although we don’t necessarily have a fundamental problem with this process.
The funds of métagraphes are therefore the result of many years of saving. The choices we made to keep our independence and freedom have consequences, including that of volunteering for the moment. Like many independent publishers, our situation is precarious and we don’t make a living from our work. One of our objectives is to pay ourselves while equally distributing the fruits of a collaborative work.
As said before, métagraphes is a project that required several years of preparation. During these years, we had to learn the profession of publisher from scratch, as all three of us are self-taught in this field. We had to learn from professionals, conduct research on our own, hesitate, change our minds, and save money. We may try to predict everything, but we are always surprised by unexpected events.
When we started, the question arose: how to find authors? Who will write to us when we haven’t published anything yet? Who will trust us enough to join us on this ambitious adventure? We first wrote to our friends, some of them activists, researchers and bloggers. After this first try, we decided to finish our website and open a Twitter account, which is how the adventure started. About 100 people subscribed to our account out of curiosity, excited that such a publishing house, led by three queer girls, may one day exist. Word spread and we received our first manuscripts.
Popular Afro-feminist blogger Kiyémis heard of our existence via Twitter. She was seduced by our statement and chose to trust us with her manuscript. This is how À Nos Humanités Révoltées (To Our Revolted Humanities) was born, her first Afro-feminist poetry book.
As for Sarah Haidar, we were interested in her novel La Morsure du Coquelicot (The Bite of the Poppy), which tells the story of a libertarian uprising of the people against a central authoritarian power. She is a well-known anarchist and feminist author in Algeria. After we contacted her, she put us in touch with her publishing house, Apic, who trusted us. This is how we published La Morsure du Coquelicot in France, two years after its original release in Algeria.
Moreover, the modest popularity that we gained (especially through social networks) contrasts with the invisibility from which we, métagraphes, like other independent publishers, suffer against the giants of publishing. Large companies are omnipresent and have the monopoly over the world of books (releases, prints, distribution channels, press, literary contests, etc.). We regret this situation, as it creates a hierarchy between publishers, as well as a concentration of power that is not beneficial to editorial diversity. Those who have the means to occupy a central place look more credible and legitimate than those who have chosen independence.
In this sense, we prioritize our relationships with the writers of the books, who are independent and committed. We wanted to learn from them — how to combine political ambition and professional projects — but also work with people who face issues similar to ours and who share our vision of publishing.
We thus work with Hobo, a distributor that shares some political commitments. We also try to express solidarity with bookstores, as they are the first active support to independent publishers and our relationship to the public. They also experience issues of independence against the concentration of the sales circuits. In the same spirit, we want to develop strong and lasting links with other publishers, especially those who defend a politically-active editorial line.
Creating these relationships is part of our project. Therefore it’s important for us not to compete with other publishers who have a similar line to ours. The idea is that the more publishers defend this type of line and the more we can offer access to this kind of literature and political discourse, the better.
Today, we’re about to publish our first political essays. We are aware of having an atypical career and great ambitions. Yet we believe in them, and we work conscientiously for them. We are united because, before being working partners, we were close friends. This is also our strength. We complement each other and share our skills with one another. And above all, we have the same convictions: autonomy, collectivity and revolution. ■