An introduction to Lab

Dear reader, 

Thank you for coming to Graywolf Lab. We’ve been talking about and planning Lab for months (or, really, years) and we’re excited to be sharing it with you now. 

About Lab

Lab began with two questions: What sorts of projects might we publish that don’t fit inside a book? How do we bring new writers and readers to Graywolf Press? 

It was also informed by an observation about events, particularly virtual events. Since 2020, we’ve hosted and attended many events tied to a book’s publication. The conversations were often provocative and inspiring, and we wanted to do more with the energy they created. What would happen if we held the event before publishing? 

We imagined gathering artists from different disciplines to discuss a theme. Those artists would suggest others they admired whose work related to the theme; we would then find ways to collaborate with these artists, who would in turn lead us to others. 

This isn’t very different from what we already do. Publishers (and other platforms and spaces) are led to new collaborators by past and current collaborators. But there was something interesting to us about making our process more visible and open-ended. The work of curation can often seem precious, opaque. Sometimes it’s couched in the language of ownership or competition: “discovering” or “investing in” a particular artist. We wanted to try holding this work more lightly, making it more social. 

About our theme

We started to brainstorm artists we were interested in hearing from and themes we wanted to explore. There were many meetings and many lists. 

When the words “space-time(?)” entered our Google doc of theme ideas, it almost seemed like a joke. We couldn’t possibly ask anyone to talk about something so broad and abstract, could we? The more we talked about it, though, the more fitting the topic seemed. We realized that we were all thinking about time all the time. That we were troubled by it, felt awed by it, grappled with it every day. That it was a topic that was beguilingly hard to think about head-on. Time, in fact, was the root of everything important and mysterious. 

The contents (so far)

The artists who participated in our first roundtable came to us from different channels. Kweku Abimbola’s debut collection, Saltwater Demands a Psalm, received the Academy of American Poets’ First Book Award and was subsequently published by Graywolf. Kweku and his poems brought to the discussion a joyful engagement with Ghana’s Akan tradition——particularly the practice of naming children according to the day of the week on which they were born. A few of us had read and loved Activities of Daily Living, a novel by Lisa Hsiao Chen, about a woman caring for her aging stepfather while working on a project about the artist Tehching Hsieh. Hsieh’s performance pieces in the late seventies and early eighties included punching a time clock every hour for a year (Time Clock Piece) and going a year without stepping inside any building or shelter (Outside Piece). In 2021, performance artist, writer, director, and educator Daniel Alexander Jones was part of a virtual event we co-hosted with Penumbra, a Black theater company based, like Graywolf, in the Twin Cities, about the role of literature in healing communities. Just as he did in that conversation, he offered the roundtable openhearted insights about how we might change our relationship to memory, inheritance, history, and, therefore, time. Finally, we were fans of Thảo Nguyễn and her band Thao & the Get Down Stay Down and had also been moved by an essay she had published in The Georgia Review, “Song and Dance,” about her parents, who came to the US as refugees from the war in Vietnam. In our conversation, she asked some seemingly simple and yet probing questions: What is memory for? Can forgetting be as important as remembering? We turned this roundtable into our first podcast, available here.

We asked our four guests to tell us about some other artists the theme brought to mind. This guided us toward short ”spotlights” on theater artist Kaneza Schaal, tap dancer Ayodele Casel, visual artist Darryl DeAngelo Terrell (who provided our beautiful cover image), and to a longer feature, “The Mysteries of East L.A.,” part of a decades-long project by Arturo Romo and Sesshu Foster. Their playful, multiplicitous, vernacular-conceptual, speculative-archival, community-centered practice has influenced our approach to, and aspirations for, Lab. 

We’ve included some of our current collaborators. Graywolf is publishing Nicolette Polek’s debut novel Bitter Water Opera in 2024. She visited the American Clock Museum and wrote a small essay that somehow fits infinity inside it. “Vertical Time” by Laura Marris——a meditation on her father, highways, and wildlife migration paths——is a chapter from The Age of Loneliness, also out from Graywolf next year. The composer Jacob Cooper lent us a clip from his piece “Expiation” for our podcast so we included a spotlight on him as well, about how his music attempts to suspend time. 

Among our contributors who are new to Graywolf are the poet Justin Rovillos Monson and Max Neely-Cohen and Katy Ilonka Gero, who have invented a way to experience poems at different speeds. And we’re incredibly honored to have a new short story by the Hiromi Kawakami, in English for the first time in a translation from Japanese by David Karashima. 

In the spirit of “showing our work,” we’re also posting occasional reflections about Graywolf, its history, and its processes——what goes on day to day, what we might be thinking about as a team. We’ve started with some brief snapshots from the press’s earlier days, and an in-depth interview with Fiona McCrae, who was our director and publisher until 2022.  

Coming soon (with your help)

Over the next three months, we’ll be adding more features and spotlights to Lab 1: Time. We hope you’ll follow along and we hope it might spark ideas from you, our readers. We’ll open submissions later in the year, but in the meantime you can check out our mood board, where we’re posting a running list of texts, links, and quotes that have been informing us as we build this theme. 

One of the simple guiding principles of Lab is being in conversation. We’re interested in actual conversations between artists (like the roundtable) and in collaborative practices (Arthur Romo and Sesshu Foster, for instance, or any translation) and in work that finds new ways to interact with its audience (like Max Neely-Cohen and Katy Ilonko Gero’s invention). But even the essays and stories that have a single name attached to them are the result of and an act of relation; every work of art is. We’re grateful to have you joining the conversation.