An Interview with Gregory Wolfe of SLANT

GregCaitlin Mackenzie (CM): Image and the Glen Workshops have cultivated an organic, committed community of readers and writers. Was the launch of a new literary imprint a natural development?

Gregory Wolfe (GW): The short answer is yes. As the editor of a literary quarterly I’d always hoped to publish books as well, but that was a little too ambitious for Image itself to take on, which is why I’m very glad I was approached by the good folks at Wipf and Stock.

Slant books will benefit from the way Image has fostered a community of readers, but we will never be content just playing to the “home” crowd: the goal—for both journal and literary imprint—is to always expand the audience.

CM:  Most probably know Slant refers to the line in Emily Dickinson’s poem “Tell All the Truth” in which she writes, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” What is your interpretation of this line and how does it represent your vision for Slant books?

GW: Yup, that was the poem that inspired the name of the imprint. It’s a wonderful poem but I think it is liable to misinterpretation. You could read the poem and think Dickinson is saying, “The writer’s task is to take a ‘truth’ that’s sitting comfortably inside her head and then simply find some indirect way of getting that truth across to people.” That would be a big mistake.

Here’s why. For one thing, it misses the very nature of literary art, which is not merely about taking abstractions and gussying them up in verbal garb. Most of the finest writers will say something to the effect that “I didn’t know what I thought until I began to write.” Writing is an act of discovery. Our hold on truth is shaky at the best of times, so we need the act of literary creation and reception to become a place of mutual discovery—a journey toward truth that we undertake together.

To write “slant” means that the author has to lean into what the poet Scott Cairns calls the “stuff” of writing—words and their histories, stories and their myriad forms—in order to struggle toward truth.

The poet Denise Levertov once likened the act of writing to the way a dog will inspect the world: the dog’s sniffing of everything he comes across is “intently haphazard.” This is also a great description of Dickinson’s insight.

CM:  Will Slant publish only religious or spiritual books?

GW: The short answer is no. It’s true that Image focuses on contemporary art and literature that grapple with religious faith, but it’s important to remember that we have always defined that grappling—and that word “faith”—as broadly as possible. The mission of the journal has been to demonstrate when religious believers attempt to create a safe, tidy, self-enclosed subculture they are not only closing themselves off from the world and sanctioning second-rate work, but also getting their theology all wrong. The kind of dualism that separates “sacred” from “profane” certainly isn’t living out an incarnational vision of the world.

The Roman writer Terence once said “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto. (I am human being: nothing human is alien to me).” Whether you are a writer of faith or not, that should be your motto.

Slant books will publish work that concerns itself with everything that’s human. That will, of course, include the religious sense, but our titles will in no way become a line of “religious fiction.”

CM:  What kinds of books will Slant publish? What gap in the publishing world do you see Slant filling? Similarly, who do you envision as the primary readership of Slant books?

GW: I’m sometimes asked: “What are you looking to publish in Image?” My response is invariably: “If I knew what I wanted to publish, you should shoot me.” It is the very essence of art to surprise. There may be nothing new under the sun, but art strives to make that perennial material of the human condition fresh and arresting in our minds and hearts.

I think I put it fairly well in the initial press release for Slant: our goal will be to publish material “that explores the mysteries of the human heart—the nature of desire; the pain and the hope buried in our brokenness; our fear of, and longing for, communion with the other. And we believe the best way to approach such mysteries is indirectly, through the prism of metaphor and richly drawn characters.”

My hope is that the readership will be anyone who cares for the kind of depth and interiority that only great literature can provide.

CM:  Are you only publishing fiction, or can we expect poetry and creative nonfiction in the future?

GW: We’re going to start with novels. After all, this is a new venture and publishing is a tough business these days. So we want to begin with books that provide a rich, engrossing narrative—I’d even be willing to say they’ll be page-turners.

The hope is if we succeed with the initial set of books we’ll have the foundation to move outward: to short story collections, memoirs, and more.

CM: What is your role in the publication of Slant books? And what is the role of Wipf and Stock Publishers?

GW: As editor-in-chief my primary role will be in acquiring books for Slant. I will also do some developmental editing. I’ll be ably assisted by a managing editor, Julie Mullins. Wipf and Stock will provide the kind of innovative mastery of printing, marketing, and distribution that have made it a scrappy and successful player in the publishing business.

CM: Why have you chosen Wipf and Stock Publishers as your partner for the publication of Slant books?

GW: Well, partly because they asked. But I’ve admired the way the company has evolved from a reprint operation to a more ambitious, opportunity-seizing business. I love that Wipf and Stock still loves books, even though the economics and logistics of book publishing are changing rapidly.

CM:  How will Slant meet the needs of e-readers? Will electronic versions of Slant books be made available?

GW: Yes! We will be making all Slant books available digitally. Stay tuned for all the technical details.

CM:  When can we expect the first book? And subsequent books?

GW: Early 2013. And soon thereafter.

CM:  How can people stay apprised of news from Slant?

GW: Three ways at least!

There’s our website: www.SlantBooks.com.

On the website you can subscribe to our occasional e-newsletter, Slant-Wise.

And there’s also a Facebook page: www.facebook.com/slantbooks.