In last week’s BookSmack, Jim Carmin of the Multnomah County Library interviews Melville House’s Dennis Johnson on the publishers’ founding.
The company was founded, impulsively, as a kind of moral or at least political act, and I guess that imbues everything we do. I had this blog called MobyLives, one of the first book blogs, and on September 10, 2001, it was named by Yahoo! (the Google of that era) as the website of the week, so on the morning of September 11, I suddenly had tens of thousands of readers. After we heard the attacks and ran down to the water, the police forced us back into our apartments. We thought it was war, so we went online to look for news, and I found people were already writing to me about the attacks—lots of local poets and novelists and literary journalists, friends and fans.
To make a long story short, I began posting things, starting late on the day itself with an email I got from a poet named George Murray who had a day job at 7 World Trade Center. He wrote of his horrifying escape, and it got a lot of attention. Then we posted poetry by some pretty well-known people such as Alicia Ostriker and Stephen Dunn, and it started getting press attention.
By the time George Bush climbed up on the rubble of the towers a couple of days later and started calling for vengeance, with the media chiming in, MobyLives had this amazing other take on events. At some point soon after, Valerie looked over my shoulder and said, “That stuff really tells the story of New York right now so much better than what’s in the newspaper. We ought to make a book about it.” And we were off, racing along toward the creation of our first book, Poetry After 9/11, although we had absolutely no idea how to do such a thing.
It’s a great conversation, worth reading in total!