Even in a region as literate as the greater Seattle area, new publishers don't pop up every day. So when I heard about a new small press called The Silent Academy launching out of Port Townsend this summer, I had to investigate further. What kind of person, in the year 2019, is launching a publisher of poetry and experimental literary works?
It turns out that Andrew Shaw, Silent Academy's publisher, doesn't sound like a fool or a wide-eyed innocent. Instead, he's a globe-trotting former radio and print journalist who has been publishing poetry for most of his adult life.
But as Shaw watched journalism turn into an online-native endeavor, and as his role changed "from a freelancer to staff writer and an editor and then a director of content," he saw the importance of writing take a back seat. Journalism, he says, "become less to do with what I'm in love with and everything to do with selling advertising units or securing revenue streams, and that's the fastest way to kill any kind of art."
"So I quit my job," Shaw says, matter-of-factly. "I concentrated on doing some writing of my own and I was speaking with a friend — writer/artist/musician and inventor Bill Drummond, who has the most fascinating Wikipedia page on Wikipedia." Shaw told Drummond that he was feeling burnt out and lost and Drummond replied, "just do what you do, but do it for yourself."
Shaw had made the move to Port Townsend about four years before, after he and his wife fell in love with the region. "I don't want to be anywhere else now," he says. But is Port Townsend, which is also home to the amazing Copper Canyon Press, big enough for two poetry publishers? "Yeah, definitely," Shaw says, without missing a beat. He's a fan of what Copper Canyon does. "They remind me of Sub Pop — they're small, but they're huge. The Pacific Northwest does seem to nurture and sustain the niche," and Shaw believes that The Silent Academy will find its own niche just fine.
Shaw says Silent Academy's mission statement "changes every day depending on who asks." But if you press him for a moment, he elaborates: "I like the idea that what we want to give people things that they've not seen before, but also provide a home to writers and artists with the freedom to make mistakes and to not necessarily worry about a template of what previous success may have looked like."
"We want to show the accessibility of poetry rather than have it seen as something beyond the normal," Shaw says. This summer, he'll publish Silent Academy's first collection, as well as the first wave of an ongoing series of pamphlets. He plans on publishing just a couple books a year to start, along with three pamphlets every quarter.
Silent Academy is unabashedly analog: "Everything's going to be physical," Shaw says. Ask him what book he wishes Silent Academy had published and he gives two very different answers: first, he's a fan of the "surprising" nature of John Lennon's "A Spaniard in the Works and Garcia Lorca's Sonnets of Dark Love, which he says is "exquisite beyond measure."
Ultimately, Shaw believes his art is about planting a flag in the ground and making a statement. "I like the idea of presenting something, rather than actually having a straight debate. So, you know, if you are against tyranny, don't fight tyranny — make something beautiful." As a publisher, Shaw says, he wants to make something "that's counter to the hideousness of what's currently going on. To have joy is an act of resistance."
"That's our mission statement for right now," he laughs.