These two gentlemen have every reason to be smiling. They do good things for the world. They put books into readers' hands, they mentor unpublished writers, they put authors in schools to talk with students, they rally the community to support cash-strapped literary journals. In short, they run into the burning building we call the Publishing Industry and rescue writers, readers and books. So when you have humanitarian hearts this big, you just can't keep that grin wiped off your face.
Steven Gillis (left) and Dan Wickett--who, now that they're in the same room, could pass for twins--are the founders of Dzanc Books and are the justly-deserved subjects of a feature story at the Poets & Writers website.
I've mentioned Dan W. and Dzanc Books before here at The Quivering Pen, but Jeremiah Chamberlin's article for Poets & Writers neatly charts the indie publisher's history--which had its origins in 2003 with Wickett's enthusiastic book review e-mails to a group he called the Emerging Writers Network. When reader Wickett met writer Gillis in 2005, they recognized in each other a spirit which championed under-read, overlooked writers. Dzanc Books was born and, along with its imprints, has gone on to publish more than 50 works of fiction. Most significantly, however, they also brought a sense of community service to an industry which, let's face it, is typically self-serving. Chamberlin really sums it up well when he writes:
...perhaps nothing captures why Dzanc exists, or what it hopes to accomplish as an organization and a publisher, than (Gillis') response: “There’s really no purpose in life except helping other people. That’s the bottom line. I mean, there really isn’t. That’s how I look at it. I don’t understand when people don’t think that way. You know, I got lucky early on with investments. I live in a comfortable house. I could live in a mansion, but I don’t. I save my pennies and I do charitable work instead.”
How fitting—and natural—then that Gillis and Wickett would work so well together. Because during the five years prior to their initial meeting, the only compensation that Wickett had received from writing hundreds of reviews, interviewing dozens of writers, and creating a Web site to promote the work of these individuals, was the free copies of books he’d received from authors and publishers. What mattered to him was championing good writing. That, and the friendships that had naturally developed along the way.
I'm proud to say that mine was one of those many friendships. I can't remember how or when I joined EWN and started getting Dan's e-mails (though it must have been sometime in 2004, just before I deployed to Iraq), but I do know in all the correspondence I've had with Dan, I've never heard anything but generosity, selflessness, and evangelical zeal for books and writers. He and his battalion of EWN disciples (including, but certainly not limited to, Pinckney Benedict, Allison Amend, Erin McGraw, Philip Deaver, Greg Michalson, Lauren Baratz-Logsted, Amanda Eyre Ward, Jim Nichols, and Masha Hamilton) generously supplied me with care packages and notes of encouragement while I was in Baghdad. Dan's support of my writing continued after I returned to the U.S. and we remain close friends to this day (even though I've never met him in person). It's impossible for me to adequately express the gratitude I feel for Dan, EWN and all of Dzanc for my growth as a writer. I'd been writing for years before I found EWN, but never took myself very seriously. Dan and the other EWN'ers gave me encouragement and led me to believe I could start running stronger and faster as a writer. In geologic terms, if I was the fish crawling out of the ocean and sprouting legs, Dan Wickett was the oxygen in my gills.
So, as a small way of thanking Dan and his team, I'm asking that you put your weekend activities on pause for another fifteen minutes, read Jeremiah Chamberlin's article and, after you feel that gush of goodwill spread through your chest, check out some of Dzanc's charitable efforts:
While you're at the Dzanc Books website, think about adding a book or two to your shopping cart. You can thank me later.
Photo credit: Jeremiah Chamberlin