Darlene Fife, Portraits From Memory: New Orleans in the Sixties,
New Orleans: Mesechabe, The Surregional Press, 2000, illustrated, $12. firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © by SuZi, 1/3/03
Small press publishing is more of an endeavor of honor than of financial reward. This is true especially in our current times when large American publishing houses are owned by megacorporations and companies home based outside the country; and whose intent is culture as a whole is one of fiscal profit rather than aesthetic value. So, it is especially noble that the small presses who do chose to continue, to print on paper and run the gauntlets of distribution and marketing, who keep making interesting publications available to those of us who love them; and even more impressive are the presses who publish without the institutional support of some university. Such a press is Mesechabe/The Surregional Press, which has published the old fashioned way since 1988.
The Surregional Press published its magazine, Mesechabe, and an occasional book relevant to its unstated mission of giving recognition to those for whom it is certainly due but not necessarily forthcoming. One such book is Darlene Fife's Portrait From Memory: New Orleans in the Sixties. Written in an almost sparse, straightforward style, Fife's text is a memoir in which the usual main character of the memoir--the author--is hardly present. Fife's presence in the text is one of witness, of record-keeper of the events of that time. The text itself is organized around four primary chapters whose focus is upon four people: people who made things happen. Each chapter is then subdivided into her eye witnessed accounts of relevant history.
The true main character of Fife's account is the small press publication NOLA Express , which was distributed at street level in the late sixties and early seventies. NOLA Express was, at various times, involved in legal wrangling regarding both their method of distribution and the newspaper's editorial content. NOLA Express published both literature and social criticism -- Fife lists d.a.levy, Alta, Claude Pelieu, William Wantling, as well as the then-unknown writers Lyn Lifshin and Charles Bukowski --alongside a column by Rich Mangelsdorf on the small press and the work of various artists: it was the art which brought NOLA Express itself under indictment.
Although Fife's comments about the mingling of politics and art/literature in a small press publication are brief, they are still currently relevant:
was, so far as I know, the only publication that was a member of both UPS
(Underground Press Syndicate) and COSMEP [ Committee of Small Magazine Editors
and Publishers. Fife was a director] I thought there should be more
interconnection between the underground press and the literary magazines, so I
invited Tom Forcade, who started UPS and later High Times , to speak.
COSMEP members tended to be a
stodgy lot keeping LITERATURE separate from politics. (p5)
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