By Lauren Ball
A now-defunct punk band, one unassuming brick apartment building in the middle of Humboldt Park, and two friendly (though unapologetically territorial) cats might seem wholly unrelated. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to thread together these elements as I stood outside the building, fiery red leaves crunching under my feet as I paced in the cold, attempting to stay warm until the door opened. These eccentricities, however, are what make Curbside Splendor Publishing so distinct.
Founded by Chicago businessman Victor Giron, Curbside Splendor publishes fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, on top of hosting readings, shows, and book fairs. The name, borrowed from Giron’s punk rock venture of the early 1990’s, was pasted onto his undoubtedly more successful publishing venture in 2009.
“It does have this anti-suburban tone to it. It seems like it’s mocking the curbside appeal” stereotype, said Naomi Huffman, Curbside’s editor-in-chief. The publishing house mirrors the antithesis of neatly manicured lawns, opting for the warmth of a meaningful literary community rather than detachment of shuttered, single-family homes.
As I stepped into Curbside’s office (which doubles as Huffman’s home), two large, confident cats greeted me, and one immediately adopted my jacket as a perch. Megan, the press’s intern, typed away at a laptop on the rustic kitchen table where hanging ferns framed the large windows that let in bright, overcast light. The onslaught of books and documents strewn on the table contrasted with Huffman’s serene demeanor as she calmly placed a kettle on the stove.
This familial, cozy environment seeps into Curbside’s various releases. Huffman and Catherine Eves, the house’s managing editor, spoke excitedly about their authors as if they were friends rather than clients. “They know that we will spend so much time working with them on everything. We work on editorial, publicity, and we plan their tours,” said Eves. “We’re very hands on, and that’s not something you can get at a larger house.”
From humble beginnings, only publishing a small number of books each year, Curbside now partners with Consortium, a distribution company based in Minneapolis. “Getting distribution for a small press is a huge deal,” said Eves. “It immediately requires that you expand your catalog and take what you’re doing a bit more seriously. Before (we partnered in) 2013, we published around six books a year. When you sign with a distribution company, they expect you to publish enough that it’s worthwhile for them to distribute your stuff.”
As I glanced around Huffman’s airy apartment, her home amenities mixing with office documents and multiple boxes of books tucked neatly away in a closet, Curbside exuded a sense of growth and flux. No longer a small press limited to the confines of Chicago, writers and agents from the Pacific Northwest and other areas of the Midwest have picked up on Curbside’s passion and careful attention to detail.
Stephen Dixon, a writer who Eves hosted at a reading in Iowa City, reached out to Curbside when considering publishers for this new book, Late Stories, which was released this year. Anne Elizabeth Moore, a renowned city writer, cultural critic, and journalist, will publish her upcoming book Body Horror: Essays on Misogyny & Capitalism with Curbside this spring.
It’s not difficult to understand why Curbside is so appealing to authors. There’s a magnetic energy surrounding the place, the kind that can only come from a group of like-minded people doing what they know and love best. “It’s hard to meet someone in the publishing community who doesn’t (write),” said Eves.
“I still identify first as a writer, which is a constant struggle for me, because most of my career is based around my editing work,” said Huffman. “But I’ve also come to treasure and value the education that facilitating a small press requires of my writing skills. Being an editor has made me such a stronger writer, and the connections we make are valuable. A lot of the connections you’re able to establish in academic programs, we’ve been able to establish through our job, which has been really wonderful.”
As writers first and foremost, Eves and Huffman have a deeper understanding of the breadth of work that goes into a book. Instead of emotionally removing themselves from the collections that come their way, there’s a sense that they place a little piece of themselves into each release.
“I love Rilke’s Letters To A Young Poet,” said Huffman. “There’s this letter where he says ‘You have to ask yourself, are you a poet? If the answer is a resounding, self-trumpeting yes, then you’ve got to write.’ I know that my answer to that question is yes, and so it’s just a matter of scaling how much I can write each day. Otherwise, if I don’t, I just feel like shit.”