|Photo Credit: Randy Martinez|
Courtesy of Akashic Books
This interview on literature with Akashic Books Founder, Johnny Temple, is one of the most encouraging interviews I’ve conducted throughout my writing career. Before approaching Temple after attending the 19th Annual Story Festival of Writers Week and hearing him share a moving story that’s detailed here, I’d been pondering the tragedy in one allowing their dreams to die under an establishment of rejections while the haunting belief in the art created screams to be born. Often, I think about several well-known artists whose dreams were accomplished through independent pursuits and self-belief or, after someone revived their belief when countless rejections seized hope.
To the degree that Akashic has salvaged the voices of amazing writers and brought great stories to literature, this independent press has been equally rewarded by such writers as Temple shares in this interview.
Interiors of Man: Since founding Akashic Books, you have attracted a list of renowned writers from various ethnicities. How has your study of Black Culture informed the growth of Akashic, along with being a bass guitarist for an indie band whose influences range from Rock to Reggae?
Johnny Temple: When I was a kid I read books but wasn’t a particularly voracious reader. I didn’t become passionate about books until I went to college and read Native Son by Richard Wright. That novel and others I was taught, like Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, helped shape my interest in literature. And then I read Toni Morrison and my life as a reader changed forever. Being a musician has of course influenced my literary interests. Toni Morrison and Bob Marley are two of the cornerstones of my aesthetic tendencies.
IOM: Attending last month’s “Writing to Publishing” panel discussion presented by Columbia College Chicago, you emphasized the importance of a writer’s character when considering new clients. After character assessment, what essentials do you and your staff look for in deciding to publish an author’s work?
JT: Before questions of character is the quality of the author’s work. The most important factor, by far, is the caliber of the writing and the integrity of the work itself.
IOM: What makes an independent press special is its autonomy to make decisions focused more on artistic value than commercialism, which facilitates the discovery of distinguished writers who are often overlooked, as in the case of Marlon James, who as you stated, was about to give up when you met him in Jamaica. Please share this inspiring story with Interiors and the rewards in rescuing a great writer from obscurity.
JT: I first met Marlon James at a Calabash Writers Workshop in Kingston, Jamaica. A few weeks earlier Marlon had connected with Kaylie Jones, an Akashic author and writing teacher, who was leading a workshop for the Calabash Writers Workshop. Kaylie urged me to check out Marlon’s manuscript and I did, and I was both smitten and shocked by the writing. John Crow’s Devil is a phenomenal and brutal allegory set in a small village in 1950s rural Jamaica. When Kaylie and I met Marlon he was despairing, collecting a pile of rejection letters from literary agents and publishers in New York City and elsewhere. He had literally deleted his novel from his hard drive. Fortunately, we caught him in time and he was able to un-delete John Crow’s Devil, which Akashic then published to rave reviews and prestigious award nominations. Marlon’s latest novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, published by Riverhead, has taken the mainstream literary world by storm, with truly outstanding review coverage. Marlon is also teaching at Macalester College in Minnesota now. So his life has changed significantly from when we first crossed paths in Jamaica, as has mine.
IOM: Any more discover and rescue missions for Akashic?
JT: Marlon found and rescued us, as have a lot of other wonderful authors. I once received a manila envelope in the mail from Chris Abani containing the pages of his otherworldly and masterful novella Becoming Abigail. (This story also traces back to Calabash and Jamaica.) Bernice L. McFadden found Akashic at the Harlem Book Fair and rescued us with her novel Glorious, and then Gathering of Waters, along with three other earlier novels of hers that we’ve reissued, including Loving Donovan, for which Terry McMillan very generously wrote a new introduction. Akashic Books is defined by these novels and the others that constitute our list.
For a complete list on Akashic’s authors and titles visit, www.akashicbooks.com.