Interviews

New Small Press Seeks Big Old Letterpress

Here's the 120-year-old antique letterpress that Meekling wants to purchase! All photos via the Kickstarter campaign
Here’s the 120-year-old antique letterpress that Meekling wants to purchase. (all photos via the Kickstarter campaign)

CHICAGO — Reports of print’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Outpost Magazine is one testament to this; another is Meekling Press, a very small Chicago-based book press that is committed to creating small editions of hand-bound books, as well as paperback editions. To date, the largest edition they’ve produced is a series of 50 books, which helps explain why they call themselves “very small” instead of just “small.”

But what’s a meekling? When I looked up the definition of “meekling” on Urban Dictionary, I found that it means “the last remnants of weed from the bag, green pixie dust, or just marijuana.” While I love drug references as much as the next writer, I knew that Meekling wasn’t about weed. I got in touch with co-founder/publisher Rebecca Elliott to learn more about the operation, and why they are running this Kickstarter to purchase a 120-year-old antique letterpress.

The totally adorable Meekling logo!!!
The totally adorable Meekling logo

Alicia Eler: So why is “Meekling” the name of your very small press? Also why do you say “very small” instead of just “small”? How does one check to see if they are a meekling? 

Rebecca Elliott: John Wilmes made up the name for us. We saw some of our friends writing really awesome stuff, but since they weren’t so interested in/good at self-promotion, we were afraid their work wouldn’t get the audience it deserves, so we’re trying to do what we can to get a few more people to read their stuff. That’s where the word Meekling came from. Also, I think it sounds like “meerkat,” a funny & cute animal and one that’s always looking out, right?

AE: How often do you publish books? What type of machine are you currently using? 

RE: We make about two books a year, but there’s no strict schedule. I take whatever we make from one book and put it into the materials for the next book, and that’s how we’ve been getting along. They’ve all been bound by [me and my] friends sitting around my dining room table, which has been a lot of fun. Meekling Press is definitely a “labor of love,” and we are so lucky to have a group of people who love making things & supporting good writing.

I have a tabletop letterpress right now that I used for printing the entirety of the first book we did, Patty Cottrell’s “Jury of Sudden Hands,” and for the poetry postcards I send out every month or so, it’s a 3×5 Kesley. So, the print area is very small! And the print quality you can get from a Kelsey is not super great, though I’ve learned a lot about its quirks in the last couple years since I’ve been working with it. The rest of the printing is done of a laser printer.

SLEEPER by Dan Ivec is forthcoming from Meekling Press
SLEEPER by Dan Ivec is forthcoming from Meekling Press

AE: Where did you find the very special letterpress machine that you are hoping to purchase? How do you think it will change your work?! How will it make the work more “awesome” as you say?

RE: OK I am super excited about this press! Lori-May Orillo, friend & collaborator, found it in Evanston at a bookshop that is closing very soon. The print area much bigger than that little Kesley I’ve been printing on, so we’ll be able to print books much more easily. Plus the quality of the impression is much nicer, and it’s a better machine for doing larger runs. So it’ll change our work in that we can do more! bigger! better! Also, the press comes with a bunch of drawers of lead type & some copper plates. I do set type by hand (rather than using polymer plates), so the addition of more type is a big deal. I’ve been working with only a couple of fonts … so typographically, this is very great as well!

Another shot of the purrdddy 120-year-old antique letterpress
Another shot of the 120-year-old antique letterpress

AE: What’s the most exciting thing you’ve learned from being a part of this production thus far?

RE: What is very exciting & nice & wonderful is how supportive and helpful people have been. I feel like we’re all — writers, book artists, printers, & everyone — working together to make good stuff, because making good stuff is important. & I mean, I have been learning that people who I have never even met before are eager to help, whether by giving technical advice or by binding books, or by whatever, and that is an amazing feeling.

AE: I’m curious — in your opinion, why do you think antique letterpresses are so popular these days? 

RE: I don’t know! A lot of people have an opinion about this. I just think it’s a lot of (tedious, meticulous) fun. Also, I’m a big fan of Benjamin Franklin. I do think though that there are different book forms that would suit different kinds of writing. I wouldn’t try to do the same thing in a digital book as I would do in a book printed letterpress, but there are exciting possibilities for either one.

Meekling Press published DESTROYERS by John Wilmes (sold out)
Meekling Press published DESTROYERS by John Wilmes (sold out)
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