How to Run a Literary Press Under an Authoritarian Regime, or Things I Consider at 4 A.M.

  1. Googling “how to run a literary press under an authoritarian regime” will not turn up any helpful results.
  2. I have vague history-class ideas about dropping leaflets out of planes
  3. but that’s beyond our budget, so now what?
  4. Back up your computer (in case the regime takes it from you). Keep an external hard drive buried in the barn (the regime cannot take your barn from you. Your horses, your dogs will not allow it). Print everything from your website, and your e-chaps, and the poems and essays and interviews you have published online (in case the Internet is shut down) (in case the regime takes it from you). (Can the regime take away your barn?)
  5. Wrap everything you have printed out in plastic, and hide it all under the floorboards. Leave a pen and some spare paper with them (in case they take all the pens and paper and then what happens if one night you can’t sleep and want to write something)?
  6. Put some cash in there, too.

[Will it be okay if we just keep publishing books that amplify marginalized voices?]

  1. I walked around my house (yes, it was 4 a.m.) and am worried because we do not have floorboards.
  2. I went out to the barn (it was a little past 4 a.m. at this point, I suppose) and noticed that our barn floor is cement
  3. but I could work something out: if you don’t have a barn, send me your hard drive and I will bury it with mine. Maybe you could keep my writing under your floorboards? (The regime cannot take away all of our floors.)
  4. I still have confidence in the US Postal Service, though that may change.
    We will create a network of literary smugglers.

[Donate to the ACLU. Keep publishing books by people with disabilities.]

  1. We cannot afford a plane, but we could print our poems and drop them from high places. I think the point of the leaflets was to drop them on the enemy, but I’m not sure where or what the enemy is (I mean, besides the authoritarian regime in general), so let’s be safe and drop them everywhere: from tall buildings and barn silos, mesas and mountains. Trees, even. Stand on a chair if it’s all you’ve got. (Even if they take away our barns or our floors, they cannot take away all the trees. Can they?)

[Buy a reusable water filter. Keep publishing books by people of color.]

  1. We can hide our work by taping it under the tables of every coffee shop in the United States, but they will probably crack down on coffee shops so we could tape it to the back of every television in every bar in the United States.

[Get an IUD. Keep publishing books by LGBTQ people.]

  1. We could toss sheaves of poetry out of bus and train windows. We could leave chapbooks among stacks of towels in Target, because I think some conservative people are boycotting Target. Under the new regime, maybe this will be a safe place to disseminate our work. (You know, our work that will be targeted, get it?) The worst that could happen is the authoritarian regime, or people associated with it in ideological ways, will find all our printed poems and essays and burn them or shred them for ticker tape in a victory parade.
  2. Either breathe us in, or walk through our words.

[Buy a gun. Keep publishing books by women.]

  1. All my worries seem melodramatic and absurd. We are not going to find ourselves in a situation in which hard drives need to be buried beneath barns. And even if we did, who would dig them up? (Do you know anyone we could reach out to? We need someone who knows what it’s like to run a literary press under an authoritarian regime.)

[Consider safe places you could go. Keep publishing books by working-class people.]

  1. I know what it’s like to see murdered bodies in the streets, to hide in the house long enough to worry about food, and it’s possible I have buried things to hide them. I once rode a horse through a riot but that was only because she was not my horse and I wanted to get her home. I didn’t know there was a riot between us and the stables and once I realized what was happening, it was too late to back out unobtrusively.
  2. But this was not like running a literary press at all so I’m not sure why I’m bringing it up. It’s actually something I don’t like to talk about.

[Practice your war cry. Keep publishing books by adherents of minority religions and atheists.]

  1. I’m sure there are a lot of options we haven’t thought of and that it would help to get some guidance from more experienced people. But if that does not work out, let’s print all the poems and essays and gather all the chapbooks and gently ease one page away from its binding and let it drift from a high place. We’ll do this till all the pages are gone.
  2. That way, the work is out there.
    (It is possible that the regime will also try to take our trees.)
  3. One page at a time, it’s out there, and if people only find part of a poem or the last page of an essay and they want to know how it started, they will have to ask around
  4. and piece it together bit by bit and then they will
  5. know a little about what it takes to create something.

Saumya Arya Haas is the digital outreach coordinator for Agape Editions, an imprint of Sundress Publications. She was an early adopter of social media for interfaith and social justice outreach and has been nominated as a Twin Cities Titan in Social Media. While pursuing her religious studies degree at Harvard University, she founded Headwaters/Delta Interfaith, which facilitated interfaith / intergroup dialogue and advised organizations on diversity, inclusiveness, and intergroup cooperation; she worked extensively in New Orleans but this work has taken her everywhere from West Africa to the White House. She writes for Huffington Post and assorted publications online and in print media. Saumya is a priestess of both Hinduism and Vodou.

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