Founded little more than ten years ago in Pittsburgh by Donna Weaver, Amanda Raczkowski, and Joseph Reed, Caketrain Press (still run by editors Raczkowski and Reed) publishes a journal and sponsors a yearly chapbook competition that alternates between poetry and fiction.
The press also puts out about two titles each year in a wide range of genres, from Heidi Lynn Staples’s intriguing illustrated memoir Take Care Fake Bear Torque Cake, to A.T. Grant’s disturbing novella Collecting Alex, to their latest release, Nevers—a collection of keen and funny “fictions” by Megan Martin, ranging from foxes dancing to R. Kelly to the deeper meaning of a Cloroxed shower curtain and anything you might think of in-between.
Although their list is still rather small, Caketrain’s books are ambitiously experimental and visually arresting, and no genre is off-limits as long as it’s smart and sharp and short. For the Ploughshares blog, assistant editors Tanner Hadfield and Katy Mongeau answer questions about Caketrain Press in complete push-the-boundaries Caketrain style. (All images and videos provided by Caketrain.)
Q: How was Caketrain created? What would you say is Caketrain’s long-range mission?
TH: There are so many accounts of Caketrain’s creation. Like all abiding technologies, the rehearsal dinner never ends. And each is so correct (though my favorite is the one about the peculiar light panel from the movie set). That’s one of the most Caketrain things about Caketrain, I think. Caketrain’s long-range mission is to continue to Caketrain. That’s what makes Caketrain Caketrain. And Caketrain’s more Caketrain than ever. Where others fail is in the nerves. They stop. That work gets unremembered or labeled outlier. Or else that work continues, but evolves, and when it does, it’s swallowed by so-called literature. Caketrain is a constant force, the only valuable kind.
Q: Other than your yearly chapbook competition, how do you acquire manuscripts? How often do you find your authors through the Caketrain journal?
KM: Occasionally we send them chocolates and flowers; other times they leave them under our pillows. If we wake with a crick or a sweat, it may become something larger. We meet so many through the journal, and a handful of these introductions have been bound into books.
Q: What part does Pittsburgh play in Caketrain’s creation? What special qualities does the city have that nourish this kind of creative endeavor?
KM: Pittsburgh is somewhere between Russia and Spain, though I don’t know if I can get more specific than that. Nothing Caketrain is tied to any specific place. If we had to say, more titles are tied to the sky (like Ryan Call’s The Weather Stations) or the earth (like William Vandenberg’s Lake of Earth) or the sea (like Rob Walsh’s Troublers). You could find these clouds and dirts and waters most anywhere, which is what’s so fun about Caketrain.
Q: Caketrain’s titles play with genre a great deal, whether your titles are labeled as prose, poetry, or nonfiction. How would you define genre in Caketrain terms?
KM: We would never call anything poetry or prose or non-fiction. The writers tell us what they call it, and we believe them. Collected Alex by A. T. Grant (the story of a boy who receives a dead body for his birthday and later becomes enveloped) is just as real to us as any memoir or whatever.
Q: What Caketrain titles are on the horizon? What do we have to look forward to?
TH: I’m guessing that means figuratively, so Caketrain’s got a couple so great manuscripts from our most recent “Poetry Genre” contest: The Three Meadows by Joe Aguilar and Disposable Epics by Thibault Raoult. Caketrain is, of course, still so high off Caketrain’s releases from earlier this year, Issue 11 and Megan Martin’s Nevers. And, oh my, Kim Parko’s Cure All is back in print. There’s much to look forward to. Everything, really. Looking around is so underrated, though. It doesn’t cost much.
Kate Flaherty is a New Hampshire writer and teacher whose stories and essays blend nostalgia, angst, and the pursuit of the perfect playlist. Work has appeared in Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Creative Nonfiction, Fourth Genre, and elsewhere. Other writing and ranting can be found at www.kateflaherty.wordpress.com