“If you saw all of this work of mine,” Andrew Barton says, gesturing with his long arms, “you could see Two Plum Press emerge over time. You could see that trajectory.” Barton is animated as he talks about book design, his small press, and all the things he’s made which led him to this point. Honestly, it’s something I’ve never seen from him before.
If you go to the Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC) somewhat regularly, Barton is a fixture. He’s polite, but quiet and always in the middle of making something. One of the signature elements of Two Plum Press is that the book covers are all made by hand. In fact, Barton used to make every part of the book at the center. “The IPRC’s always giving people tours and volunteers say stuff like, ‘You can make an entire book right here,’” he explains. “I thought it would be neat to see if I could actually do what people were saying.”
Barton spent a semester of his senior year of college as an IPRC intern. This was back when the center was still downtown, on Southwest Oak, above Chloe Eudaly’s Reading Frenzy. When prompted, he’s happy to unravel the depths of his college experience with print media. And it turns out to be an amazing story.
Barton went to Bennington College in Vermont, a liberal arts college that sends students out for internships and work training during their winter semester. The practice initially began because the school—founded during the Great Depression—couldn’t afford to heat the building, but it stuck. And nearly 100 years later, it led Barton to intern with Phil Elverum at the Department of Safety in Anacortes, Washington during his freshman year.
“My first introduction to letterpress was helping Phil organize type and move letterpress equipment.” Barton says. “Then Phil’s late wife, Geneviève Castrée, recommended me to the Drawn & Quarterly where they gave me all these amazing assignments like scanning original art for a reissue of Chester Brown’s I Never Really Liked You into a not-yet-InDesign program. I remember copyediting a section of All Known Metal Bands at McSweeney’s. I don’t remember exactly what section it was, but it was like ‘I’m gonna read all of the section that starts with ‘blood.’”
Each of these internships taught Barton something about the kinds of books he wanted to make, but he says the experience of interning at the IPRC was “less ‘oooh, sparkle dreams,’ and more ‘Can you design a new feedback form?’”—which helped ground him as he exited college and entered adult life.
That sense of community and DIY work ethic is an obvious influence on Two Plum. Barton relates one of the reasons he started the press: He knew a lot of writers who seemed to be at an uncertain place in their careers. “I knew they had a book in them and I wanted to publish it. I was like, ‘Are you getting on this ride with me?’”
“I knew they had a book in them and I wanted to publish it. I was like, ‘Are you getting on this ride with me?'”
Each Two Plum Press book contains a small world of stories about it. The outside dust jackets are cool and uniform, but the interior endpapers always carry a personal texture, something the author chooses specially. In the case of the first book, Flavor, by Barton’s partner Sofie Sherman-Burton, the texture is literally a Xerox of the shirt she was wearing while they were assembling the book.
In December 2018, Two Plum Press published its 26th book, Everyday Mythologies, written by regular Mercury contributor Joshua James Amberson. Two Plum has grown to two people now. Alex Hatzakis helps with editing and production. The books are carried at Powell’s, Mother Foucault’s, Nationale, Tender Loving Empire, Association Studio and—very randomly—at a bookshop in Glasgow, Scotland, called Good Press. Due to another of Barton’s adventures, Good Press carries a supply of Portland small press books—and apparently they sell.
Two Plum Press will be part of the No Fair/Fair. Fri March 29 & Sat March 30, noon-5 pm, Bakery Building, 2222 NE Oregon; for readings schedule and locations see nofairfair.com/schedule, free