Pushing publishing beyond limits
January 20-26, 2020
By Cait Smith
The idea of writing a book and publishing it seems simple enough, but believe it or not, the world of publishing can be brutal. Marginalized voices – like people of color, the LGBTQ community, and immigrants – are shunned out because they don’t meet the standards of norm. More than often, they’re told to be seen rather than heard because their words are too loud, on edge or unrelatable. These voices are tossed aside for the average man. But a rigid society doesn’t dictate what someone can and can’t say nor can it dictate what someone can and can’t do. And it sure didn’t stop husbands Bryan Borland and Seth Pennington from making those marginalized voices be seen and heard with Sibling Rivalry Press – an independent publishing house based in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Sibling Rivalry Press was born not out of want but necessity. Poet, Editor, and Publisher Borland had self-published a book entitled “My Life as Adam” with help from editor John Stahle, who ran a New York-based LGBTQ literary journal called Ganymede. Borland was unsure of what could come of the book as it was his coming-out story, however, the results were staggering … The book did exceedingly well. But the praise was short lived as Stahle passed unexpectedly. To pay homage, Borland collected the proofs from Ganymede’s never-published final issue and released a tribute book called “Ganymede Unfinished.” He invited all the writers who submitted to the journal to a special memorial held for Stahle.
The only question left to be answered – who was going to take over the journal? Borland felt this was his calling and thus launched Sibling Rivalry Press in 2010. Editor-in-Chief Pennington described the beginnings of Siblings Rivalry as an “evolving story.”
Like many, Borland and Pennington have been outcast for being who they are. “We get it, we’re different. But these stories need to be told, not repressed,” said Pennington. This plays a strong part in the decision of choosing their mission statement, “to disturb and enrapture” – a quote borrowed from the late poet Adrienne Rich. “We want to shake things up and push the limits of what the publishing industry is … that’s where the heart of the story is,” explained Pennington. They took chances on diverse writers such as Ocean Vuong, Saeed Jones, and Kaveh Akbar and published their works. What came from it was a Pushcart Prize winner, eight Lambda Literary Award finalists and three Publishing Triangle Award finalists to name a few.
Indeed they’ve enraptured a wide number of audiences as submissions have grown over the years. Even so, they’ve gained national attention; in 2015, the Library of Congress acquired all of Sibling Rivalry Press’s printed titles, past and future, for induction into its Rare Books and Special Collections Vault, where they will be “housed among history’s greatest writers for all of perpetuity.” Pennington proclaimed that moment to be one of their biggest accomplishments of all. “Yes, there’s less competition in Arkansas, so we’re not swallowed up by other publishers but it’s because our press focuses on minority voices that are overlooked. The Library of Congress is amazing for recognizing that within us,” he said.
Their landscape goes further with the Undocupoet Fellowship, administered by the Sibling Rivalry Press Foundation. This fellowship awards stipends to undocumented or formerly-undocumented writers to help cover the costs of submission fees. “Any little help we can do for the people that are already fighting harder than anybody else, we’ll do,” explained Pennington. Another project they’re fund of is the Arkansas Queer Poet Series – to highlight and honor LGBTQ poets with a connection to the state of Arkansas. “We noticed there was barely any representation for the LGBTQ community in Arkansas, so we wanted to change that with this series,” said Pennington. The series is doing so well, it has attracted national recognition from The Land of Literary Awards, a prominent gay and lesbian award.
Borland and Pennington have their hands full, both as paralegals and business partners, however, that isn’t stopping them from making sure their voices aren’t othered. “The way the press was born and the way our marriage was born was put in a tiny box. Our philosophy has been to take that box that’s confining us and turn it into a platform to make ourselves seen,” stated Pennington.
To find out more about Sibling Rivalry Press, visit https://www.siblingrivalrypress.com/. For the latest updates, follow their Facebook at Sibling Rivalry Press or Twitter at SiblingRivPress.
1. Meet Sibling Rivalry Press, an Arkansas-based publishing house unmasking stereotypes and putting an end to diverse voices that go unheard. (Photos provided)
2. “Bryan and I are big believers in imaging the future you want then creating it. There’s a lot of opportunity happening in Arkansas, it’s just about figuring out what you love and finding a way to be able to do that,” said Seth Pennington.