On Sustainable Literature There is much more to practicing sustainability than the organic production and distribution and consumption of food and drink. Indeed, I would say the sustainability movement suffers from a food and drink-centric bias that diminishes what a larger cultural revolution in America could become.
A sustainable man typically doesn’t live by organic bread alone. He wants something to nourish the mind and soul too, which begs an important economic question: where does he purchase his culture? His books, music, art, drama?
Here’s another question: do sustainable-minded people exert serious effort to buy at least some, or a majority, or all of their popular and intellectual culture from local and/or regional artists, either directly from the artist or through an independent retail business.
In virtually every American town of over 500 residents, a score of writers, artists, musicians, actors and craftsmen produce home grown products like local histories, novels, poetry chapbooks, recipe books, CDS, jewelry, cards, crafts, photographs, prints, paintings and much more. The bigger the town, the more the offerings. Quality varies widely, but that’s true with many products a consumer can buy these days.
I know this abundance exists because I always hit the local history museums, bookstores and record shops (the latter nearly extinct) when I travel and never fail to find unique and indigenous items. Someone in that town made art and I want to support that person by buying it right there. This the very model of sustainability: locally conceived and distributed, local materials often utilized, no wasteful packaging, no distant transportation required for the maker or the merchant, and more profit going to the product’s creator.
My own Oregon publishing company, Nestucca Spit Press (www.nestuccaspitpress.com) works exactly this way and I founded it on the sustainable principle of producing books about Oregon, written by Oregon writers, printed in Oregon, and distributed exclusively in independent Oregon bookstores. The model works for me but I could expand my audience if more people (and bookstores) saw their purchase of literary culture in a heightened sustainable context, like they do their food and drink. I call this idea sustainable literature and many Oregonians have responded well to my business model. In fact, they go out their way to support me.
Of course, you don’t have to limit your culture to only those things created locally or regionally. It’s neither practical nor desirable to acquire all popular and intellectual culture from local sources. But perhaps you should consider spending more of your money closer to home and take the opportunity to meet the artists when those opportunities arise—and they do all the time.
In my own cultural life, I have committed to supporting the local creators of culture. I buy at least two pieces of art a year from artists living at the Oregon Coast where I live. I do the same for musicians and writers, especially a locale’s poets, whom I much prefer to read than new releases from established publishers thousands of miles away.
Artists need your support just as much as the local farmer. Seek one out today and see what they have to offer. A good place to start is an independent bookstore. It’s like the grooviest farmer’s market there, with all the wonderfully discolored and misshapen fruits and vegetables to choose from. When I buy one of the locally produced books shelved there, I’ve found it usually tastes—I mean reads—different than anything I’ve read before. And I love knowing it came from Oregon.