Panel displays perspectives on Richmond publishing projects

Photo by Ali Jones.
Photo by Ali Jones.

GenderFail, a publishing group centered around queer and transgender people and people of color, presented experiences of three Richmond-based art publishing projects at a panel discussion at Sediment Gallery on Jan. 20.   

GenderFail founder Brett Suemnicht said art publishing focuses on looking at a book or other publication as art, instead of a product to be sold at high volumes. Oftentimes, the priority is not to make money, but finding or creating “work that really resonates.”

“Especially by starting my own project, I can produce whatever I want. I am not saying ‘oh, I need to make a publication like this so it sells,’ it’s really for the integrity of the work,” Suemnicht said.

While many publishers make money off of their work, Suemnicht said most use other forms of employment to fund the projects.

As the discussion began, the mismatched seats in the gallery were filled quickly; by the end of the event, attendees were seated in a semicircle that reached the building’s entrance.

“I’m blown away by how many people came out,” Suemnicht said. “It shows that there is a thirst for having programming like this more, arts publishing and just publications in general.”

All three of the panelists are professors in the VCU Department of Graphic Design. Nicole Killian has published the work of current and former students in her annual publication, Issues, which centers around people of color, queer people and women.

“We’re just looking for work that has a strong voice that is maybe not so visible,” Killian said.

During the panel, Killian discussed the absence of diversity in art publishing, even in traditionally LGBTQ spaces.

“I think if you don’t see or hear people that look like you, you’re less likely to become involved in those professions or genres of making,” Killian said.

Unlike the other panelists and other members of the industry, Issues does not have online content, though Killian said the publication may move in that direction in the future. Issues remains centered around the print publication because the idea of having an object for readers to pass around among friends is appealing to Killian.

“It’s not something you can kind of flip through,” Killian said, “There’s a lot of eye candy but there’s a lot of really important words and interviews that people have done.”

Nontsikelelo Mutiti’s online publication, Reading Zimbabwe, is an archive of

Zimbabwean literature, including references to more than 1,500 books. Mutiti said in the panel that she was driven to create the site in part because of gaps in her and her colleague’s knowledge of Zimbabwe’s history. As content was amassed, bigger implications arose.

Mutiti said there are few bookstores or libraries in Zimbabwe, but many people read with smartphones, making this online archive an effective way to disseminate content.

“We all need this content, Reading Zimbabwe is not just for Zimbabweans,” Mutiti said. “It’s not just about doing it for your own community, this is necessary to open up international understanding.”

In addition, Mutiti spoke on the concept of creating a range of content, from “precious” items to those that are easy to disseminate.

“Some things need to be in a form where they are going to be collected, taken care of. Some things need to be passed along rapidly, exchange hands rapidly,” Mutiti.

Lauren Thorson’s one-page publication, Margin, was inspired by a Church Hill community newsletter. As a result, Thorson said being in Richmond is an important aspect of the publication.

There are few restrictions for writing to be published in Margin — while a 350 word count is suggested, “if someone wants to decide they want to write a whole essay novel, we’ll make it work. If somebody wants to write a poem, we’ll make it work,” Thorson said.  

Margin’s written content is placed around the margins of the page, which is dominated by artwork in the center. The publication isn’t scheduled, which makes it a “non-stress” project, Thorson said.

“I think the panel discussion is really interesting and important in terms of the difference between publishing perspectives,” Thorson said.


Georgia Geen Spectrum Editor 

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