Watch your head.
To reach the office, you've got to duck. Yes, that means you, no matter how accustomed your fingertips may be to flailing uselessly at the topmost kitchen shelves or however familiar your unbowed head may be to slipping unscathed through the lowest doorways. The ceiling in this place dips low enough that even a five-and-a-half-footer like me can't enter upright. If you're given to romanticizing the mighty efforts of those who toil for their art--and what respectably employed bachelor or bachelorette of the arts, in his or her most self-hating moments, doesn't indulge such fantasies of gainful poverty?--you might be entranced by the cramped possibilities.
Yeah, well, daydream on your own time, 'cause it's just an office. When you get up the stairs the ceiling raises back up to full human height, and there's nothing mystical about the two computers that sit on two desks at right angles to each another, where words are processed and text boxes filled and images cut and pasted. Nothing unusual at all, except maybe the sheer number of books surrounding them. Like the small yellow South Minneapolis house of which this is an attic appendage, the office is compact but neat, overfull but not claustrophobic. There are books here as in the rest of the house, books that loiter obediently on their shelves rather than sloppily spilling over to consume their environment, books so plentiful that you wouldn't have time to read a fraction of them even if you weren't preoccupied with publishing a quarterly book review. And that's what Rain Taxi is. And this is where Rain Taxi comes from.
Four times a year, Rain Taxi compiles 50-odd pages of reviews: reviews of books that seem to range from the merely uncommercial to the downright obscure, reviews of books whose audiences vary from the merely specialized to the all-but-imaginary. But there are readers who want to find out about the poetry of Charles Borkhuis and the collected letters of Marcel Duchamp, and they want to do it in one sitting. There are readers who lust for a journal that highlights an interview with the surreal "storytelling poet" James Tate and a reconsideration of the "16th-century subversions" of Rabelais, as the cover of the most recent Rain Taxi advertises. There are readers who pick up the newsprint quarterly at St. Mark's in Manhattan or City Lights in San Francisco, just as locals do at the Ruminator in St. Paul. There are even readers who subscribe from Czechoslovakia and Korea. And there are enough of them--just enough perhaps--that Rain Taxi, lifted by a gentle dribble of ad sales that feeds into a sporadic trickle of grant funding, has remained afloat for five years now.
When I say Rain Taxi, I mean Eric Lorberer and Kelly Everding. They didn't start the magazine; Randall Health and Carolyn Kuebler midwifed the first issue, and nurtured Rain Taxi in its infancy. Unpaid interns drift regularly across the masthead. Fifty or so writers contribute their reviews each issue--that's contribute, not "sell," since said scribblers, whether they're still a quarter shy of escaping the U or taking time off from their eighth novel, go as unpaid as the interns. But despite the efforts of these volunteers, it's Lorberer and Everding who make sure the journal exists and who'd be out of a job if it didn't.
"Of course, there's the aesthetic issue--the pleasure of holding actual paper--but there's also the social issue, we want to reach readers from different segments of society, who might not have access to the Internet."
That's Eric Lorberer speaking about why Rain Taxi courts the added expense of remaining a print journal rather than merely existing online. This is his attic.
When Lorberer says Rain Taxi exists "to provide an alternative outlet for book reviewing," one might hear the flat, pointed prose of the grant proposal. When he continues, "Like the book industry in general, book reviewing was increasingly in the clutches of corporate powers and that didn't allow a lot of space for different voices to be heard, and also for certain kinds of books to be reviewed," you might hear the earnest, marginalized tone of the crusader. And you'd be right in both cases. Lorberer is a strange mix of the insistently pragmatic and the unyieldingly idealistic.
Lorberer is a curly-haired fellow in his late 30s who speaks in the even tone of the committed and who proselytizes without attempting to argue. The implicit assumption being: If his own evident commitment doesn't sway you, you must tarry beyond the reach of salvation. "Our mission is to reach as many people as possible and turn them on to books they wouldn't otherwise be aware of," he continues. All you've got to do is reach them.
"Eric is one of the true believers," says Josie Rawson, who lives across the alley and sits on Rain Taxi's board of directors. (Rawson is also a former associate editor at City Pages.) "He took a vow of poetry. He's got a vision of literature making the world safe for people."
It's safe to assume that Kelly Everding shares Lorberer's zeal, since she's his business partner as well as his domestic partner of some 14 years. She's quieter about the mission, though.