A recent afternoon visit finds Everding, a woman with long straight hair and pointed features, sitting in the attic finishing a flyer for the Twin Cities Book Festival. This one-day affair, to be held at Open Book in downtown Minneapolis on Saturday, October 27, is the first of its kind since the small, unsatisfying book fairs held in Calhoun Square in the mid-Nineties. For eight hours, the various rooms and crannies of the Open Book will be filled with panel discussions, readings, book sales, and book-arts demonstrations, capped that evening by a keynote reading by poet Robert Creeley.
As with so many book-related events, Rain Taxi has taken an active interest in the festival--Lorberer has been working closely with event organizers Jana Robbins and Tim Schwartz. In fact, the mag's sponsorship of the event marks its five-year anniversary, a testament to how far Rain Taxi has come since its inception.
In early 1996, asmall, not dissimilar attic apartment not far away began to shrink. Two hundred copies of a fledgling journal called Rain Taxi showed up in the Harriet Avenue living room that Randall Heath and Carolyn Kuebler shared. Soon, the journal spread through the halls. Four times a year, their guests arrived. With each print run, the number of magazines doubled, and the space in which the couple lived dwindled.
"We'd line them up along the hallway," Kuebler remembers. "Soon it was impossible to move."
The initial idea had been to create a small press, though that notion quickly changed. Heath was working at Half Price Books, one of those morgues for the publishing industry where countless new books no one will ever read meet their lonely, remaindered deaths.
"We realized as we were fishing around that there are so many damn books out there already, it seemed kind of pointless," says Heath." Why contribute to this great mass of books that already existed? Why not try and review some of these books, and try to build a readership?"
Eric Lorberer showed up for the first issue with a review of a collection of Denis Johnson poetry that no one else wanted to publish. He was sucked into the Rain Taxi organization quickly afterward. To qualify as a nonprofit organization, Rain Taxi needed a board of directors, which meant they needed a third partner. When an early collaborator broke away, Lorberer was enlisted.
All the clichés of home publishing in the digital age helped spawn Rain Taxi. Suddenly, the ubiquity of PCs and easy layout software meant anyone with more spare time than inhibition could reel out limitless broadsheets about his or her obsessions. The Internet meant you could publish distant writers you might never have spoken to, even by phone. The crew survived on the adrenaline of a new project.
Heath fondly remembers the spontaneity of those early excitable years. "We scheduled an interview with [avant-garde novelist] Rikki Ducornet, so we jumped in my truck and drove to Denver," he recalls. "We had dinner with her, interviewed her. Here was this excuse to interact with someone whose work you admire."
But beyond giddy moments like that there was a world of work to do. They had to edit. They had to write. They had to design. And when they dropped an issue off at the printer, their labors had in some ways just begun.
"Around Christmas time, we had 150 boxes, at least, to take to UPS," remembers Kuebler. "They wouldn't pick them up, so we had to rent a U-Haul. We drove them to the UPS countertop, and of course there was a huge line already. The manager was so mean to us: We'd already taped up the boxes, but she whipped out a tape gun and told us we were going to pay for extra tape."
This form of cooperative labor fueled every aspect of Rain Taxi's existence. It was a necessity for tackling distribution. And when it came to the much-loathed task of selling ads, each crew member would take turns hassling publishers as long as she could stomach the job, then pass the phone along to the next person. But in the more subjective realm of editorial tasks, such collaboration seemed downright perverse if not completely counterproductive.
"We would group-edit reviews," recalls Heath. "We would sit down together with a piece--we did this for almost two years, a year and a half at least. It was an ideal we strived for. It was about not establishing a hierarchy."
It was also a good way to waste valuable hours dickering over a slight change in authorial tone. For anyone who doesn't spend much time wrangling over words, it's difficult to imagine how impossible that ideal might be. Consider such democracy extended to the sidelines of a football game. Or, better yet, imagine the infield convening on the mound to debate the relative merits of each upcoming pitch.
"I don't have the same aesthetic as Eric," Heath says simply. "For me it was more of a question of audience, a tone that would cross more boundaries. I wanted to be the ignorant guy. I didn't want references that I didn't know. It all comes back to my original vision--a tool for readers to discover new books."