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About Us

(The story of Misfit Press is inextricably linked to the story of Misfit Incorporated, which is inextricably linked to the story of AJ and Melissa Leon. These fascinating stories have been told at length on many other occasions – in newspapers, on TEDx stages, during numerous interviews and chance meetings in wine bars. If you want to explore the weird and wonderful company that is Misfit Incorporated, peruse our site. For the full backstory, check out this video interview.)

Misfit Press itself was established in 2014, with the publication of AJ Leon’s The Life & Times of a Remarkable Misfit. The little-known backstory to The Life & Times is that it was originally slated to be published by a major American publisher, who headhunted AJ after noticing the popularity of his blog, The Pursuit of Everything. About a third of the way through the writing of the book, AJ began to get twitchy about the compromises involved in traditional publishing: uncompromising editorial pressure, a lack of say on issues such as design and artwork. Not long later, AJ bailed on the contract, and decided to publish the book himself. The Misfit team created and ran a Kickstarter, aimed at raising $15,000 to cover publishing costs. By the time the fundraising had run its course, pledges totalled more than treble that amount. With the excess funds, AJ and Misfit decided to go one better than just publishing a book, and also founded a publishing house.

Since its founding, Misfit Press has steadily flourished. In 2015, we took under our wing Wolftree, the finest arts journal in the American Midwest; we released our 2015 Anthology, featuring the finest creative work we encountered over the preceding year; and The Life & Times of a Remarkable Misfit continued to find readers across the globe. In 2016 we published Destination Shakespeare, the debut poetry collection from esteemed Shakespeare academic Paul Edmondson; and we have more Shakespeare-related publications in the works for 2017, including Shakespeare On The Road, a tale of a Shakespearian adventure across the US.

Last  year was a big growth period for the Press, and there is lots more on the way for 2017. As you’ll see from our Forthcoming Publications section, over the next twelve months we will be publishing Saya Sayama: Three Years in Myanmar by incredible photojournalist Spike Johnson, a photonarrative account documenting a unique moment in Myanmar’s history: the violent shift from General Ne Win’s fifty-year dictatorship to the country’s first steps towards democracy. Also imminent is Tangentially Reading, featuring some of the most insightful, shocking, touching, and hilarious moments from the first 200 episodes of Christopher Ryan’s much-loved podcast, Tangentially Speaking.

These are exciting times at Misfit Press. To keep up to date with everything that’s going on, follow us at our blogFacebook, Twitter and/or Instagram. Into the future, we will always continue to work in the fashion we do right now: with authors we like, on projects that matter, in a way that leaves writer, reader and everyone in-between satisfied. We will also never renege on our One-for-One pledge; for every publication we ever sell, a child in India will receive money towards prescription eyeglasses, via the Misfit Foundation.

w: Matt

“The window that literature opens to us; to our selves, and to our souls.”Stoner and The Act of Becoming

Two years ago, I read a novel called Stoner. I knew nothing about it, other than that it starred a university professor, and that the cover carried a big sticker marking it out as Waterstones’ ‘Book of the Year’. To my surprise – the first few pages seemed rather sedate, presaging a slow, possibly even dull read – I was quickly, delicately gripped, and finished the book in two days. In fact, I found sections of it so powerful that to this day there survives on my laptop a file called ‘StonerWisdom.doc’, which is filled with six pages of quotes copied direct from the book. Here’s the top one, highlighted in bold:

In his extreme youth Stoner had thought of love as an absolute state of being to which, if one were lucky, one might find access; in his maturity he had decided it was the heaven of a false religion, toward which one ought to gaze with an amused disbelief, a gently familiar contempt, and an embarrassed nostalgia. Now in his middle age he began to know that it was neither a state of grace nor an illusion; he saw it as a human act of becoming, a condition that was invented and modified moment by moment and day by day, by the will and the intelligence and the heart.

Last week, I noticed that, as part of the Vancouver Documentary Film Festival, something called The Act of Becoming was showing. The title rung enough of a bell (read the above quote again if you don’t know what I mean) for me to explore further. And yes. It seemed unlikely, but The Act of Becoming was 61 minutes of documentary devoted entirely to Stoner, that strange, beautiful novel I had read three years ago. I made sure to go see it, and to enquire about writing a review with the filmmakers: Jennifer Anderson and Vernon Lott, a married couple of 16 years living in Lewiston, Idaho.

Before discussing the documentary, a quick précis of the book. Published in 1965 – the year T. S. Eliot died and J. K. Rowling was born – Stoner was written by the Texas-born author John Edward Williams. Despite the perhaps misleading title – which for certain of the uninitiated, as the writer Steve Almond says during the documentary, conjures up “Bukowski-esque” images of heroic weed consumption – the novel itself, in form and content, is subtle and unassuming.

Stoner tells the story of William Stoner, a farm boy born in 1891 who goes to the University of Missouri to major in agriculture but falls in love with literature. He receives his Ph.D. at the height of World War I, and goes on to spend his life as an assistant professor of English. (Williams himself was a professor of English at the University of Denver, and the novel is at least partly autobiographical.) The novel’s most dramatic moments centre around flashpoints in Stoner’s work life, mainly one particularly vicious professional rivalry, and his relationships with his wife and daughter (excruciating and heartbreaking, respectively.)

The Act of Becoming opens with some long, moody shots of the University of Missouri, set to a lovely ethereal soundtrack by composer Peter Broderick. After this, it is straight into the interviews. (I say interviews: there are never any audible questions, never any evoking of the presence behind the lens; just various lovers of the book, talking direct to camera.) Once the focus moves indoors, it stays here, on the faces of these various Stoner lovers, for the vast majority of the documentary 61 minutes.

The meat of The Act of Becoming starts with a montage in which the documentary thirteen interviewees’ voices are spliced together in a reading of Stoner’s opening page. There are an array of English voices, and also subtitled sections in French, Italian and Dutch. The readers reflect on the novel’s opening words. “It’s a very sad first page,” says Oscar Van Gelderen, the book’s Dutch publisher. It introduces “a life that was not very remarkable; not spectacular; it’s just a life, it’s an ordinary life,” says the French novelist (and also Stoner translator) Anna Galavada. Someone describes it as “a little miracle of narration.” Opening with this close, involved reading sets the tone for the documentary’s close, devoted attention to its source text.

The rest of The Act of Becoming  is weaved from a number of different threads. For one, the documentary tells the story of Stoner’s unusual publication history. Although published in 1965, Stoner sold fewer than 2,000 copies, and was out of print within a year. It then fell into obscurity until the early 2000s, when it was republished, initially “to deafening silence.” Glowing reviews began to arrive, and sales gradually picked up. By 2012, there was a veritable buzz around Stoner. Soon it appeared to be in the window of every bookshop; in 2013, The New Yorker called it “The Greatest American Novel You’ve Never Heard Of.” It was that December that three separate people gave it to me as a Christmas gift.

The story of the novel’s resurrection is an interesting and heartening one, and many of those featured in The Act of Becoming were central to the process. For a literary geek and publishing professional, this tale alone would be worthy of a documentary. There is a ranging discussion of the various forces that combined to spur the novel’s unlikely resurgence. The result is a fascinating insight into how, in this day and age, a slippery interplay of literary blogs and interviews and newspaper columns and casual conversations can reach a critical mass and spill across the airwaves, providing enough cultural momentum to bring a book back from the dead.

Alongside telling the story of Stoner’s “international rediscovery” (one reader dubs it “a Cinderella story”), The Act of Becoming also moves loosely through the novel’s major plot points. Morris Dickstein – whose 2007 piece for the New York Times Book Review, in which he called Stoner “a perfect novel,” was a huge boon to the book’s rebirth – gives a long overview of the plot. We then zoom into specific events: after the opening page, there is Stoner’s literary epiphany, triggered by a reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73. The scene is “phantasmagoric,” one of the interviewees says; it is the moment Stoner starts “discovering what it mean to be human.” One reader describes feeling “flayed, vulnerable” while reading of Stoner’s pained relationship with his wife. The section discussing the novel’s (spoiler alert) deathbed closing scene – the most extraordinary section of the book, for me, and the most poignant depiction of a person’s last moments I’ve ever read – is very moving.

All in all, The Act of Becoming is a beautiful documentary exploring a beautiful novel. Where it succeeds so brilliantly is in striking the perfect tone for its subject matter. Steve Almond mentions at one point that Stoner is at heart about an almost “monastic devotion to literature.” The Act of Becoming, in turn, is almost monastic in its devotion to Stoner. The novel itself is written in clean, simple prose – it owes nothing to either the modernists novels that preceded it, or the postmodernist novels that would follow it – and presents its subject and events plainly, without a trace of self-consciousness. The documentary is the same. The lighting is simple, and the pace is even. The only interruptions to the readers’ long, unrushed musings are close-ups of paragraphs from Stoner, and slow, quiet shots of early drafts of the novel (which are archived among Williams’ papers at the University of Arkansas). One is reminded of nothing so much as the many hours William Stoner spends in the library. The overall mood is patient, probing, dedicated to the secrets of language.

This feedback loop of sensibility is also there with the complex melancholy that hangs over The Act of Becoming. The readers’ soliloquies tend to be pensive and wistful, but also animated, celebratory. This also matches the atmosphere of the book: Stoner is a sad read, made even sadder by the ordinariness of its tragedies – however, there is a quiet note of triumph to Stoner’s life, and to Williams’ novel. It is sad, but never bleak. (The complex emotional quality of the novel is part of its greatness.) As Morris Dickstein says, towards the end of the documentary, what is revealed by Stoner is that “behind the facade of an ordinary or featureless or even disappointed life, there can be a viability, a richness, a success.” We feel this, with The Act of Becoming. The result is a sort of atmospheric harmony, an essential aesthetic and temperamental continuity which echoes right from the novel’s style through its resonance amongst readers through the documentary about that novel and that resonance.

Though it never feels as though it is forcing the issue, The Act of Becoming also isn’t afraid of making big claims for its source text. There is a moment where one reader describes how what keeps William Stoner afloat during the harder times in his life is “the window that literature opens to us, to our selves and to our souls.” It is this very same window, in the shape of Stoner itself, that the documentary and everyone it features pays homage to. Like the novel, The Act of Becoming celebrates literature without ever feeling as though it is celebrating itself. It is a quietly profound piece of filmmaking which does full justice to its sublime source text.

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MattMatt is Chief Editor at Misfit Press. Alongside overseeing all activity at the Press, he is in the latter stages of a PhD, working on a thesis examining the intersections between literature, neuroscience and the philosophy of consciousness. Soccer, snowboarding, prog metal, Dostoevsky, a good Chianti and strangers' dogs all rank amongst his favourite things.

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