Johnny Temple on the Elitism of the Publishing Industry
In Conversation with Paul Holdengräber on
The Quarantine Tapes
Hosted by Paul Holdengräber, The Quarantine Tapes chronicles shifting paradigms in the age of social distancing. Each day, Paul calls a guest for a brief discussion about how they are experiencing the global pandemic.
Paul Holdengräber is joined by Johnny Temple on Episode 167 of The Quarantine Tapes. A musician and publisher, Johnny tells Paul about his experience of the pandemic, talking about how this time at home has deepened Johnny’s relationship to books and music. Johnny talks about how he transitioned from full-time musician to book publisher and explains how his publisher, Akashic Books, approaches publishing differently from the major corporations in the industry. Paul and Johnny discuss the writers that inspire them, Johnny’s recent children’s book project, and the latest music from Johnny’s band, Fake Names. Johnny shares one of the songs off their debut album, “All for Sale.”
From the episode:
Johnny Temple: The business felt to me—as I was getting into it, as sort of a punk rocker getting into book publishing—it felt to me like a lot of upper-middle-class and upper-class white people gazing at themselves and marveling at how clever and well-educated they are. An industry trying to sell books to people with fancy liberal arts college degrees. And I’m not interested in that at all. I love books, and my vision of books is not selling books to well-educated people. Of course, among the audience that I sell books to, I love to have well-educated people with fancy degrees be included in that. But the idea that huge swaths of the population are just ignored by the publishing business, even as the publishing business people lament this idea that nobody reads anymore, or reading is in decline, even as the business just ignores large groups of people. And so that is sort of where the tagline was born from, this idea of making publishing less elitist, less white, less a lot of things.
There’s some really wonderful things about publishing. One of my inspirations was to bring some of the energy of music—not just punk rock, but hip hop, jazz, classical music, highlife, soca, to take the energy of these musical genres of music. And to me, books are so exciting, but they don’t really get treated as such by the general culture. So that was part of my mission, and that is part of my mission. I understand why books can never be as popular as music, because music just goes into the ear and into the soul, whereas books have an extra filter or two. But I think the gap can be closed.
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Johnny Temple is the publisher and editor in chief of Akashic Books, an award-winning Brooklyn-based independent company dedicated to publishing urban literary fiction and political nonfiction. He won the 2013 Ellery Queen Award and is the editor of the anthology USA Noir, which was selected as a New York TimesEditors’ Choice. Temple has taught courses on the publishing business at Wilkes University, Wesleyan University, and Pratt Institute; and is the Co-chair of the Brooklyn Book Festival Literary Council, which organizes the annual Brooklyn Book Festival. He also plays bass guitar in the bands Girls Against Boys, Soulside, and Fake Names, which have toured extensively across the globe and released numerous albums on independent and major record companies. He has contributed articles and political essays to various publications, including The Nation, Publishers Weekly, AlterNet, Poets & Writers, and BookForum.