Matt Winn, the owner of Molasses Books, describes his business as “just a small used book shop that happens to have a bar at the far wall,” which is maybe too modest a description for one of Brooklyn’s literary hubs. After two years of running the shop successfully, Winn says he’s finally in a position to do something he’s always wanted to do: start his own press.
Molasses Books sits on a quiet residential block in southern Bushwick, an area far less “tony” than around, say, the Jefferson stop. The shop has an easy going feeling and looks lived-in rather than “repurposed,” and when we stopped in today Matt was hanging out by the bar talking with his employee and generally being an amicable dude.
“Having a bookstore, and now being somewhat established in the neighborhood allows me to put out small runs of friends’ work and my own work,” Winn explained. Profits from the bar help keep things afloat and will also help subsidize the press. “It’s a pretty symbiotic thing,” he said.
And being “established,” in this neighborhood in particular, means Winn will have access to a great deal of interested readers for his publications.
“There’s something kind of unique about the poetry scene in Bushwick. A lot of things just popped up at once. When I first opened the store, it was just us and Human Relations,” Winn recalled. “And then Mellow Pages opened up down on Bogart. Now there’s a pretty vibrant and consistent series of readings and book releases. Stuff is going on pretty often.”
And it’s not just the high concentration of bookstores that lend to Bushwick’s uniqueness. Winn spoke of a flavor peculiar to the lit scene here. He pointed to Better Read Than Dead, another used book store that’s popped up in the area, in a sort of slapdash alleyway off Broadway that’s home to an assortment of pint-sized shops. “It’s just one more example of a weird, vibrant pop-up, the sort of punk literary scene that’s going on up here,” Winn said.
Molasses Books Publishing will be a decidedly small-time affair. “The press is not going to be like a huge operation, at least in the beginning. It’s definitely going to be small-run,” Winn explained. “But the idea is to put out really nice objects in small editions.”
Winn himself has been working on a cover design for the first release, but has also enlisted his friends inside and outside of Brooklyn for layout help and at least one larger, more expensive project on the way.
The first book to be released on the press is Winn’s own, Clowncar & Exquisite Starvation, two collections of short stories wrapped up in one book. But Winn admitted that releasing his own work first wasn’t exactly ideal. “I didn’t want to have my own press, running from my own store, putting out my own thing first. There’s something that seems really egocentric about that,” he said. “But the way it works, is that nobody ever gets their shit done in time. So if you want to make moves, you have to do it first to get it rolling.”
It seems that Winn’s plan worked. He already has two other books lined up to be released under Molasses. The first is what he described as “a kind of poetic, pseudo-academic, long-form essay” by a Brooklyn-based writer, Charles Perry. The second is a large art book containing a series of paintings of fake books (with titles like “260 Goddamn Kick Ass Ways To Blow New Riches,” and “So You Grew Up In White Suburban America But You Love Bob Marley And Other Cultures”) by Austin-based artist Kevin McNamee-Tweed. This particular book will be a collaborative effort, along with Farewell Books and a zine called Raw Paw, both of which are based in Austin.
Winn explained that although many of the writers he’s interested in publishing are either based here or have some connection to the area, he’s not focused solely on drawing from the Brooklyn literary pool. But, he said, “once these first three things are out of the way,” Molasses will focus more on releasing books of poetry. “Because that’s the scene I’m deeply entrenched in.”
In the age of industry-wide panic about the future of print media, it might seem counterintuitive for a bunch of small presses to be popping up out of nowhere (see: Catopolis, publisher of Bushwick Daily’s Bushwick Nightz). But Winn explained that smaller print outlets simply do not share the same concerns of the mass producing, mass appeal, mammoth publishing companies.
“Whatever big publishing might be dealing with in terms of problems with Amazon and stuff like that, these are things that have no relevance to me putting out literally 250 copies of a small-run poetry book,” Winn said. “These are almost community-centric products.”
“I think people are downloading more when it comes to a James Patterson book or something,” he added. “But I don’t think people are interested in owning a digital chapbook or anything. It doesn’t feel like the medium translates the same way.”
Winn said that, really, having a small press is no different from a band putting out 500 copies of their own 7” record, “It’s just kind of a DIY thing.”
Keep on eye on the Molasses Facebook page, where Matt Winn will announce plans for a book release party of sorts around early October.