The Punks of Publishing

Kick-starting a new literary scene on the lower east side

Hicks's idealism is matched by that of Johnny Temple, bass player of the band Girls Against Boys. Two years ago Temple and his business partner Mark Sullivan founded Akashic Books, using the advance Temple received when his band signed with Geffen Records. "Part of what motivated me to start and invest myself in independent publishing was because my band had made this jump from an independent label to a major one—a system I have absolutely no respect for," says the 32-year-old rocker. "That gave me the motivation to create a counterbalance by investing myself in independent art."

Not that Akashic hasn't received mainstream recognition. This year, its first title, a reprint of Arthur Nersesian'sThe Fuck-Up—which chronicles a young man's downfall on the Lower East Side—was picked up by MTV Books, a subsidiary of Simon & Schuster. Akashic's latest offering, Henry Flesh's Massage, a grim tale of an erotic masseur's downward spiral through drugs and AIDS, has also been well received. But Temple believes his press can be more than just a stepping stone for new and underrecognized authors. His goal, he says, is to help foster a viable subculture for alternative publishing, modeled in part after his band's relationship with its former label, Touch and Go Records.

"The corporate publishers have really turned their backs on literary fiction," Temple maintains. "That leaves a real opening for small presses like us. We can't give writers huge advances. But we can give them a huge amount of control over the editing and packaging of the book. It's the same in the world of corporate music. Whether you're a writer or a band, you basically end up feeling like you're just delivering product. We offer an alternative to that."

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