Meet Erin Elizabeth Smith
In this interview with Trish Hopkinson, Erin Elizabeth Smith, poet and executive director of Sundress Publications and the Sundress Academy for the Arts provides a detailed overview of the journals, press, and workshop opportunities provided by this well-established, non-profit literary collective. Learn more about their variety of imprints, programming, and how to submit your work and sign up for Sundress updates.
[00:00:00] Trish Hopkinson: Hello everyone. It’s the start of my weekend here in Colorado. And I’m so excited to be spending it with my friend and fellow poet, Erin Elizabeth Smith, who is also the executive director of Sundress publications and the Sundress academy for the arts founded in 2000. It’s entirely volunteer run. The publisher’s chapbooks and full length works in both print and digital formats.
And hosts an incredible variety of online journals for poets and writers at every phase in their writing careers. Aaron is the author of three full length collections of poetry. Most recently down and her work has appeared in wearing a burka eco tone and crab orchard among others. Smith is a distinguished lecture in the English department at the university of Tennessee in Knoxville.
Welcome Erin, and thanks for taking some time to chat with me for the Tell Tell Poetry submission interview.
[00:00:51] Erin Elizabeth Smith: It is a joy being here. Thank you so much for inviting me.
[00:00:55] Trish Hopkinson: Yes. Yes. A pleasure to see you even virtually, of course, and to see your space, which is beautiful. Oh yeah. They keep going to you too. Woo.
Oh, my word. Yes. That’s such a great use of vertical space. That’s that’s what we all mean.
[00:01:12] Erin Elizabeth Smith: Thank you. It was, it was a requirement. My, when my partner and I moved in, I was like, I need bookshelves. So yeah. Yes, they’re lovely.
[00:01:19] Trish Hopkinson: They’re they’re really great. So, um, talking about Sundress, I mean, I’m always intrigued by how much they have going on all the time and they have such a broad variety of programs and publications, regular readings, the poets and pajamas.
Which I love so much. Um, as well as the workshops and the writers’ retreats at Firefly farms. Can you just tell us a little bit about the mission of Sundress and how it came to be?
[00:01:46] Erin Elizabeth Smith: Oh, wow. Yeah, that’s uh, it’s, it’s the, all the mini headed beast as it were. Um, uh, yes, Sundress. Um, Sundress just kind of started, uh, as a Lark, uh, in, uh, 2000, I was a college dropout and, uh, living illicitly in my, uh, then boyfriend’s dorm room.
Um, and you know, it was there. Uh, the late nineties at this point in time. And basically, you know, everybody was going to get rich off the internet, um, spoiler alert that did not happen. Um, and, uh, so yeah, I started, uh, started stirring first. Um, and then, um, basically when I was buying like domain space, the idea was like, oh, if I’m going to buy this space, I might as well give it like, you know, share it with other journals.
And so Sundresshas kind of started as that, like miscellany of magazines. So we were publishing, uh, you know, several different literary journals, housing, several different literary journals. And it really wasn’t until significantly later we had a couple forays into Chatbooks, um, in the early aughts. And then it really wasn’t until about, um, think 2010, we published our first full length, uh, print collection.
And, uh, and then we’ve kind of grown every year to the point where now we’ve published. Um, About, uh, seven books, a year, six books of poetry are full links, books, print, uh, six of poetry, uh, one, uh, pros. And then we also do one each anthology year plus, uh, anywhere between three and six each chat books. And then also our three, two to three, uh, craft job series.
So it’s, it’s kind of one of those things where for a long time, You know, either, like I would have an idea or somebody else would have an idea and we’re basically like, let’s just do it. So like, you know, poets and pajamas was just kind of like people chatting about accessibility of reading series or for people who could not necessarily attend in person.
And you know, now of course, like in the, the, you know, zoom, Landia that we live in, um, you know, it seems like, oh, that’s so obvious. Um, but at that point in time, there really weren’t any online reading series. That became a who wanted, this seems like a cool idea who wants to do it. And, uh, so yeah, so we’ve had kind of rotating, uh, a number of folks who have curious.
Um, you know, best in the net, it was the same kind of deal. It was like a conversation with a friend of mine and was like, you know, we really need like an anthology that celebrates like the best work online. And so we’re like, well, let’s just do it then. Um, and so it’s always just given a kind of like, let’s just do it then and see what happens.
Um, and all of the things like we started really small and have, and have been able to grow. Thanks to you, just an incredible staff. You know, we have over 60 people who work withSundress, us, all of whom are volunteer myself, included, um, uh, to make the things happen that we do. And that doesn’t even count like all of our readers for best of, than that are all of our different editors for the different.
So, you know, all in all we end up working with, you know, well, over a hundred people every year to make everything run the way that we do. And it’s, uh, you know, it’s a Testament to the amazing literary citizenship, um, that we have in our community to do that. So, um, so yeah. So in terms of mission, I think it, you know, it, it varies, you know, deeply by.
You know which branch you’re talking about, but, you know, we are very, uh, we are very focused on, uh, publishing and representing and supporting underwrite, traditionally underrepresented voices, particularly people of color, uh, particularly, uh, trans and LGBTQ. Folks, uh, people with disabilities. So we are constantly trying to, um, you know, build our, uh, you know, build the number of books, but also the number of, um, individuals that we publish as well as, uh, the, the, uh, residency, scholarships and fellowships that we’re able to offer.
So, uh, it’s a, it’s a lot of things that we do. So, uh, yeah, I’m happy to chat about anyone individually. General sense. Um, you know, we do have the residency program here in Knoxville as well. Um, that has been going for about seven years. So, yea.
[00:05:48] Trish Hopkinson: That it’s so much, and it’s so well coordinated and the consistency in which you just continue to like grow and put out amazing work and offer really just great opportunities to such a diverse group.
I think. Is very commendable. Uh, I definitely admire, you know, everything that you’re up to. Uh, I mean, and you talked quite a bit about some of the different, you know, arms of Centris, right. And one of the things that I really love is that majority. Your readings or your submission calls or open readings are no fee, uh, to submit to.
And you have some really great, um, literary journals that focus on specific themes. So maybe, can you talk a little bit about a few of those specific ones and if they’re open now and kind of what they focus.
[00:06:41] Erin Elizabeth Smith: Yeah. Yeah. I, um, I believe all of our journals are, are opened at the moment. I think most of our journals, if not all are open, uh, year round.
Um, so, uh, stirring is kind of our flagship journal, uh, cause it’s been around for it’ll be 22, um, in October this year, uh, I believe it is the oldest. Continuously publishing online journal founded by a woman. Uh, it’s one of the five oldest in America. Um, that’s still publishing, um, and the, uh, the focus of storing there.
I don’t want to spoil anything. There might be a, uh, a, uh, a call coming out soon for a themed issue, but. Yeah, it’s very exciting. Uh, so stir, uh, but stirring is kind of, you know, it isn’t geared towards a specific type of writer, specific type of writing. Um, it kind of prides itself in being fairly eclectic.
Um, it publishes poetry fiction non-fiction as well as art. Um, we have based on which is run by Sarah Clark. It is a journal exclusively for non-binary writers. Um, we also have a double-back review, uh, which is exclusively for work that has been previously published in a journal. Since gone defunct. Um, and, uh, several, a couple of the other journals that we have at the moment are hot and hiatus, uh, kahuna, doodling, and, uh, pretty out poetry are both on a semi unclear.
If there is like with the, the deadlines are for. Uh, for that. Um, I know a lot of things are, you know, post COVID are in flux. Um, I think you seeing, starting to see some changes there. Um, we also have rogue agent, uh, which explicitly looks for a work that is, uh, specifically poetry that deals with the body in some way.
Um, so those are kind of our literary journals, so, but we also have other submissions. So we do the wardrobe, which features, uh, poems. Or prose from, uh, recently published collections by women and non-binary writers. Um, and we also obviously do the best of the net. So, uh, it’s a, you know, a lot of different things that we, and we’re open for submissions for best than that from editors right now, too, which is awesome.
[00:08:47] Trish Hopkinson: Awesome. When is the deadline for that?
[00:08:49] Erin Elizabeth Smith: September 30th.
[00:08:50] Trish Hopkinson: Okay. Perfect. Thanks for sharing that. So, um, yes. I mean, I love all of these journals so much. And, um, just for those who are watching the interview, I’ve done interviews also on my website with all of these. So if you, if you want to know more about any of the ones, she mentioned, stirring rogue agents, um, even the ones that are on height.
Um, but also is, uh, has been interviewed on my website. So all of them, you can find more information about these there. Uh, most of them are open year round, like you mentioned, and yes. You know, I mean, we’re seeing a lot of re-imagining due to COVID people saying, oh, you know, maybe now is where I take the time to determine what’s next steps.
Do I need to pivot what. For my new normal. Um, so I mean, I think it’s a great time for, for journalists to reimagine themselves and, or, you know, decide to become something else. If, if that’s, you know, what is going to best suit their staff. So. That’s awesome. Yeah. Um, specifically, uh, double back is just very intriguing and, um, I love to see, you know, I, that’s a great thing about what Sundress says.
Is it everything that it puts together is really to support. Writers and poets in a specific way. Uh, not, well, maybe not everything, but pretty much there, there is, you know, kind of a, uh, a specific mission like we were talking about before for each of those separate projects. So double that double back books and double back review, um, is particularly interesting because as you mentioned, they publish out of press books and writings that were previously published and now are out of print or in, you know, journals have gone.
Defunct. So I’m curious about what specifically inspired that, uh, particular press and journal.
[00:10:50] Erin Elizabeth Smith: Yeah. Um, w well, uh, both of them were kind of came out of, uh, conversations that were had about, you know, uh, there was, there seemed to be like a rash of small presses that all seem to, um, you know, have to close doors for any number of reasons and all legitimate, you know, that in the.
You’re running a small process of labor of love. Um, you know, the joke that I’ve always heard is, you know, how do you make a small fortune and, uh, independent publishing start with a large fortune? Um, there’s, there’s not a lot to, to, you know, it’s, you know, it takes up an enormous amount of time. And so, um, a lot of small presses, you know, You know, really wonderful ones, just, you know, just didn’t have the, you know, the time, the energy, the money to maintain.
And we hated the fact that like those books disappeared, um, when those presses, um, went dark. And so we had the gone dark archives, which we had started years ago, which was basically it’s, you know, we’re using our free hosting site to host old journals that, you know, didn’t want to have to continue paying.
But we didn’t want the journals to necessarily go away. Um, so we started that as a, you know, a way to keep on online literary journals, uh, from disappearing. But, and so, but we still kept getting kind of questions like, uh, Hey, I published this work somewhere and it doesn’t exist anymore. Can I send it to your journal?
Or can I send it to your point? And so we had to like have those conversations in terms of like, you know, we will, we allow that, is that something that we’re open to, you know, how do the rights work within these sorts of things? And so that those kinds of conversations led to us realizing that there was definitely a space that needed to exist for, for these, this work that had kind of gotten lost.
You know, any number of, of, of, of outside elements. And, uh, so double back, uh, re uh, press started first. Um, and we decided that we were, you know, we, we, weren’t going to reprint because, um, we, we did a couple of reprints and PR in. With Sundress uh, both on the each app side, but also in the print side. And we just found that like, the sales, like in reprints, you know, were, were difficult.
Um, and, but we wanted to like the work to still be there. And what we did find was that when we were doing reprints on each Habs, the downloads on that were, you know, in like the thousands. So. Yeah. So like all of our, each apps get on anywhere between 502,000 downloads a year, um, which is a best seller for a print book.
Um, so, and they get utilized a lot in classrooms because they are free, um, because they, you know, students have access to them. And especially for those who are trying to keep the amount that students have to pay down on, on books, like it’s a really great resource. Um, So those, uh, so we were, so we tried to, so we went back and forth and decided that because we would get much more readership, which is, you know, the point we were going to move with IE publishing for that.
And, and some people are, you know, it’s not the know, that’s not what they’re looking for. They’re looking to have something to hold their hand and I totally respect and understand that. Um, but when one of the things that I’ve really been appreciative of. Just exactly how much readership, you know, so I mean, a lot of independent presses don’t sell 500 or a thousand copies of the book.
And now that book has been able to be, be virtually put into that many more hands. Um, and then double back, uh, review, uh, kind of stemmed from that. So the, you know, kind of the same idea, um, you know, of, of being able to being a place where we could, um, Publish work that, you know, had gone into journals that had gone out of print or, um, had, uh, you know, gone dark entirely and their websites have disappeared.
Um, you know, cause that, that work then just utterly disappears in the, in the void. So, um, and I big shout out to, uh, to medicines who runs. Managing editor at Dell BEC press and Krista Cox. Who’s the managing editor at double-back review. They both do amazing, amazing work with our team. And, uh, we’re actually a double-back, um, press is actually open now.
Uh, this is the one month we are open or they’re open it for the year, uh, four, uh, previously published, uh, fiction poetry, full links or chat book links, uh, fiction poetry, um, or a nonfiction. So, yeah, and double back review, I believe it’s open year round.
Okay, great. That’s great to hear. Um, I think it’s, I think all of this is, you know, One of the things that I picked up on from this is that Sundressis, is consistently, you know, kind of finding those gaps in the literary community and finding ways to fill them.
[00:15:38] Trish Hopkinson: Um, so I guess my next question for you is really. What would you like to see more of in the literary community and have you identified something that, and you don’t have to give it away, but, but it sounds like there’s a pretty consistent cadence for you for sun dress and just all these amazing volunteers that you work with to identify those gaps and then find, you know, a really great way to, to start to fill it.
And, um, I’m really hearing similar things from the startup. You know, everyone I’ve interviewed for this series. So. Yes. What else would you like to see? And do you have other things in the works? You, like I said, you don’t have to give it away, but yeah.
[00:16:17] Erin Elizabeth Smith: Um, Hmm. These are, that is a great question. Um, at the moment, because we have so much that we do. We’re honestly trying to kind of reign in a little bit so we can focus a little bit more. Um, one of the things like, uh, one of the thoughts that I had been thinking about in terms of, um, publishing, I was really happy to see, uh, that Jane Huffman at a guest house. Started doing, which is re-publishing work online that only appeared in print before.
And that’s been something I’ve always thought would be a really excellent idea to have that because those then that work is more accessible to more people. Um, so that that’s something I’m really excited to see another journal doing. Um, and at the moment, yeah, no, we, we don’t have any me super big ideas where we did add a lot of stuff in the last year, too.
Uh, to kind of, to, to deal with some of the limitations that COVID had, uh, had put on publishing. So, you know, we added a workshop series that’s the second Wednesday of every month on zoom. Um, those are super great.
[00:17:22] Trish Hopkinson: They are super great. I mean it was, it was so good. I wrote, yeah. Three poems from that workshop. Um, and it was the first thing I’d done generative and quite a while. So yeah, really, really awesome opportunity with those.
[00:17:38] Erin Elizabeth Smith: Awesome. And, uh, we were taking, I take me break this week or this month, but we’ll be back in. Uh, with poetry, CrossFit, um, which is our gender generative writing day. Um, so we meet on zoom from two to four, we toss out some rules and then we all write a poem, read, rinse, repeat.
Um, so the idea is to write three poems in two hours. Um, and then we also started some dress reads, which is our review series. Um, and that is, uh, our amazing intern staff, uh, writes reviews of books that have come out in the last year. Um, so yeah, and our, and our online reading series is going are, is maintaining online through the end of our reading.
Sorry, sorry. Our Sundress reading series is going to be online through the end of this year, and we’ll probably move back to person in 20 in person in 2022. Um, but our workshop series will be remaining online indefinitely, so we’re very excited to be able to continue to bring that forward. So with that in mind, we’ve got a, since we’ve added about like five new things in the last year, I’m looking forward to adding less next year..
[00:18:41] Trish Hopkinson: No, that makes perfect sense. And I mean, I can see that some of these projects might merge or, you know, they, or might scale in different ways. You know, some things might grow while other things may, you know, fit into other slots. I can, I completely can see how with so many different things going that there’s gonna be some organic fits.
So. You know, that makes a lot of sense. Um, you mentioned, I think the majority of your other opportunities that you have for writers to learn and, um, and to be inspired to write, is there anything else that we haven’t mentioned so far?
[00:19:17] Erin Elizabeth Smith: Um, yeah, well, there’s, uh, we’re, you know, we’re open for residencies for spring of 2022, uh, the SunTrust academy for the arts.
Um, and next year, uh, we ha you know, we’ve had to take the last two years off because obviously for, you know, because of COVID, but that in 2022, we will be back on our retreat schedule, uh, which means in the summer of 2022, we’ll be doing a camping poetry retreat. That’ll be up in the woods and the fireflies.
Super fun. You get to hang out and write poems by the campfire. And, uh, it’s, it’s going to be great. We’ll also be doing a, um, trans and non-binary a writers retreat as well as a retreat for survival and healing for sexual assault survivors. So that’s amazing. Yeah. So 2022, we’re excited to be back in person, uh, even more so.
[00:20:04] Trish Hopkinson: Yes, now that’s all of that sounds incredible. So. I think I’m, I’m curious for you personally, like what has helped you the most as a writer and a teacher through, I mean, through all of this too, I mean, just everything, you’ve, everything you’ve gotten from Sundress, you know, what have you taken from that? That has really, that you’ve really incorporated into your writing practice and perhaps, you know, what you then pass on to your students.
[00:20:35] Erin Elizabeth Smith: Yeah. I mean, any, I think anytime that you you’re doing editorial work, it gives you so much. To think about within your own writing, you know, reading manuscripts and editing manuscripts helps me go, oh, this is how I need to organize my own. Or this is, you know, what’s not, I can’t figure out what’s not working here in my own work, but then I read this one and I see it in here and I’m able to kind of like rework through.
And I think that’s, that’s always the joy of editing and why. You know, I, I encourage everyone. If you can, to be a reader at some point in time for a literary journal or a process, and any sort of work will just make you more aware of your own writing in general. And within the context for, for my students, you know, a number of my former students um, worked for Sundress in some capacity, um, or have interned with us. Um, so that’s always such a joy to get, to continue to work with people like outside of the classroom. Um, but also, uh, you know, I think we tend to spend a lot of time in my class talking about literary citizenship, about giving back to the community, because I think it’s honestly.
You know, when people always ask me, like, what do I do to sell a lot of books? And I was like, be a person who supports other people’s books, like do do that work out in the world. And that’s going to come back to you. Um, you know, the people who, you know, we sell the most copies of it’s under us are the people who are out there.
Writing reviews, you know, tweeting about other people’s writing, um, you know, uh, just being good literary citizens as a whole. And I think, you know, the ways in which, um, you know, you’re creating that kind of, I guess, literary karma, um, is good and I think an important, um, so yeah, I, I think like that’s something that I, I, yeah.
I think in order to ask someone to care about what you write, you should be willing to care about what somebody else has written. And I think that’s, that’s a, that’s a, that’s something that I I’m, I’m always constantly kind of trying to make my students proponent.
[00:22:35] Trish Hopkinson: No, that’s, that’s such a wonderful, wonderful way to put all of that.
And you’re certainly an incredible example, literary citizenship and in all of the work that you’ve done and everything that you’ve created and just how committed, I mean, I think that really. Is an important part of it is that, you know, when you’re doing this type of work to commit to consistency is what really helps you, you know, grow your network, uh, grow your friendships and, and really learn from other poets and writers.
And I, I, that it definitely comes back to you, but it comes back to you and surprising. And just really beautiful ways that you would never expect. Uh, that’s been my experience. Um, and so I, I agree that that is certainly something that hopefully everyone can find a little time for. I mean, you know, you don’t have to do Sundress.
Um, you don’t even have to do like Trish hopkinson.com. You can just do, you know, There are some things that there’s something you really enjoy. You could just, you know, commit to doing that consistently, even if it’s just a half hour a week, but something that contributes to the community in some way can really, it will come back to you.
And like we’ve been saying just in ways you not expect. So I really appreciate how you commented on that. Um, and there were a couple of other things that you said during the interview that I just wanted to call out a little bit for the viewers. One of the things that you mentioned, you know, several times really it was that, you know, having an online presence and having those, you know, sort of free each apps or, you know, having your work out there in journals that are accessible to all right, that don’t have a paywall.
That that is really where you can gain quite a bit of readership. And I think it’s really important for our poets and writers to have a variety of different publications in print, online things you can hand out, um, even a little Spragg doesn’t hurt. But, you know, having an, each hap is where I’ve experienced the most responses from readership who, you know, send me emails, tell me how great the work was potentially.
You’re going to follow me in other ways and support me in other ways. And I definitely encourage everyone to continue or consider, you know, submitting. Um, a micro chapter in each app to some of these publications that are really doing great work. And especially if it’s, you know, landed somewhere that’s no longer around or, or, you know, isn’t even available online anymore.
So really great opportunity. I think those were the main things I wanted to call out. And I think you’ve just provided like a wealth of information. Um, Sundress is, you know, there are a lot of different things going on there, so it’s really great to talk to you about it because I think it’ll help people kind of understand what the different things are and maybe not.
Yeah. Be and not be intimidated about going onto the website and just kind of clicking through a few things. Um, certainly they all have their own web presence as well, which makes it, I mean, I think it’s very easy to navigate, but there is a lot there to consume. So now they’ve gotten a, a really great overview, but tell us how can we best get updates from Sundress and all the different things that are.
[00:25:57] Erin Elizabeth Smith: Absolutely. Uh, you can follow us on social media. We have a presence pretty much everywhere. Um, all of those links are on our website @centrispublications.com. Um, you can also email us to be added onto our mailing list and we send out, uh, you know, Sundress reminders about our events as well as kind of a monthly wrap up of all of our different, uh, things that are going on here.
Um, Yeah, those are, those are our main ways. And I also really want to say, thank you for all that you do a Trish, like seriously, your resources that you have online. I know, I know are like our gift. And again, I appreciate your deeply. So thank you. And I also joined give a little quick shout out because I always feel like I’m standing in as like the talking head for a team of people who do so much work.
So much back. So, um, you know, please, you know, check out, uh, the work from those, uh, from our authors, our editorial board, our intern staff, uh, they’re doing amazing stuff.
[00:26:55] Trish Hopkinson: Um, that’s great. I really appreciate you mentioning all of that. And certainly as we’ve already said, um, you know, our contributions to this really come back to us in spades and it’s just, it really, I mean, it’s one of the reasons why I think selfish.
An appropriate name for myself. So, but Aaron, it’s always such a pleasure. And I’m so looking forward to seeing you in person sometime soon, I hope in 2022. And thank you for taking some time here with me for this Tell Tell Poetry series, and I hope you have a beautiful weekend and we will talk soon. Thank you again.
[00:27:32] Erin Elizabeth Smith: Thanks all.