Interview with April Michelle Bratten, Co-founder of the Tandem Reader Awards

Sundress: First, can you tell our readers what the Tandem Reader Awards are and what you and your team hope to accomplish with this launch?

April Michelle Bratten: Tandem Reader Awards are a post-publication chapbook award and a new nonprofit organization. President Rhiannon Thorne and I are passionate about chapbooks and the hard work that goes into creating them. We created TRA with the intention of honoring the collaboration between authors of chapbooks and their editors/publishers. However, our purpose for TRA quickly evolved into a larger concept as we researched the field of post-publication awards. We found that most reader awards were charging in the ballpark of $25 for submissions—a fee that many cannot afford, resulting in a very abrupt gatekeeper to awards in our creative community. Likewise, the publishers for chapbooks are often small publishers who may not be making a profit from their press, let alone have additional funds to nominate from their catalog. We decided that if we were going to move forward, we would only do so if we could guarantee a fee-free nomination process, thus eliminating any monetary obstacles and developing a truly accessible award.

With the launch of Tandem Reader Awards we aim to not only pay credence to the important partnership between writer and editor, but also, by being broadly accessible through maintaining fee-free submissions, help effect change in our community.

Sundress: You’ve written two chapbooks of your own–What’s your experience with chapbook publication and the small press industry? Have your experiences with those publications informed your interest in creating this project?

AB: My experiences with Maverick Duck Press and dancing girl press definitely motivated my work with Tandem Reader Awards. Working closely with Kendall A. Bell (MDP) and Kristy Bowen (dgp) gave witness to the amount of dedication, heart, and work that go into creating a catalog of handmade books. Small presses work tirelessly and often out of their own pockets to put writers’ books out into the world. Small press editors deserve recognition for the massive amount of good they do for our community. We wouldn’t be here without them.

Sundress: How did this project begin? Can you talk about how your Indiegogo campaign started and how it’s faring?

AB: After many weeks of brainstorming, Rhiannon and I decided to develop TRA to tackle the deficit of fee-free post-publication awards for chapbooks. We realized that this was a large undertaking and began developing a board of talented people in our field who have been instrumental in the development of TRA. We were lucky to have both a business adviser, Kevin McGuirk, and a nonprofit adviser, Erin Elizabeth Smith of Sundress Publications/SAFTA, lend their expertise.

With the help of our crowdsourcing intern, Graham Bonnington, we began the Indiegogo campaign in an effort to fund the cash prize for both the writer and the editor of the winning chapbook, as well as help us register for 501c3 status, obtain a PO box for snail-mail nominations, open a checking account, and pay for promotional materials. We are hoping to raise a minimum of $2,000 to cover these costs.

We have received a wonderful amount of support from the community, many of whom have graciously offered their time, talent, and art to be given as perks to donors of our fundraiser. With a donation, supporters can receive work from poets and artists in the community, as well as choose from perks donated by Sundress Publications, Copper Canyon Press, Alice James Books, and BOA Editions. We are honored to say that we have completed approximately 25% of our goal. Of course our fundraiser is still ongoing and in need of additional community support!

Sundress: What role has Sundress played in this launch? How can our readers get involved further?

AB: Sundress has been kind enough to lend us their president and Queen Bee, Erin Elizabeth Smith, as our nonprofit organization adviser. Erin has been wonderful to both work with and learn from. We have also snatched up the talent of one of Sundress’s editorial interns, Graham Bonnington, who is helping us with our fundraiser.

We would be thrilled to have the support of the Sundress reader family. They can pick up a Sundress Book Bundle with a donation to TRA of $25. They can also grab a SAFTA Workshop gift card, which is good for any SAFTA workshop or retreat. Also, Sundress readers may recognize Chen Chen from the Political Punch anthology–he’s handwriting poems as one of our perks!

Sundress: What’s your plan for sustaining the TRAs and continuing to offer them to chapbook authors and editors?

AB: As a nonprofit organization, Tandem Reader Awards will continue to rely on the support of the community. Along with seeking grants and sponsorships, in the years to come we will warmly accept donations with chapbook nominations. We will also be offering all nominated chapbooks, other than the ten finalists, in chapbook bundles for future donations. This way we can help fund future awards as well as get the books back into the hands of readers.

Sundress: How do you see the Tandem Reader Awards developing in the future? Are there other avenues you’d like to explore, goals to accomplish?

We would like to guarantee a larger award amount. The more we grow, the larger the cash prize can be. In the future we hope to expand the awards, perhaps allowing for nominations of chapbooks in different categories, or awarding runner-ups. We’d also love to get more people on board with curating and reading for the awards, including additional internships for those interested in the publishing field.

Sundress: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?

AB: TRA is 100% volunteer based and is curated by poets, short fiction and prose writers, editors of online journals, students, and those who are passionate about accessibility in the arts. If you would like to learn more about us, you can visit tandemreaderawards.com, like us on Facebook, and follow us us on Twitter: @TandemAwards.

The Tandem Reader Awards fundraiser can be found here: https://igg.me/at/tra16

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