A Literary Scene Where Parties Are Part of the Agenda
On a recent winter evening, Cat Fitzpatrick and Kay Gabriel were trying to decide how the former would introduce the latter, who was about to read from her new novel, “A Queen in Bucks County.” Ms. Fitzpatrick mentioned that the book had made her cackle on the PATH train.
Making other trans women “crack up in public” had been her goal, Ms. Gabriel said.
Ms. Fitzpatrick had invited Ms. Gabriel, as well as about 100 more people, to her rowhouse in South Brooklyn for a winter salon celebrating LittlePuss Press, a small press Ms. Fitzpatrick started with Casey Plett last year. The two women, who met almost a decade ago at a writing conference, came into their own as writers and editors amid what Ms. Plett calls the “trans lit renaissance” of the early 2010s. With firsthand knowledge of that not-so-long-ago moment, Ms. Plett and Ms. Fitzpatrick are now trying to spur another renaissance all their own. And like many other indie presses and publications that dot the New York literary landscape, they are doing so with parties that are technically readings — but are mostly just parties.
Surveying the scene at this particular reading, which also featured readings from Elena Comay del Junco and Benedict Nguyen, Ms. Fitzpatrick termed it a boisterous gathering of “drunk transsexuals.” There were, however, a handful of clockably cisgender people scattered among the revelers.
“You have this line I really like,” Ms. Plett said to Ms. Fitzpatrick. “What if we include cis people instead of asking cis people to include us?”
“Exactly,” Ms. Fitzpatrick said. “Like, we’ll throw better parties than you. You’re going to want to come.”
Named for a portmanteau of two of its founders’ books — Ms. Plett’s novel “Little Fish” and Ms. Fitzpatrick’s book of poetry “Glamourpuss”— LittlePuss is billed as “a feminist press run by two trans women.” To the founders, that means working with writers whose work would probably go unpublished otherwise, whether because of writers’ backgrounds, their lack of publishing experience or the fact that they haven’t yet finished a manuscript.
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- Generational Shift: The number of young people who identify as transgender in the United States has nearly doubled in recent years, according to a new report.
Ms. Plett and Ms. Fitzpatrick serve as editors at the press, each cultivating a roster of authors. Ms. Plett takes care of taxes, financing and other practical aspects of the business, while Ms. Fitzpatrick helps with design, publicity and events.
Their hosting duties at the winter salon reflected a complementary division of labor: Ms. Plett, wearing a form-fitting oxblood pleather cocktail dress, worked the merch table, selling books, zines and dropper bottles of homemade “Bitterpuss” cordials. Ms. Fitzpatrick flew from room to room in a flowing black lace gown, striking up conversations, refilling drinks and urging guests to “try the volcanapé” — which, for the uninitiated, was a homemade six-tiered mountain of vegan pâté with “rivers” of roasted red pepper strips streaming down from its peak.
Their fledgling press has published two titles: a reprint of “Meanwhile, Elsewhere,” the 2017 sci-fi and fantasy anthology that its founders had previously edited for Topside Press, a trans-run publisher that has since shuttered, and Cecilia Gentili’s “Faltas: Letters to Everyone in My Hometown Who Isn’t My Rapist,” an epistolary memoir that chronicles its author’s childhood and adolescence in Gálvez, Argentina.
An activist and artist whom some might recognize from her recurring role on the TV show “Pose,” Ms. Gentili said that working closely with Ms. Fitzpatrick, her primary editor on “Faltas,” had taken a lot of trust.
“The fact that Cat is a trans woman was such a relief for me,” Ms. Gentili said. “But there were still barriers because I’m a woman of color and a Latina and an immigrant. I mean, she is an immigrant, too, but she’s from England. It’s different. I worried: Is she going to get it? And she did.”
A similar collaborative ethos pervaded the earlier “trans lit renaissance” that Ms. Plett spoke of. During that time, trans writers, editors, readers and independent publishers gave rise to a re-evaluation of what trans literature could be, which narratives could be told, how they might be told, and for whom. Topside — also based in Brooklyn — played a key role in that shift, publishing books like Ms. Plett’s short story collection “A Safe Girl to Love,” which won a Lambda Literary Award, and “Nevada,” a novel by the writer Imogen Binnie that prominent trans authors like Torrey Peters and Jackie Ess both cite as highly influential to their own writing.
“‘Nevada’ happened because Topside was like, ‘You got anything, Imogen?’” Ms. Plett said.
LittlePuss arrives at another interesting moment for trans literature. “Manhunt,” Gretchen Felker-Martin’s gory gender apocalypse novel published in February, was named Vulture’s best book of 2022 and recently entered its tenth printing.
Trans-authored fiction has never been so commercially successful or, at the same time, as publicly embattled. As of September, conservative groups and lawmakers across the country had tried to ban or restrict access to more than 1,651 books, some featuring trans characters and themes.
Ms. Fitzpatrick and Ms. Plett said that by this time next year, they hope to have added at least two new titles to their book list.
The first of these will most likely be a collection of short stories by Anton Solomonik, who helps run the World Transsexual Forum, a series of open mics in Brooklyn where trans writers and artists can read and discuss their work. Having “never submitted my writing to publishers or looked for an agent,” he in many ways typifies the kind of author that Ms. Fitzpatrick and Ms. Plett want to publish: someone whose work is weird, funny, engaging — and might have a difficult time finding its way to a Big Five publisher, for example.
Until the next book release, there will always be the parties. The press runs on a small budget made up of personal contributions from its founders, in addition to the profits generated from the books they have sold, but Ms. Fitzpatrick and Ms. Plett believe that charging for events would run counter to the scene they’re trying to build.
“If you have extra money, you have a moral obligation to buy people drinks,” Ms. Fitzpatrick said.