Mirene Arsanios

About

Mirene Arsanios: I’d like to begin this interview with a brief overview of Top Stories’ history. I was looking at the start and end dates of the publication: 1978 and 1991. Somehow, these are symbolic dates; they really mark an era. I was interested in the historical period Top Stories occupied and how it lived in these 10 years, more or less, in New York. Maybe you could talk about how the publication started? Was it was prompted by some kind of artistic discourse or idea, something you wanted to promote?

Anne Turyn: Those are good questions. I graduated college in 1976 and recieved a BFA in art, but I was really interested in writing and literature. I had always been a really big reader. I moved to Buffalo, New York because I was moving in with my boyfriend, the artist Tony Conrad. He had been at Antioch College where I also went to school. I remember looking at him and thinking, “I want to be a writer.” I said to him, “I should find out what’s going on in writing” and he answers, “Oh, it’s better not to know.” That was part of his practice, to come in from left field.

When I first moved to Buffalo, the city was economically depressed. Rent was $60 a month and the pipes froze; the apartment was so small it was like living in a closet. There weren’t any jobs available, so I spent a lot of time in the rare book room at the University of Buffalo library. A lot of these books couldn’t leave the library so I would go up there and track down writing that I was interested in and read. But of course, I was also interested in art. We were involved with Hallwalls where I would pass around books that I would find to other artists. I would also go to The Strand Bookstore in New York City to buy books—friends seemed to like what I was reading.

There was this chapbook series by Black Sparrow, a poetry press in Boston. They published Charles Bukowski, Robert Creeley, and they had these little pamphlets that were 50 cents in the ‘70s. They had a self-cover and were stapled, on “poetry” paper. I loved it because it was so cheap and the price was not going to stop you from getting a poem. I liked that the language they used was plastic. I was interested in the more formal concerns, like how many different ways you could tell a story. I wasn’t really that interested in the story itself, but how you could recount it.

Tony helped me name Top Stories. I needed to have the word “stories” in the title. We were driving to New York City and it was going to be an eight or nine-hour trip. We were maybe an hour into the trip when he offered, “how about Top Stories.” I said “That’s perfect, that would be a great title.” So once that was settled we could talk about other things during the rest of the drive.

The first Top Stories that I did was, in retrospect, a trial run. Donna Wyszomierski was someone who was associated with Hallwalls and I liked her writing. I had actually taken a course to learn how to print, but it turned out I didn’t need to do that part. It was too much work and they never let the girls use the machines anyway. Someone I knew was more tenacious in the class and she actually bought her own printing press. So, she printed the first couple of issues of Top Stories. They were stapled and were priced at one dollar. I guess I had this naïve idea that I could make a little series that was interesting.

Then I asked Laurie Anderson to contribute to the next issue because I had seen her submit text from a performance in the book Individuals: Post-Movement Art in America edited by Alan Sondheim. This was in 1978 when we had organized a big benefit at Hallwalls for the first time and we invited both Constance DeJong and Laurie to perform. Laurie laid the cover page out very carefully. It always had the Top Stories logo on the front and the back cover would list the past issues. Anything in-between the covers was fair-game. The artists and writers could do whatever they wanted.

Pati Hill was someone who had actually published novels in the ‘60s with “regular” publishers and had been associated with the Paris Review. I had bought one of her books in Cambridge, Massachusetts in which she Xeroxed photos by other people and folded it into her novella. I was interested in Pati because her book was a novel with photos that were parallel to and somehow informed the text. You certainly wouldn’t see a direct picture or illustration of what she was writing about. I liked that and invited her to come to Hallwalls in January 1979. I then invited Pati to submit something for the third issue. Much to my surprise she just gave me text without illustration, but she put a Xeroxed image on the cover. Maybe the image and text combination was just a temporary experiment for her, but that was fine because I thought of Top Stories as literature series. How many things can you do between the front and back cover?

MA: That’s super interesting because there seems to be a correspondence between formal experimentation and material production. You were talking about how producing a magazine wasn’t complicated because of the low production costs. So how difficult was it to produce Top Stories, materially speaking?

AT: In a way, it was probably harder then than it is now. For instance, I recently updated the Top Stories Catalog for an exhibition in Switzerland. Today, I can just go across the street to Kinkos and borrow their big stapler and the issue looks “real.” And, I only made two of them. Back then, setting up a printer was a lot of work and it felt like you had to have a print count of 500. Now people can make one book and make it color. And if people like it, they can easily order more.

MA: Technically, it is probably easier today. But there’s a sort of spontaneity—maybe that’s just me romanticizing—in deciding to launch a small press and having access to a community. So many projects were born that way. I feel that communities and audiences operate differently today. They aren’t as driven by advancing new forms and ideas. I wonder why certain things emerge and work. I’m interested in how you created an artistic and literary scene around Top Stories, and how you involved people you were interested in. The relationships around the magazine seem very egalitarian. Once it started, did