About FC2

A small, not-for-profit publisher run by authors, Fiction Collective Two is a hub for artistically adventurous, non-traditional fiction. Since its origin in 1974, membership of the collective has grown from six founding author-members to well over a hundred today; we have published more than two hundred books, and continue to publish six new books every year (three in fall and three in spring). We are committed to finding fresh and experimental works, both through member-sponsored submissions and through two annual competitions, the FC2 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Contest and the FC2 Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize. Published titles remain in print in perpetuity.

FC2 receives financial support from the Jarvis & Constance Doctorow Family Foundation, the Richard and Mary-Ann Simon Foundation, and government arts councils. We also rely on the generosity of Wake Forest University, the University of Utah, the University of Alabama, Illinois State University, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and the University of Colorado for in-kind support. Other sources of revenue include contributions from FC2’s Board of Directors and Advisory Board, and its contest submission fees.

FC2 is an imprint of the University of Alabama Press, with offices based in Tuscaloosa. Editorial operations are overseen from Wake Forest University by Joanna Ruocco, chair of the Board of Directors, with the help of the current FC2 Fellow.

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Board of Directors

  • Joanna Ruocco, Chair
    Wake Forest University
  • Sarah Blackman
    The Fine Arts Center
  • Jeffrey DeShell
    University of Colorado — Boulder
  • Michael Mejia
    University of Utah
  • Lance Olsen
    University of Utah
  • Aimee Parkison
    Oklahoma State University
  • Matt Roberson
    Central Michigan University
  • Elisabeth Sheffield
    University of Colorado — Boulder
  • Daniel Waterman
    University of Alabama Press

The Fiction Collective Story
by Jeffrey DeShell, R. M. Berry, Lance Olsen, and Matthew Kirkpatrick

I

The Fiction Collective began in 1974, when Jonathan Baumbach, Peter Spielberg, Mark Mirsky, Steve Katz, Ronald Sukenick, and others (some participating via phone from California and Colorado) began to meet in Baumbach’s Brooklyn apartment to discuss the possibility of founding a cooperative fiction publishing venture. They felt annoyed, dismayed, and discouraged by the severe editorial and marketing limitations of the commercial presses — what Spielberg calls “literature defined by a committee, books designed by cereal packagers, marketed by used-car salesmen … and ruled or overruled by accountants” — but they wanted to do something more than just create another marginalized small press. All present had experienced the frustration of seeing their critically praised fiction go out of print, and some were having difficulty finding a publisher for subsequent books. As Baumbach recalls: “At our early meetings we analyzed the commercial publishing scene by sharing negative anecdotes.… Fiction that redefined the rules, innovative and experimental work, was having the most trouble finding a home in what was clearly (though unacknowledged) a publishing establishment increasingly attuned to the bottom line.” There was broad agreement about the need for writers to take the authority of publishing into their own hands, but everyone was worried about the practical obstacles. Finally, after lengthy discussion, they decided to act. As Katz writes:

This was going to be a statement, strong writers taking their careers in their own hands. Blast into the face of the compromised publishing establishment. If we published our own books we could not be blown out by commercial winds, the fickleness of popular culture. We could exercise some control over how our books came into the world. We spent a good deal of time deciding what to call the enterprise. We didn’t want it to seem to be a “cooperative,” whatever that implied. And we certainly didn’t want it to appear as a vanity press. No vanity, just artistic and editorial rigor. The idea was to be that we chose to step outside the establishment. We were going to edit each other’s books, a practice that actually went on for a few years. Help each other. Make a literature. Occasionally we would publish a promising new writer. We decided on the name “Fiction Collective” as a kind of compromise. The books would come out in a uniform format, like Gallimard volumes, or Penguin books. An idea that I liked was that we originally thought to limit our membership to a modest dozen or so, and encourage other groups of writers to form their own collectives.

After the name “Fiction Collective” was chosen, Spielberg and Baumbach met with the Provost of Brooklyn College to secure office space and mailing privileges. The group formulated an editorial protocol whereby books would be accepted for publication by simple majority vote. Six books a year were planned, and the first three — Museum by B. H. Friedman, Reruns by Baumbach, and Twiddledum Twaddledum by Spielberg — were accepted and edited (Spielberg edited Baumbach, Baumbach edited Friedman, and Friedman edited Spielberg). An artist was found who designed a logo. Next came the difficult chore of finding a distributor. As Baumbach tells it:

I went around with Spielberg (and sometimes with Mark Mirsky and Jerome Charyn) interviewing potential distributors. The head of one distinguished publishing house, initially interested in the possibility of distributing our books, woke up one morning (so it was reported to us) furious at the idea of the Fiction Collective. “Who do they think they are?” he said, or was reported to have said. “We publish all the good fiction that comes our way. There isn’t any worthy fiction not getting published.” It was an attitude we would encounter, directly and obliquely, again and again.

Ironically, it was this anger — by writers, editors, and publishers — that gave the Fiction Collective a sense of credibility and importance. There was the feeling that if the Collective could inspire such fury, it must be doing something right. Finally, George Braziller, a small but influential distributor of European fiction, agreed to distribute the books, and in fall of 1974 the first Fiction Collective book appeared on bookstore shelves.

In his New York Times Book Review column, “Guest Word,” for September 15, 1974, early Collectivist Ronald Sukenick explained the group’s plan:

The Fiction Collective will make serious novels and story collections available in simultaneous hard and quality paper editions … and will keep them in print permanently. The Collective is not a publishing house, but a “not-for-profit” cooperative … the first of its kind in this country, in which writers make all business decisions and do all editorial and copy work.

Sukenick’s “Guest Word” became a manifesto for the Collective and its supporters. In addition to explaining the practical operation of the Collective, it offered a diagnosis of the current publishing industry (“a mass market industry that cannot afford to produce small, reasonably priced editions of quality fiction”) and outlined the Collectivists’ vision of “a community and audience of the kind that has always sustained poetry.” He concluded:

For American novelists, the publisher has played the role of unacknowledged father, boss, and sugar-daddy, whose recognition legitimizes one’s identity as a writer. The Fiction Collective offers recognition by one’s peers. This clear insistence on the standards of those who, finally, know what the art is all about, opens a path toward the maturity of the American novel, as well as a way for American novelists to assume their full prerogatives and responsibilities.

During the Collective’s early years, the critical reception for its books was sometimes mixed but rarely lukewarm. The first season’s offerings received lengthy, favorable reviews in The New Republic, Newsweek, The Village Voice, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, and The American Poetry Review. The Washington Post listed Baumbach’s Reruns as a notable book of the year, and the Quality Paperback Club presented the first three Collective books as a special selection. Over forty-five periodicals either reviewed the Fiction Collective’s first series or ran news stories on the Collective itself, and over the next six years, lengthy critical essays on the Collective were published in Contemporary Literature, The Partisan Review, The Chicago Review, and elsewhere. At the same time, negative responses to the Collective or its books were sometimes marked by extraordinary animus. Michael Mewshaw, in the October 13, 1974, New York Times Book Review, complained about the books’ prices, number of pages, and printing errors, and spent several paragraphs listing phrases Mewshaw considered “clunkers and clichés.” In a 1978 Triquarterly article, Gene Lyons pronounced the Collective a failure, dismissing it as “a well-publicized, tax-supported vanity press,” and a Sewanee Review editorial characterized the Collectivists as a group of naive young writers who “must feed themselves upon the illusion of heroic struggle.” Such polarized responses, often focusing as much on the Collective itself as on the books it published, would characterize reaction to the Fiction Collective throughout much of its history.

For most of its first fifteen years, the Fiction Collective published three new works of non-traditional fiction each fall and spring. Among the books published by the Collective during this period were Ronald Sukenick’s 98.6, Russell Banks’s Searching for Survivors, Marianne Hauser’s The Talking Room, Ursule Molinaro’s Encores for a Dilettante, Raymond Federman’s Take It or Leave It, Steve Katz’s Stolen Stories, Clarence Major’s My Amputations, Fanny Howe’s Holy Smoke, Harold Jaffe’s Mole’s Pity, Mark Leyner’s I Smell Esther Williams, and Gerald Vizenor’s Griever: An American Monkey King in China. The Collective was praised by Robert Coover, Anais Nin, Jerome Klinkowitz, and others, and it received regular support from the New York State Council for the Arts and the NEA. In 1984, co-director Curtis White organized a national contest to find and publish new writers of innovative fiction.

II

By the mid-1980s the Collective had published over forty writers, each subsequently becoming a member, and this success had ironically made the organization too cumbersome for collective decision-making and management. Also, reductions in arts funding during the Reagan administration were making support harder to find. In 1986, the Collective’s grant application to the NEA was denied, and within a year it began to have difficulty publishing books. As Curtis White and Ronald Sukenick later recalled:

At this time, the Collective was directed by Mark Leyner, Rachel Salazar, and Curt White. The involvement of the University of Colorado, Boulder, was growing through its Nilon Prize for Excellence in Minority Fiction, as was the participation of Illinois State University through its National Fiction Competition. And yet things were not well. The Fiction Collective had reached a point where it had exhausted most of the collectivist energies of its origins. The people upon whom most of the responsibilities fell were becoming more frustrated with their lack of any real authority. Beyond the contests, the Fiction Collective had essentially ceased to exist.

In the winter of 1989, Curtis White, Ronald Sukenick, Mark Leyner, Jonathan Baumbach, B. H. Friedman, and Peter Spielberg met in Spielberg’s Brooklyn apartment and, after lengthy discussion, finally reached the decision to reorganize the press. The constitution was rewritten, creating Fiction Collective Two, a non-profit, author-run press under a governing board of directors, with Sukenick as board chair and White as managing director. Editorial responsibilities were divided between two offices, one at the University of Colorado at Boulder run by Don Laing and another at Illinois State University in Normal run by White.

Over the next years, White and Sukenick went to work to professionalize the organization, creating a better-quality book design and making the first systematic efforts at promotion and marketing. Soon a new imprint was launched — Black Ice Books, modeled on the Semiotext(e) Autonomedia series — which published Mark Amerika’s The Kafka Chronicles, Cris Mazza’s Revelation Countdown, Samuel Delany’s Hogg, and John Shirley’s New Noir. Designed to be, as White described it, “a merging of the avant-garde with the popular,” Black Ice Books’ “avant-pop” aesthetic was immediately successful, enjoying national review attention and lively sales. The press also enjoyed the success of several impressive Nilon Prize winners, such as Diane Glancy (Trigger Dance), Yvonne Sapia (Valentino’s Hair), and Ricardo Cortez Cruz (Straight Outta Compton). During the first years of the Clinton administration, the press began once again to receive generous NEA support, and in 1995 FC2 contracted with Northwestern University Press for distribution. Later characterizing the early nineties as a period of financial stability and artistic excitement, White and Sukenick would emphasize FC2’s continuity of purpose with the original Collective: “To be a showcase for the nonconventional in the context of an aggressive independence from mainstream publishing.”

In the mid-nineties, the University of Colorado office closed, and all FC2 operations were transferred to the Unit for Contemporary Literature at Illinois State University, a publications center organized by Charles Harris and responsible for The American Book Review. Curtis White became effective manager of the press, still under the oversight of a Board of Directors now composed of Sukenick, Robert Steiner, Richard Grossman, Cris Mazza, and White himself. During this period, the Illinois Arts Council joined the NEA in becoming a major supporter of the press.

Once again, however, action by the Republican right jeopardized the existence of the press. In December of 1996, Representative Peter Hoekstra (R, Michigan) obtained a copy of Chick-Lit 2, an FC2 anthology of new women’s writing published with NEA funds, and discovered in one of the eighteen stories a description of sexual relations between two women. As chair of the Congressional Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Hoekstra immediately organized an inquiry into the NEA’s support of FC2. In a 1997 letter to NEA Chair Jane Alexander, Hoekstra cited four FC2 books that contained materials “most of which are an offense to the senses of this Subcommittee.” During the subsequent hearings, FC2 received outspoken support from such writers as Mark Strand, William Gass, and Toni Morrison.

Despite these political difficulties and their financial repercussions, FC2 continued throughout the nineties to publish its groundbreaking books. Among the books of this period were Evan Dara’s The Lost Scrapbook, Kenneth Bernard’s From the District File, Jacques Servin’s Aviary Slag, and Omar S. Castaneda’s Learning to Say ‘Mouth’ or ‘Face’, as well as various anthologies: Chick-Lit: Postfeminist Fiction and Chick-Lit 2: No Chick Vics, edited by Cris Mazza, Jeffrey DeShell, and Elisabeth Sheffield; Latino Heretics, edited by Tony Diaz; and Degenerative Prose, edited by Mark Amerika and Ronald Sukenick.

In 1999, Curtis White stepped down from his position as managing director of FC2. White, who had seen the press through its darkest financial days, succeeded in leaving the press in good economic health, partly due to a sale of Fiction Collective and FC2 archives to the University of Texas at Austin. FC2 authors R.M. Berry and Jeffrey DeShell presented a new proposal to the Board of Directors for operation of the press, in which Berry and DeShell became acting publishers for FC2, a new position with increased editorial responsibility. In May 1999, the executive offices of the press were moved to the English Department at Florida State University, where Berry was a faculty member. The editorial board was reorganized under the oversight of Cris Mazza at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and book production remained at the ISU Publications Unit.

It quickly became clear that the function of acting publisher was not one that could be efficiently shared from a distance. DeShell ceded to Berry. By 2002, submissions had become so profuse that the all-volunteer editorial board was overwhelmed. A moratorium was called to give readers a chance to catch up. Oversight for the editorial board was moved to the executive offices in Tallahassee, and it was decided that the submission period would be shortened to five months (September through January). Also in 2002, Lance Olsen became the new chair of the Board of Directors, and a new Board of Advisors was formed. FC2 celebrated its thirtieth anniversary in 2004 with celebrations in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. In the spring of 2006, FC2 entered into an agreement with the University of Alabama Press (UAP), whereby UAP would be responsible for production, marketing, and distribution of FC2 books, while the FC2 Board of Directors would retain editorial control.

In 2008, due to severe budget cuts at Florida State University (FSU), FC2 lost funding for long-time Executive Editor Brenda Mills as well as its business offices. That spring Lance Olsen approached Jeffrey Di Leo, Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences at the University of Houston-Victoria (UH-V), with the idea of restructuring FC2 and moving those offices to UH-V as part of its Publications Center. The transition from FSU to UH-V was completed during the summer. Four years later, FC2 restructured once more in the wake of deep budget and faculty cuts at UH-V, with components of FC2’s operations now distributed across many of the universities and colleges with which its Board members are affiliated. Currently, books are produced at the English Department’s Publications Unit at ISU with Director Tara Reeser and Assistant Director Steve Halle, and distribution is at the UAP under Dan Waterman. Lance Olsen served as chair of the Board of Directors through 2018, while overseeing and coordinating operations from the University of Utah with the help of FC2 Fellows Matthew Kirkpatrick (2008-2010), Susan McCarty (2010-2011), and Rachel Levy (2011-2018). In July of 2018, Joanna Ruocco assumed the position of Chair of the Board. Ruocco currently manages operations from Wake Forest University.

After over forty years of operation, the Fiction Collective and its successor FC2 have published nearly two hundred titles by more than one hundred authors. In addition to the articles already mentioned, the press has been the subject of articles in Publishers Weekly, Poets & Writers, Critique, Triquarterly, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Most of its original membership continues to publish with FC2 and to take an active part in the operation of the press. All editorial decisions continue to be made by the authors. Virtually all Fiction Collective and FC2 titles are still in print. And FC2 continues to publish ground-breaking fiction. In the new century, FC2 has published works by new names like Lucy Corin, Susan Steinberg, Kate Bernheimer, and Stephen Graham Jones, and has published the books of experimental heavyweights like Brian Evenson, Toby Olson, Leslie Scalapino, Steve Tomasula, Lance Olsen, Raymond Federman, Lidia Yuknavitch, and Harold Jaffe. In the words of former publisher R. M. Berry, “FC2 continues to be committed to discovering what it means to read or write a novel, even in a time in which the marketplace shows little interest in what a novel is.”