In the early 1990s, a zine called The Ugly Duckling lived its Xerox-humble life under the guidance of Matvei Yankelevich and Tristra Newyear in a Connecticut college town. After some travels, the zine wound up in Woodside, Queens, where it became the staging ground of several collaborations. Through new friendships, the zine became a “Presse” in the late ’90s, lending its imprimatur to a variety of new projects (a free performance broadsheet, paperless events, cheap chapbooks, and a poetry magazine). And so an anarchic but collective unity emerged, with an emphasis on investigations of what makes a book a book. The Presse's original members eventually sought non-profit incorporation (granted in 2002), and Ugly Ducklung Presse evolved further. Our mission was "the creation, publication, and dissemination of literary works overlooked by commercial publishers, including poetry, fiction, drama and theater art, graphic artwork, and collaborative works." Since then, other collaborators have continued to join, eventually forming into a core collective of about a dozen volunteer editors with varying involvement.
After hopping from living rooms to squat-like studios, from basements to basements, UDP found a home in The Old American Can Factory in the Gowanus area of Brooklyn. The level of activity facilitated by these ever-growing spaces have allowed us to be a lot more public and productive—while also unleashing a monster, in a way, as over the course of our tenancies we've acquired several large pieces of printing equipment (including a piano-size letterpress and many drawers full of metal type) that we became attached to and dependent on for the production of our books.
For the last 13 years or so, we've performed the balancing act that seems (for better or worse) to define us: we attempt to be responsible to the expectations made of us as a card-carrying 501©3 nonprofit with a board of directors, an advisory board, internship and apprenticeship programs, and quite a bit of overhead, while guarding a looseness to the way we work together and making room for an unruly, horizontal curatorial/editorial structure that risks being irresponsible to the fiscal bottom line. We strive to continue the legacy of small press through active promotion of its culture and ethos, aligning ourselves with nonprofit distributors (SPD in Berkeley and InPress in the UK) and teaming up with independent publishers and bookstores in a spirit of collective effort rather than competition.
The press continues as a primarily volunteer-run organization (with a small part-time staff), relying on amateur passion and willing participants. Drawn to collaborations with other organizations, we're looking toward a model that will allow us to stop growing and instead feed our appetite for expansion by working with others. Recent projects include collaborations with BOMB Magazine and the language justice initiative Antena (for a new project on contemporary Latin-American poetry, Señal), and with other publishers whose missions and practices we admire, including Primary Information, Coach House Books, and Siglio Press.