Postcard from Paris: Frank

by Linda Lappin

It's a rainy day in Paris as I step off the chilly street into a bright cafe near the Duroc metro station. I have come here to chat with David Applefield, an American expatriate who has lived in Paris for 20 years. He is the publisher of Frank, the longest-running Anglophone literary magazine in Paris. This journal of contemporary art, literature, and culture offers a vibrant mix of perspectives from the Americas, Europe, and Africa. Frank's long survival is almost a miracle, given the magazine's independent status. Unaffiliated with any institution, receiving no regular funding, it keeps afloat through the ingenuity of its publisher, a man who came to Paris with a dream.

It was novelist Lawrence Durrell who first encouraged Applefield to start his own press. As an aspiring young writer in Boston, Applefield sent a manuscript to Durrell, asking for advice. Durrell's reply might have daunted a less persistent writer. "I get a lot of letters like yours," Durrell informed him, and then painted a dismal picture of the state of publishing in the '70s. "Why not buy a printing press and print your own work?" Durrell suggested. Ten years later, Applefield founded Frank in Paris, and created his own imprint for fiction and non-fiction by expatriate writers.

Applefield defines himself as a guerilla publisher, meaning he actively seeks alternative routes to get writers into print. Speaking to the Geneva Writer's Conference in February this year, he cited a study of the American publishing industry according to which only one in 29,000 manuscripts submitted to the New York slush piles ever manages to break into print. Applefield believes that writers today can't and shouldn't wait too long for recognition, and encourages them, at all phases of their careers, to find ways to "do it themselves." Writers can pool resources, start their own magazines and publishing houses, experiment with print-on-demand. Still, to do this it takes dedication and effort, and of course, financial resources.

To finance Frank Applefield followed the example of Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap of the Little Review, who transplanted their magazine to Paris in the '20s. He not only campaigned for subscribers in arty bookshops and cafes, but succeeded in convincing businessmen that investing in quality culture brings benefits to a community in the long run. From issue to issue he also seeks sponsorship for specific projects. Issue 18, featuring a large group of Swiss writers in translation, was partly sponsored by the Pro Helvetia Arts Council of Switzerland.

In addition to the large selection of Swiss writing, issue 18 focused on fiction in America, with a "literary conference call" between American novelists Duff Brenna (based in California) and Tom Kennedy (in Copenhagen), who interviewed each other by phone on the state of American fiction. The issue also included fiction by both Brenna and Kennedy; an interview with Alpha Oumar Konare, former president of Mali, concerning freedom of the press in African countries, unpublished correspondence of James Baldwin; and poems and prose by writers from Russia, France, Turkey, Germany, Bosnia, Hungary, Poland, Spain, Italy, and the US. The range of languages and realities represented made this a multicultural mosaic.

Issue 19, produced jointly with the Literary Review, zeroes in on American writers living abroad and their post-September 11 perspectives on their own culture and on their culture of adoption in a particularly delicate moment of our history. The writers in this issue report from Malaysia, Europe, South America, and the Middle East, addressing the question of their role as Americans abroad at a time when both our world view and economic strategies are being called into question all over the globe.

Negotiating with neighbors in an unfamiliar language, sharing a taxi with a Sikh in a Malaysian downpour, or marching in a peace demonstration against the invasion of Iraq, these writers test the limits of their cultural identity. In environments at once welcoming, alien, rich and dense with impressions, they explore "courage, conscience, and the sources and meaning of being a writer," as poet and essayist Wallis Wilde-Menozzi writes in her essay published in this issue, "Grafting on Italian Roots," and often discovering, like Susan Tiberghien, also featured in issue 19, "Home is Where You Are."

Expatriate writers everywhere have looked to little magazines to make themselves heard; many of the great modernist works we admire today were first printed on private presses in someone's basement in a country of exile. The function of small presses has always been to unearth new writers and works too risky for larger houses to take on, and create a public for them until the time is ripe for a greater audience. True to this intent, Applefield's latest project will be to publish French-American writer Jean Lamore's challenging novel AKA, which has been compared to James Joyce's Ulysses and Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. Richly sensuous, witty and phantasmagoric, Lamore's novel, set in "the remote present," is a rambunctious, mythic voyage through the chaos of Paris, Africa, and contemporary America.

Rain Taxi Online Edition, Fall 2004 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2004