Q: Why did you start KotaPress?
Kara/Hawk: We started this press in memory and honor of our son Dakota Jones who died at birth on March 11, 1999, at 4:47pm. He was perfect except he wasn't breathing. He weighed 6 lbs 4 oz and we had considered calling this endeavor "SixPoundPress" but then we thought about how our lives would be without Dakota. We thought about how people would expect us to stop talking about him, stop letting us say his name. So we settled on KotaPress because it lets us say his name every single day that we do this work.
After Kota's death, I (Kara) wrote several volumes of work but was not willing to send any of it out to publishers. The thought of "rejection letters" was too much for me -- my kid was dead -- to have someone then "reject" him on top of that was unthinkable. Yes, he had become my words. These writings were all I felt I had left of him.
Anyway, so we decided to publish my writings and Hawk's art ourselves. And we decided to do that under our own imprint. And we called that imprint KotaPress.
Soon others were reading our works online and buying our books and meeting us at readings. It didn't take long for this whole endeavor to grow and become outreach, support, and voice for many bereaved parents who were finding expression for their grief/healing through writing, art, journaling, etc..
Q: You appear to do service oriented work, art oriented work and commercial work here. What's the difference between your artistic and commercial work at KotaPress?
Kara/Hawk: We do so many things that often people can't see how it is all connected. For us the connections seem obvious, but I think that's because we are each so comfortable wearing several hats at the same time. Let's see.
The commercial work is about the work we do "for-hire" and that includes things like graphic design, book cover design, self-publishing consultations, web design, animation, bookmaking classes, marketing consults, and more.
The art oriented work is about actually making books for people -- handmades or press produced -- as well as creating the KotaPress website every month, doing our own writings and digital artworks and guerrilla bookmaking pieces. We also teach classes like "guerrilla poetry" and "creative healing" kinds of things.
And then the service work incorporates aspects of all of that with the aim of helping bereaved parents after the death of a child. We offer some of our books and publications for free to bereaved parents. We teach and offer support outreach at various bereavement conferences. We offer free online support through a yahoo group. We use our marketing skills to bring awareness about stillbirth statistics and to change laws for better tracking of stats, to get more money for research about cord accidents. And so much more.
All of it feels like mission work! It carries our son's name with it. It all lets us parent the world in a way that we are not able to do with our own child.
We personally made the decision to do-it-ourselves because our subject matter -- dead children -- is not something literary agents or big publishing houses much care about. These works we did are emotionally raw, honest, personal and universal at the same time. But the major houses say there isn't an "audience" for grief support work like this. Of course if you ask any bereaved parent, they'll tell you that just one of us is too big an audience and that it is ethically irresponsible to not offer publications like this for support. But that's another soap box.
We chose to get these works into the hands of the people who were contacting us -- into the hands of other bereaved parents as quickly as possible -- because it was obvious that there are far too many parents out there with far too few resources. That was four years ago. It is changing a bit. Places like Centering Corporation and A Place to Remember both offer lots of options now. The awareness is coming slowly.
But I (Kara) think that after all these years and after all this work we've done ourselves, I'd be loathe to hand it over to a large publisher/distributor now. They only want it after we've done all the work. So I think I'd rather just keep doing it myself.
Kara/Hawk: After our son died, we really felt alone. We were not ready to attend in-person support groups -- especially not ready to go to those groups that are held at hospitals. At that point in time, I think, both of us would have been quite happy to *never* see a hospital again. But, so we felt alone, and consequently got online to try and find support on the internet.
I (Kara) came across the MISS website and sent a note off to them. To our surprise Joanne Caccitore, founder of MISS, wrote back. She even called. We got to talking and emailing. And she just proved to be a huge guide in this grief maze! She confirmed that it was normal to want to be with your child -- your child is dead -- you want to die -- BUT that that is different from actually planning to commit suicide. She confirmed that it was normal to want support but to not want to go near a hospital. She talked to us about the urge to have another child as soon as possible and really asked us "Do you want *another* child or do you just want your son back?" These things were all perspectives that no one in our circle of family and friends could really offer because they just didn't have the experiences someone like Joanne and other MISS bereaved parents have had.
So as that relationship with Joanne developed, we learned that MISS (based in Arizona) was wanting to start chapters all over the world, and there was no one in Washington state doing that yet. So we did it. We offer support locally in-person and also internationally online. We send out fabulous MISS support materials when we send out our grief books and art. And we attend and teach each year at the MISS Passages conferences in Arizona. And Kara sits on the national board for them.
The National Stillbirth Society is a sister organization to MISS and they are responsible for the changes in law and research dollars that we are seeing and wanting to see more. They've managed to get the MISSing Angels Bill passed in several states. This bill demands that hospitals offer one kind of birth certificate that has check boxes on it for either "Live Birth" or "Stillbirth". They makes the hospitals report the stillbirth statistics in all the same way. The statistics become more reliable. And then we can start asking for more research to be done to find out how to stop this "ultimate birth defect"!!
It also has an emotional mission behind it, too, in that most stillbirth parents ask while still in the hospital, "When can we have our child's birth certificate?" To which hospitals would answer, "Sorry, your child was dead, so you only get a death certificate." It is heartbreaking. It happened that way for us. Here was this perfectly formed, 6 lb, 4 oz, 19.5 inch long, brown curly hair, we had to dress and ready him for cremation, we bought an urn, had a service, took pictures -- we are saying goodbye to our child who I had just GIVEN BIRTH to!!! And yet they were telling me I had NOT given birth and didn't get a birth certificate. Hence, I write quite a lot about giving birth to death. I did give birth. How dare anyone deny me that. I birthed my child. But the laws and paperwork told me I birthed death and *that* kind of birthing didn't count. It's insulting.
So Kara now sits on the national board for the National Stillbirth Society, too. It's another piece of the mission.
Q: I see you often teach classes together and have a couple of workshops coming up this Spring. What do you teach? Where can our readers connect and take a class with you?
Kara/Hawk: We do love to teach together. We teach writing classes, bookmaking classes, as well as workshops about creativity during grief or art to remember lost loved ones.
So far our schedule this Spring includes teaching a "guerrilla poetry" class at the Washington State Poets Conference. And then we will be participating in a panel discussion about "The Personality Of Support" at the MISS Passages Conference. You can contact those organizations individually to find out about the events and how to get into our classes.
Additionally, we offer several online classes that you can take anytime. If you check out the KotaPress Bookstore you'll find information in the "Classes" department about how to register and connect with us.
We promote our classes through our website mailing list, too. If you want to be on our emailing list for our monthly (sometimes bi-monthly) eNewsletter, you can email us with "subscribe" in the subject line of your email.
Q: In these time of war and violence, why would you choose to call yourself a "guerrilla" poet and bookmaker, Kara? Why would you both want to teach a class called "guerrilla poetry"?
Kara/Hawk: A guerrilla is defined as someone in an "alternative" group who uses harrassing tactics to make changes happen. And so I am a "guerrilla" artist and mother.
As a mother, I am "alternative" because I am a mother to a dead child. And I am not happy with the way bereaved families are treated in our culture. I am not happy with the level of support and research that has been done by established organizations like National Institute of Health or the March of Dimes. I'm not happy with the way grief awareness is taught to medical professionals. So I am loud, annoying and repetitious about what needs to be changed AND about how I think it should be change. I send emails, I write letters, I make phone calls, I talk to anyone who will listen -- I even talk when they aren't listening sometimes.
As an artist, I am "alternative" because I won't play the academic game. I won't hand over my works to the main stream publishing system. I don't think you have to apprentice for 20 years to learn how to make books. I do not need a PhD to be a poet. I make books out of the materials in my recycling bin. And I am not quiet about these ideas.
Hence, the use of the word guerrilla in terms of my art and life. When my kid died, something in me snapped and I no longer had time to wait to be accepted and recognized as an artist, no longer had time to pussy foot around in academia. My life is today, now, this moment. And I am loud, large, and obnxious about my point of view on that.
Q: What's coming up on the immediate horizon for KotaPress?
Kara/Hawk: Our monthly issues of the website will continue. We'll be teaching this Spring in several different places. We'll keep promoting and doing bereavement outreach with our Mrs. Duck and The Woman book, Different Kind of Parenting zine, and other publications. We are doing a live radio show on Tuesday nights called WORDS on the Voice of Vashon, and that show will be produced in a live, audience-attended, two-hour format at the Blue Heron Theater in June. And a million other things!
Q: What do you see for KotaPress 5 years from now? 10? 20?
Kara/Hawk: Wow. Who knows? We'd like to formally create a non-profit arm called the Kota Foundation to do several things like start scholarship funds for bereaved parents to publish memorial books -- and we'd like to see Mrs. Duck be made into an animated movie that we could take to film festivals and raise some awareness with a whole other audience. We'll see.