Local publisher spotlight: PromptPress

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PromptPress ignores traditional boundaries with a quiet defiance. It began in 2014 with founding editor Jennifer Colville; her brother, Christopher Colville (photography editor); and Susan Goslee (poetry editor), creating an outlet for artists who wished to play at the boundaries. Jennifer did the bulk of the work until Kalmia Strong (book arts editor) expanded the possibilities into physical publications. Since then, the staff has grown to include Nina Lohman (nonfiction), Elizabeth Munger (visual arts) and Ethan S. Evans (intern).

The staff blends diverse expertise in exhibition, education and publication to provide a platform for dynamic creativity. The current prompt, curated by Center for Afrofuturist Studies founder Anaïs Duplan, features drawings from Brandon Drew Holmes with an invitation for written or hybrid responses from writers of color.

Prompt Issue 7, designed by John Engelbrecht, containing stereo images by Mark Klett and a booklet of creative writing responses. — courtesy of Jennifer Colville

By emphasizing process over product, PromptPress provides a platform for professional and amateur artists to learn from each other in beautiful ways. Uninterested in siloed genres (fiction vs. nonfiction vs. poetry vs. sculpture vs. drawing), or stilted responses, PromptPress re-imagines art as something fluid, dynamic, unfolding. Its playful take on creativity shows the importance of art as emerging within a community that recognizes and values individual contributions to the artistic spark centered in the prompt.

The PromptPress website is a fluctuating hub of curated, crafted and empowering translations that open art-making and art-questioning as play and gift. The “product” of the press, an art book, pauses the conversations around the initial prompt. It allows those who purchase the limited-edition artifact (each different; designed by book artists) to join in the conversation on their terms. Like a photograph — or sculpture, or book — each printing pauses at a moment, then opens itself once more when it is witnessed. Art is exposed as that which is always in process: a becoming, rather than a thing that has been done.

PromptPress’s current writing prompt, by Brandon Drew Holmes. ‘The Green Book’ was a travel manual to help black people travel safely across North America (La Porscha). 2017. — courtesy of Jennifer Colville

PromptPress also works in the community by supporting Iowa City-area artists and authors both at the professional (workshop-trained) and emerging (including pre-teen and high school) levels. One way it does this is by co-sponsoring, with Iowa City Poetry, the monthly Free Generative Writing Workshop. This open group is a live version of the prompt, featuring a guest who guides a workshop that is free and open to the public. PromptPress also co-sponsors with the Iowa Youth Writing Project the Image + Word summer camp, inviting young creators to join into an expansive way of thinking creatively that remains faithful to Jennifer Colville’s initial vision.

Its willingness to portray the slow unfolding of art, an ongoing echo of inspiration that emerges and evolves from/as differing artistic perspectives, makes PromptPress a cutting-edge exemplar of what being an artist is becoming. The heart of Prompt involves inspiring and inviting all to become artists by curating and collecting conversations as art.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 274.

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