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"Honestly I would have no idea how to live if I couldn't retreat into books on a regular basis. I was a bookseller for eleven years before I worked in publishing. I'm hugely thankful to work in the industry that I love, despite how damaged it is. I can hardly imagine being a part of anything else."

On the shelves of our stores you'll find an array of publications, some of those out of California-based Hat & Beard Press. We sat down with Clark Allen (of Hat & Beard) to chat about his time living in New Orleans and how that, among other things, have influenced his life and work. 

The New New Age Series: Crystals, H&B Press

When did you live in New Orleans? How was it?
I moved to New Orleans early in the Fall of 2011 and stayed for almost exactly three years. I had my ups and downs but no downs that I can't attribute to life just being life. I loved living there very much.

What attracted you to the city? What did you learn here, and why did you leave?
My attraction to New Orleans began when I was a kid. My father was from The South, and I mean that in a kind of general way. He was a military brat and moved a ton, but his side of the family is scattered all over the Southern US. I was raised in The Bay Area but we took a bunch of trips down to visit family when I was younger and it made a huge impression on me. I can't remember when exactly I honed in on the idea of moving there but when it happened it just felt like everything was making sense. I was 28 and it seemed like it was a long time coming.

Although I adored the city itself I think that my biggest takeaway from NOLA was learning what I didn't want. I found a fantastic community of people and made a ton of friends that I'm still in touch with, but in my third year I really did start feeling something like homesickness. Not necessarily for The Bay, but for a connection to locale. As much fun as I had shooting the shit over crawfish boils and rolling around second lines, and despite feeling generally accepted, I never shook the idea that I was just another tourist. There came a point where I was asking myself, "What do I have to offer this city that it can't offer itself?" and was coming up blank. I don't want to just be a superfluous part of a place and living there helped me understand that. I dearly miss the wildness and weirdness and magic of New Orleans but there's no getting around that I am a Californian, and that is the place where I have the highest capacity to facilitate the things that I want to do. It was time to go home.


A photo from one of Clark's recent trips to New Orleans

What do you miss most about New Orleans?
I don't think I can describe what I miss the most about New Orleans. There is a feeling of excitement and spontaneity that encompasses being there that is really special. Maybe it's the whorl of tourist activity and parades and pageantry that are constantly interrupting your regularly scheduled life. I have some very happy memories watching the sunrise after nights I'd told myself I'd be in bed by eleven.

"There is a feeling of excitement and spontaneity that encompasses being [in New Orleans] that is really special. Maybe it's the whorl of tourist activity and parades and pageantry that are constantly interrupting your regularly scheduled life."

Is there any element of the city or meaningful factor from your time here that pushed your life or work forward in some way?
One of the things I did in New Orleans was work for Press Street's Room 220. I wrote a small handful of articles and did some author interviews (I am particularly proud of my interview with Susan Bernofsky), helped to set up a few events, and so on. While New Orleans literary scene is very sharp, it's small. I skipped out on college, and my resume in regards to the literary world at the time was basically, "Hey, I read a lot. Trust me." Room 220 was one of the first places to actually do that and I was given a chance to engage with a lot of authors, both local and visiting, in a way that probably couldn't have happened if I had still been living in SF, or was in New York City or something. I got to chat with Ottessa Moshfegh and Yuri Herrera well before their novels blew up into bestsellers, and I'm proud that people in New Orleans were on top of that before a lot of the rest of the country. While it was a thing that I was sad to leave behind it, my connections working there ended up being what put me in my position in L.A. now.

When did you start Hat & Beard Press?
I didn't! Hat & Beard Press was founded by JC Gabel who was the creator of Stop Smiling magazine. H&B's first titles were published at the beginning of 2016. I met him at the end of that year and was hired at the beginning of 2017. I mentioned Room 220 before. The main guy behind that project when I was living in New Orleans was Nathan C Martin. Nate had worked on Stop Smiling with JC years before, so we basically got talking because of that mutual connection.

Fun fact: Hat & Beard is named after the track on Eric Dolphy's record Out to Lunch.

Slash: A Punk Magazine from Los Angeles, Hat & Beard Press

Was it a response to some void you found in the industry, or did it begin with a single project that you felt needed to be created? Was there some single reason behind the inception?
Publishing is a really screwed up business to be a part of in the 21st century. The internet is a great tool for promotion, but online retailers have screwed the bookselling world so hard with practices that are frankly so unbelievably evil that it's incredibly difficult to compete. I could go on for pages about this but I'll spare you what would likely become a furious rant pretty quickly. Instead I'll say that JC is probably one of the most optimistic people I've ever met. His goal was to create a publishing house that worked outside of the current status quo. This means avoiding printers who engage in labor practices that essentially amount to slave labor. Our team is super small and constantly a little stressed to keep all the parts moving, but so far it is moving, and I think we're all pretty proud of it.

"His goal was to create a publishing house that worked outside of the current status quo. This means not printing outside of the US using what is essentially slave labor, not undercutting small businesses who stock our work by offering better prices online (aside from the occasional sale), keeping the titles affordable for the average person, and paying the people who work for the press a living wage."

Is there something about the pace of books that is attractive to you?
Honestly I would have no idea how to live if I couldn't retreat into books on a regular basis. I was a bookseller for eleven years before I worked in publishing. I'm hugely thankful to work in the industry that I love, despite how damaged it is. I can hardly imagine being a part of anything else.

How have you learned to slow down in your work or life?
Ha! Nope. Especially not since I moved to Los Angeles. I fundamentally disagree with the working demands that capitalism makes of a person, but I do think that idleness is a quick road to death. Fuck money. I can't slow down though because I keep making stuff to stay alive, to learn what it means to be here in the brief time that we get.

Do you have an absolute favorite publication that you've produced?
Thus far I think Xerophile is my favorite. I wasn't sure what to expect when that book came to the table but when I finally started seeing the content I was amazed. That one was something out of my general realm of interest but I was captivated immediately once the work began. It's so satisfying to be surprised.

Xerophile: Cactus Photographs from Expeditions of the Obsessed, H&B Press

Is there anything coming up that you'd like to talk about?
Our next book, Double Vision, is going to be beautiful. It's the first ever career retrospective of George Rodriguez, a photographer from Los Angeles who spent the latter half of the 20th century living this kind of double life. He shot the Hollywood scene, largely for work, while on his own time documented the Chicano movement in Southern California. It's pretty wild, on one page seeing early shots of The Jacksons or Diana Ross or Eazy E playing the piano in fingerless gloves, then flipping like two pages over to the Chicano Moratorium or Cesar Chavez addressing striking farmworkers or the Sunset Strip Riots. It's just a really incredible body of work.

Are there any dream projects that you'd like bringing to life?
Of course, but those are secret for now. I promise though, I'll be letting the world know as soon as I can.

See all of Hat & Beard's collection of publications here and stop by DNO to flip through some pages.

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