Small business ownership runs in my family. My grandparents owned a restaurant, and my dad grew up bussing tables there. When he got old enough, he was promoted to waiter. Let’s be honest, he also got into a fair amount of trouble in the kitchen, including stealing a bottle of wine when he was twelve. As soon as he graduated college, he started his own business out of a room in his mother’s house. Over the years, he bought first one space and then another; he hired a couple employees and then dozens.
When I was about eight, my mom, who had her own career path, changed course and started working for my dad’s company. The company provided my brother and me with summer jobs all through adolescence and our teenage years. Pretty much all of my cousins worked there at one point or another, whether because they weren’t making great choices and needed my dad’s guidance, they wanted some extra money, or it was an industry they were considering pursuing professionally themselves. The company has employed almost all of my family, giving us pride and focus along with a venue for cooperation.
I’ve always wanted to own my own business. It’s not just that I enjoy calling my own shots (although that’s definitely part of it!). I like to create things. As a scholar, I create knowledge through writing academic articles and books and teaching. As an artist, I create aesthetic experiences for audiences and performers. And, as a fiction writer, I create new worlds and characters. It was a natural extension of my love of creation and my family’s history as small business owners that I would want to create my own company some day.
But alone, I’m not an expert in publishing. I’ve edited academic and fiction work and I have administrative and finance experience, but that in no way means I understand all the ins and outs of publishing. The idea of starting my own publishing house sounded amazing, but also impractical to do on my own, given my experience didn’t cover all sides of the business.
The best creations come from collaboration, from pooling resources and knowledge, from sharing experience and ideas. When the six of us started talking about all wanting to own our own business, and wanting to find new ways to collaborate on writing (which is generally so solitary), it was like Ben Franklin with a key and a kite (you see it, right?). It fit. As we all began discussing what we could bring to the table, our individual dreams of creating and operating our own business became a cooperative venture that felt larger than the sum of its parts.
With Dirt Road Books, I feel like I’m building a family-focused business, kind of like my father’s, only this family I’m working with isn’t blood related. Queer people often take an expansive view of kinships, and Dirt Road Books fits this model. I consider these women to be, not only my co-owners, but also my creative partners and my new family. Michelle makes me laugh at every meeting. RG is the definition of sweet and kind. Andi thinks outside the box. Gill grounds us. And I don’t even know where to begin with Jove, whom I talk to every day about writing, pop culture, and what we’re making our families for dinner.
As collaborators, we’ll grow and learn together, supporting each other. I’m sure by the end of our first year in operation we will have exhausted all of the puns related to our business name, but I’ll say for now: I’m thrilled to be traveling this road with Jove, Michelle, RG, Gill, and Andi. And, I’m excited for others to join our family as we grow.