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Five Questions for the “Interloper, Fraud, and Dilettante” Tim Kinsella

The new managing editor of Featherproof Books talks about taking over the acclaimed local indie press.

Tim Kinsella, managing editor of Featherproof Books
Tim Kinsella, managing editor of Featherproof Books   Photo: Chris Strong

“Interloper, fraud, dilettante.”

These are the words Tim Kinsella, sometime musician, author, and now managing editor of the indie press Featherproof Books uttered in apparent self-disgust at Featherproof’s Send-off Hand-off Kick-off party at the Hideout on Thursday.

Featherproof, the acclaimed independent publisher known for its carefully selected literary fiction and whimsically designed covers, was throwing a going-away bash for its co-founder and managing editor Zach Dodson, who is leaving Chicago for a job in Helsinki, Finland. Notable Featherproof alum, including Lindsay Hunter (Daddy’s), Christian TeBordo (The Awful Possibilities) and Brian Costello (The Enchanters vs. Sprawlburg Springs), read stories and shared anecdotes about Dodson, whose imprint on the Chicago literary scene is pretty undeniable.

But now, the party’s over, and Kinsella takes the reins. Chicago called him up to hear how he really feels about the handover, his plans for the press, and Featherproof’s reputation:

You came up onstage saying you felt like an interloper, fraud, dilettante. Do you really feel that way?

Yeah. Those guys [Jonathan Messinger and Zach Dodson] did a really great job. I have a lot of respect for the press and what they’ve done and its history. I also do a lot of different stuff, so there’s this aspect that I’m aware of, in which [becoming managing editor] can be seen as some sort of vanity move. Like ‘Oh I’m going to diversify my empire’ or some other bullshit. But I really just thought that this is a good time to take on something like this.

Why do you think now is a good time?

There’s this part of me that would be perfectly content to never see my own name on an object in the world, but I really enjoy the process of creating things. I like seeing someone’s imagination become a material object for other people to access. I’m deeply invested in that process. 

When were you approached about taking over Featherproof?

It was the first week of January. I thought I was just meeting Zach for a beer and that’s when he told me. He dropped this big news about a job in Helsinki and moving to Finland with a five year contract and he was like, ‘I don’t know what to do about Featherproof. I’ve talked to some other publishing houses about buying it but I’m worried the brand could get compromised. I just wish someone I trust would take it over.’ And I, very casually, was like, “Oh, I’d do that.” (I tried backing out a few times.)

Can you talk about what new Featherproof books readers can look forward to?

We release our first two books next spring. Jessica Hopper will be releasing the first criticism collection ever by a living female rock critic, which seems like such a minor historical thing to have not happened. I’m excited about that. We’ve also got a novel by J.D.K. Goodman coming out. And then, next fall, Mairead Case has her book coming out.

Talk a little bit about the legacy of Featherproof. What are the things you hope to continue and what are the things you think will change?

It was very carefully curated. There were only one or two books released every year. So people could really trust our standards. That’s the thing that I would hope to be able to keep. Probably an element that will change, besides the fact that we’re diversifying to not just fiction anymore, is that it probably won’t be so design-heavy. Not because I don’t appreciate the design, but that’s intuitively how Zach thinks and I don’t think that way. I love Zach, he’s amazing. It’s big shoes to fill.

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