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  • Writer's pictureThe Publishing Post

Spotlight on New Queer Imprint: Dopamine Books

By Frankie Harnett, Natalie Klinkenberg, Mishelle Kennady, and Chloë Marshall

In 1998, the independent press Semiotext(e) published writer and editor Michelle Tea’s first novel, The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl in America. Now, twenty-six years later and under its printing and distribution deal with MIT Press, Semiotext(e) is providing the infrastructure for Tea’s very own publishing venture, the imprint Dopamine. A non-profit, “queer literary organisation” based in Los Angeles, Dopamine is Tea’s answer to the lack of control she felt working for other imprints, where queer narratives were often passed by or tidied up for mass consumption. Tea’s long-time literary friendship with Hedi El Kholti, Co-Editor of Semiotext(e), has facilitated this project, dedicated to working outside the boundaries of a traditional publishing structure, where “stylistic stories of unvarnished queer existence” hold centre-stage. Dopamine aims to respond to a worrying trend of pinkwashing/rainbow-washing in publishing (capitalising off of queer people without actually supporting them) by putting forward LGBTQIA+ storytelling which resists its own gentrification or sanitisation, both of which ultimately amount to its silencing. Aside from this, Tea’s hope is to support first-time or emerging writers who feel alienated from the industry by encouraging the non-conventional and the non-complacent. Central to her mission is the desire to put into practice “press as community,” whereby the small size and non-commercial spirit of the press encourages collaboration rather than competition. The choice to launch with anthologies (more on this later) rather than single-authored works reflects such a desire to highlight the multiple, diverse and co-existing voices of queer people, with which Tea aims to redefine queer narrative(s) and question their place in the publishing industry at large. 

The founder of Dopamine Books is as unapologetically authentic as the press she has created. The author of over twenty books for adults and children, Michelle Tea and her books have made waves for their candid approach to taboo topics. Her first book (cited above) openly discussed her immersion in goth culture and her experience as a sex worker in San Francisco. Similarly, her award-winning book, Valencia, delved into the life of a young lesbian poet living in San Francisco, and one of her most popular how-to books, Modern Tarot, has acquired a cult following in its instructional approach to controversial tarot card reading.

Beyond her success as a writer, she is also a longstanding queer activist and organiser of literary events, having long made it her mission to increase visibility for queer artists. Prior to her work in publishing, Tea founded RADAR Productions and, as the Executive Director of the literary non-profit, ran a monthly reading series in San Francisco, organised an accessible queer retreat to Yucatan and started a globally successful children’s literary event, “Drag Queen Story Hour.” She is also well-established in publishing, having founded Sister Soul imprint at City Lights Press in 2012 and launching Amethyst Editions, a queer imprint at the Feminist Press, only four years later.

​​Founder Michelle Tea states that her long-term goal for Dopamine is “to have this press sustain itself so we’re less reliant upon the generosity of others.” Due to this, they have incorporated a different kind of business model where writers are paid a starting commissioning fee without immediate expectation of repayment and can opt to be paid 10% of the retail price for every copy sold. The offer and environment can be especially attractive to first-time or experimental authors who may have a hard time pitching their book to bigger publishing houses, with the added benefit of their work not getting overshadowed by bestsellers. Many of the current writers slated to contribute say that Tea’s work in the queer space and dedication to this project is what inspired them to publish under Dopamine. Debut authors Clement Goldberg and Vera Blossom attribute their decision to the comfort Dopamine offers in how their stories will be handled. They can do so freely without having to package their work a certain way or worry about censorship. Shawn Stewart Ruff, winner of the Lambda Literary Award for debut fiction, believes that the right to artistic freedom and community are most important to him – which Dopamine fully embodies.

SLUTS: Anthology kicks off Dopamine’s catalogue as their debut anthology, featuring a plethora of well-known writers and artists that Tea loves and wants to bring into the Dopamine family. As stated in the book’s description, SLUTS explores being “sexually promiscuous in contemporary American culture.” Through a series of personal essays, fiction and experimental works, readers and writers are asked to consider the notions of “the slut” and how it impacts a person through their sense of self and society. Nearly forty writers and artists took part in Dopamine's debut work, including Gabrielle Korn, Nylon magazine’s former Editor in Chief, the aforementioned Hedi El Kholti and multi-disciplinary dance artist Miguel Gutierrez. 

SLUTS, Tea stated, is “[part of] a continuous collection of anthologies,” the next anthologies projected to be Witch, Clown and Criminal. SLUTS became Dopamine’s debut work because of its boldness. In an interview with Air/Light, Tea mentioned that the book showcases “different voices to show the breadth of people” who all work to push boundaries just like Dopamine’s anthology titles do, creating a fun and bold entrance for Dopamine’s introduction to the literary world. With pieces about sex workers, scary first encounters and even technology’s role in queer identity formation, this anthology is nothing short of interesting and liberating to those who wish to answer and comprehend the same notion as the book’s premise, seeking to understand their positioning toward the anthology’s namesake.

Check out Dopamine and their anthology SLUTS along with New Mistakes, How to F— Like a Girl, and Days Running coming soon.



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