For a time Richard Wehrenberg lived in a punk house. It was a house with its own set of lungs — where life would go on without any one particular member. The rotating group of writers, artists and musicians who lived there all called the Monster House home, and still thank it for giving birth to artwork and ideas that would change their lives.
Wehrenberg sat in his room in 2010 surrounded by cheap beer and a group of friends sprawled across the floor. They were editing pages of poetry, and a few were working on sewing together the freshly screen printed covers — soon they were going to publish the first Monster House book.
The book was the natural next step for Wehrenberg, who had been reading his poetry at punk shows for some time and making small 'zines where it could live on the page. In the garage one of the members had a screen printing operation, usually used for artwork and prints, but Wehrenberg needed it for his book covers. The covers and interior pages were all printed at the house, then a day or two would be chosen, everyone would get together and lay out the pages, line them up carefully and start sewing the covers into place. This is in the most basic of definition of a true small press, functioning as a DIY alternative to the big clearinghouses. For Wehrenberg it was an idea that was very similar to punk music.
"There is a lot of DIY attitudes," says Wehrenberg. "Don't wait around to get published or signed to a major label. You can make stuff. You are valued and important."
After a year of working out of Monster House (which was in Cleveland, Ohio) Wehrenberg decided to move to Bloomington, Ind. He brought the Monster with him. To him, small presses were a physical way to continue growing the kind of community he found at the punk house.
"It seems like something that is kind of older ... feeling," says Wehrenberg. "Connecting in this really intimate and personal way with a lot of care. Not just being estranged from a larger structure or corporation that is creating this thing for you but you don't even know who they are."
Today, Monster House Press publishes anywhere from 5-10 books a year, mostly focusing on poetry. They are a combination of "perfectly bound" books, like what you would find in any bookstore, and texts that are put together by hand. Wehrenberg creates all of the artwork for each, but makes a point to collaborate with the author. His care and connection with each author is what he feels defines the decisive difference between small presses and traditional publishing. For him, curated book tours are key. He sees it, "as a way of being in the world. Not just making the books but having them be a part of a way to engage with community and society in general.
"[Monster House Press] naturally grew, like lichen on a tree or something, off of my desire to connect with other people," says Wehrenberg. "This became a great way for me to give something that could fuel these kinds of ways of engaging socially."