Talking Paper Interview Series: Melissa Gurney and Chris Carr

Photo courtesy of the artists

Photo courtesy of the artists

Melissa Hunter Gurney and Christopher Carr are the co-founders of Brooklyn-based publication GAMBAZine, describing it as "a provocative literary magazine created to inspire passion and thoughtfulness outside the politics of mainstream publication." Gurney is publisher/editor, while Carr is creative director, and both are on the lookout for underexposed writers and visual artists from around the world. The publication gives those writers and visualists an opportunity to perform their work for an audience by holding regular artist salons in Greenpoint (GAMBA Z's Artist Salon at Lucky Luna) and Bushwick (The Island of GAMBAZini Presents at Hell Phone), while also using their events calendar to help promote events organized by local artists like Stanford Reid (#PowerOurPlanet at Hell Phone) and Jessica Reidy (The Bridge Between Writing and Yoga at Sacred Sounds Yoga), as well as Nomadic Press.

Beyond GAMBA, Gurney pursues independent writing and habitually pens 3-5 pages daily while working on projects that include a new novel, SAMBA. Carr is a photographer, emcee, and founder of Brooklyn Wildlife, which is an event planning / creative firm specializing in indie / alternative art and music at venues like Muchmore's in Williamsburg, where Brooklyn Wildlife recently held a portion of "Nude Weekend 2016" with stories, poems, music, vendors, and comedy.

To help support and encourage talented international artists looking to live and create within Brooklyn's large artist community, Gurney and Carr created GAMBA Z's Artist Residency with perks that include networking dinners, a 2-4 page spread in an upcoming issue of GAMBAZine, entry to at least 3 weekly art events, performance/gallery showings at a GAMBA salon or BK Wildlife show, and more.

Gurney and Carr recently performed at a May 2016 Nomadic Press showcase at Muchmore's and sat for an interview beforehand about all things GAMBA. 

On Starting GAMBAZine

Chris: I think it just came out of necessity. We were talking about independent creative works and talking about what it takes to make original material, and honest authentic material, and try and get it distributed out to a large enough public to feel like it matters or have some affect. We’d each been working on individual endeavors and were trying to figure out how to do something together in coordination, and a magazine is the development of that. I’d been putting together a visual art zine and towards the end of it Melissa was like, “Maybe that’s how we can collaborate. I can help you publish that.” I realized at the time, "I am not going to be able to keep putting this out. This is like a one-time thing. But maybe we could do an actual literary zine. And since you write all the time, you know other writers, you could do the editing, I could get visual artists. We could actually do something that could come out regularly." That developed into GAMBAZine. It was from a larger idea of having publishing without the politics. Having a platform for independent writers. They maybe work for publishing houses, but more as editors, or designers, or something. But they write, and they don’t have a way to get their work out.

Melissa: Also, one of the big parts of that, I have this thing where I write three pages every day in the morning, and it goes into yellow legal padsor it used to. Now I’ve started typing a bit. So I had this big box of yellow legal pads. It was always a joke whenever Chris would come over, "Where are the yellow pads?" and I would always kind of snatch them away. I’d be like, "What do you mean? I hid them. What yellow pads?" Because they are kind of personal. The stuff I keep under the bed. So we started talking about, “Where is the stuff that people put under their bed? Where does that go?” That was kind of another part of it: wanting people to send us the stuff that they weren’t going to send for publication. Because it's a little bit different when you are writing to send in or to submit. Because then you have a theme in mind, or you are just thinking about your bio, or how you can make it better. But where is the stuff that you're scared to share? That was a big part of the beginning, as well.

"I’d had this dream about an island where it was lush and beautiful, and everybody was nude. You slept in these silk robes in the trees, and there were guavas everywhere, lagoons and mountains, and all the beautiful things that you might not get in a city."

Once we started to make the literary zine, we were like, "What’s the name going to be?" Chris sent me all these messages being like, "Okay, throw out some names. You send them this way." And I was like, "You throw out some names." He's like, "No, no, no, you throw out some names." So I started throwing out name after name. But the first one that came to me rooted in a dream where one morning I woke up, it was mid-winter, and we were freezing, and it was cold out and miserable and dreary. I’d had this dream about an island where it was lush and beautiful, and everybody was nude. You slept in these silk robes in the trees, and there were guavas everywhere, lagoons and mountains, and all the beautiful things that you might not get in a city. In the dream, I was laughing to Chris that, "Oh, for some reason it was called the island of GAMBAZine." We started expanding on the island, because it was so cold out. We were like, "It would have this, that and the other thing, and we could be free to do this." So, that was the first name that I sent over. It was the island of GAMBAZine. At first he was like, "Okay, keep sending stuff." Then after I sent like seven other things that I thought really deeply about, he was like, "Oh, I always knew it was going to be the first one. I just wanted to see what your other ideas would be."

So it also has a little bit of a story there. So the island in some ways is like a representation of the freedom that we want to exist within the magazine, and sort of the living outside of systems and traditions and breaking the rules that go along a lot of times with small things that are created in a traditional setting, like literary magazines. There tend to be rules that a certain group of people made, and those rules don’t get broken. Not because they shouldn’t be, but because they were traditionally what occurred. So that was also a part of the mission.

On the Performance Side of GAMBA

Chris: One of the first questions when we made the magazine and got it printed was, "Where are we going to sell it? How are we going to get it distributed? How are we going to make people aware of it?"

Sure, we have a Facebook page, and we have a blog, but we are about real-life experience. I think that idea of trying to cultivate a community needs to happen in real time and space, and there needs to be an exchange that’s a bit deeper than the emails we were sending back and forth with the artists and their work. If they actually physically come to a cafe and read from the magazine, or read other pieces that they wanted to submit but didn’t have enough space, or can try out new material that they are considering publishing in another outlet, it starts building then an artist community and a creative community that is more cohesive, is more personally involved. There is a bit more attachment to the work that’s shared. It’s not just, "Oh, I pick up this magazine, and there are some random authors in it." You actually have met those authors. You've actually spent time speaking to them afterwards. You see them once every two weeks or so. For me, that’s really important. Then build that online community, and that community that connects the dots between people that aren’t in close proximity. Because we have some writers that have contributed from Zimbabwe, we have people who have contributed in Chinese, in German. So they may not be able to come to the events, but then we can put up photos and videos from the events, and they can see the people that have now read their work, and they can pick up and have online correspondence if they want.

With our initial events, they were really kind of low-key readings. We started using another venue, Hell Phone, and started including more live performance, and looking at it like, "If you are a musician, you are also a writer. You write lyrics most of the time, or you actually write music." There's always this divergence where people want to separate, "Are you a visual artist, or are you a writer? Are you a musician, or are you a poet?" We look at it like, "Are you a creative spirit? Are you an individual who wants to work with other individuals to build a familial community and make stuff that’s authentic and honest?" I think that the live events prove that.

"I think that one of my biggest goals and missions throughout all this was and is building a familial artist community, and that can’t happen merely online or in a magazine. It has to be in person."

Melissa: I think that one of my biggest goals and missions throughout all of this was, and is, building a familial artist community, and that can’t happen merely online or in a magazine. It has to be in person. So I think that’s been huge, and we’ve definitely started doing that. It’s been great to see the crowd expand, and all the people that are joining us or that are coming out seem to play a very integral part and it feels very close. Whereas a lot of times I go to literary events, or I go to just art events in general, and I feel separate, I think one of the goals of GAMBA’s events has been to really make sure that there is a familial feel and that we can build a certain type of trust and create a community that lives outside of the norm.

One of the things that we've talked about a lot in different aspects is, "How do you create a family when you might not be creating an actual family?” People who choose not to get married, or who choose not to have monogamous relationships, choose not to have kidshow do they continue forward in life when everybody else kind of breaks off? I think the key to that, at least for me, is building an artistic community that is rooted in something larger than traditions. And instead, creativity.

Lucky Luna for GAMBA’s Art Salon is basically where we have a lot of newcomers. It could be friends of ours who we've asked to come, but it also could be people who have never read with us before, who have submitted something but we've never met in person. Whereas Hell Phone is also curated, but is a bit more specific. Like, “This was an awesome performance at GAMBAZ's Art Salon. Let's move it into Hell Phone.” Chris will meet people and I’ll meet people separately that we've seen, and that kind of understanding of their performance brings them to that next level.

Chris: When we first started GAMBA, I wanted to make sure that it existed separate from Brooklyn Wildlife. I do a lot of events and make music and photography and video stuff under Brooklyn Wildlife. I have another thing that’s my photo thing and all kind of branded. I’ve got websites for all this stuff. I’ve got tons of the pages. I’ve got Facebook stuff for all of it.

I didn’t want this to get caught in all that. I wanted to be involved in something that was totally new, something totally fresh, with a very clear agenda. So I may book 12 shows a month, but the way I book and the types of artists I book for the GAMBA shows are very specific to the event, specific to the actual location, and trying to give a platform to the voices that sometimes aren’t heard or that are stifled or muffled. We want to make sure it's clear that we are not concerned with the traditional ideas of, "Here are the people we want to hear from."

"I think it’s important that one of the founders is a woman. I think it’s important that one of the founders is black. I think it’s important that both of them are concerned with making sure people who have been either disenfranchised or aren’t normally encouraged, are encouraged, are not stifled, are not told their narratives aren’t important."

I think it’s important that one of the founders is a woman. I think it’s important that one of the founders is black. I think it’s important that both of them are concerned with making sure people who have been either disenfranchised or aren’t normally encouraged, are encouraged, are not stifled, are not told their narratives aren’t important. Just given a little bit of attention that isn’t always given.  So getting international artists who would sometimes be nervous like, "I don’t write in English. I'm a really good poet if I could just write in Spanish." "Well, write in Spanish, and we will publish it in Spanish." There will probably be a person here who is bilingual or Spanish speaking who is like, "Finally, a publication where I can read it in my original language." I think there is some excitement to that. I think that’s why with the way we book, and with some of the artists we bring through, they are progressive. They are not passive in thought. They are pushing the envelope in various ways, without trying to be rude on purpose. Without trying for just shock value"I’m here to provoke and poke you in the eye" it's actually interested in, "How do we advance as a social body through art and through hearing all the different perspectives of artists that they can share?”

On the GAMBAZine Artists Residency

Melissa: The magazine has definitely grown and evolved in terms of we spent a year building the magazine and the events, and then slowly we were like, "Wait, we have a lot going on here, and there is a family that is sort of started, and we have a lot to offer people who are visiting artists from other places internationally.” So I was like, "Maybe we should start an artists residency." Chris was like, "Okay, let's talk logistics,” which is like, “Let’s see how we could put that together." I think the residency has been amazing.

We haven’t had a lot of residents yet, but we have gotten a lot of applications. We are looking for a space, and we do have constant interaction with people looking to come here and stay. Our first officially long resident, not a short term, is in September. We have a woman from England coming for one month. We’ve had applicants from India, from Brazil. We have another applicant from New Orleans who wants to spend the summer with us next summer. So we are in the midst of looking for spaces right now and figuring that out. It’s also been such an exciting push into new directions and another way to build the international community into a much larger scenario.