I first "met" today's interviewee while setting up an interview with Radiolab's Jad Abumrad, as at the time he was the publicist at WNYC. He has since moved on to an intriguing new project--the company Novel-T, which the New York Post describes as "a new line of T-shirts from a new literature-inspired company which replaces Jeter and A-Rod with classic hall-of-famers from the venerable world of words." You can read more about the company, including the nice amount of press it's getting here.
How did you decide to differentiate yourself from t-shirt companies like Threadless?
I'm not really much of a fashion guy, so I don't know much about Threadless. But it was never a matter of having to differentiate our shirts from "designer" tees. I was on the subway and saw all these folks in Yankee jerseys and I was reading Whitman--he's the best writer for mass transit, in my book--and I just thought, Damn, I wish I had Whitman jersey to wear. So I talked it over with Michael Kravetsky (my partner at Novel-T) and we came up with a whole literary "Word Series" team and we're running with it. And also we're retailing at bookstores. So our fitting rooms are improvised bathrooms.
Do you anticipate any trouble from a certain baseball team over your logo?
Not at all. There are tons of teams in all kinds of sports with logos that kind of sort of you know maybe look like other ones. Anyway, teams should concern themselves with winning ballgames (or in my team's case, writing good books). I can't imagine too many fans would be pleased to find that the reason their tickets are so expensive is to pay lawyers to pick fights a couple guys who make tees about poetry. But if that's the case, we'll totally go Ahab on their asses.
Who would you say is your customer base?
Readers. Self-proclaimed 'book nerds.' English majors. English minors. Major English muffin eaters. People who like super-soft t-shirts with a little something different going on with them. People who live in warm climes. Our relatives. People named Ahab.
Tell us about your first celebrity endorsement.
David Cross. Saw him at the Brooklyn Book Festival just before he got on stage and made out with Jonathan Ames. I had a Dick shirt in my hand. I said, "Yo, David, would you like one of these shirts?" Being the discerning consumer he is, David asked me to let him actually see the shirt. "Fuck yeah, I want one of those shirts!" he exclaimed. It was kind of a Globo-Chem endorsement, if you remember those commercials.
Whose number do you tend to wear and why?
I tend to go with Thoreau. I'm a big Thoreau fan and I love the graphic that Mike came up with--it's an ink rendering of Thoreau's cabin, so it marries the man's medium and message rather nicely. Also, wearing Thoreau in particular provides so many opportunities to pause for a moment during the day and ask WWHDTD? Usually I guess it's chop some wood and eat some beans, which ain't bad.
Why did you choose to make these shirts baseball-style and not another sport?
Unlike Whitman, I'm adverse to armpit stink, so basketball or track jerseys were out. We played with the idea of Lycra wrestling singlets, but we ultimately couldn't get behind a product that was so likely to ride high.
What's your favorite t-shirt that you own, literary or otherwise?
Good timing: I'm wearing it. My favorite item of clothing I've ever seen was a dragon sweater at the Barney's Co-Op sale last year.
How did you assign the numbers to the authors?
I let them request their own numbers. Everybody was cool except Bartleby, who never got back to me. I assigned him nine.
Which baseball player's work would you read if he wrote?
I remember in Miles Davis' autobio this famous story from when he was real young, just getting started in New York, and he's in the back of a car with Charlie Parker. Parker's got a girl or two with him and these girls are...well...you know they're busy tendering their affections to Bird, who at the same time is eating from a bucket of chicken. And Miles is right there sitting next to him thinking, so this is what it's like! That's a good story. I'd read something from Jeter or A-Rod if they indulged us with those kinds of stories, but most sports autobiographies are missing that kind of stuff. And they'd probably eat power bars, which is considerably less fun than a greasy, dripping thigh.
How'd you get your gig at WNYC? What were your responsibilities when you were there?
I was the Publicist at WNYC, the big public radio station in NYC. I simply replied to a job posting online. I was very familiar with the programming from listening all the time (if you don't know John Schaefer's New Sounds show, then you don't even know, son) and I had a little bit of a leg up on other applicants because as a book publicist I'd pitched guests to the programs with some success. So they took me. It didn't pay much but I wasn't about to go rep a business I couldn't feel comfortable representing.
As the Publicist, I secured positive media attention for the station, which mostly meant lining up interviews with our hosts for other media outlets or telling other media about the stories WNYC was breaking or advancing. With one or two exceptions, everyone that worked there was bright, interesting, and a pleasure to deal with, and since the programming covered so much ground, my job was fresh every day. I was pitching WNYC coverage of everything from local to national politics, music, film, literature, celebs, you name it.
But it's a pleasure to be un/self (as in -employed). I mean, I'm sitting at my work table packing up shirts to ship out, I've got Fidel Nadal and Gaby Kerpel on the box and I doubt I've worn a shirt with a button in it in two months. Beats the crap out of cube culture. Not that I have to tell you, Claire.
I am curious about how you chose Kenyon College and how it was for you. I sometimes feel like it's a school I should have investigated further based on the sheer number of friends I have who went there (that's why I chose it as the school in my book).
I don't know; I had a good time there, but having never attended another college it's hard for me to compare. Except I studied in Tel Aviv for a semester. So I can say this: there's less Jews at Kenyon. But it's got a prettier campus than most I've seen. And Paul Newman went there (Kenyon, not Tel Aviv. Unless you count Exodus, but I think that ship went to Haifa, and never really got there anyhow. Oy. But I bet he made it Tel Aviv at some point. He had to, right?) I guess if you like to read, write and drink beer, Kenyon's as good a place as any.
How does it feel to be the 241st person interviewed for Zulkey.com?