Writing

Exploring the writing process with Papaya Press

Papaya Press is a small independent press based in the North East of England. Interested in the space between art and literature, Papaya Press collaborates with emerging artists and writers to make zines, host events and run workshops. The aim is to build a supportive creative community through their work.

Its founder Lauren Vevers joined Book and Brew to discuss the writing process and explain how she, and Papaya Press, are exploring it.

Lauren is a writer and an award-winning blogger based in the North East of England. She writes personal essays on art, literature, feminism and feelings. Her poetry and prose have appeared in various journals including Hobart Pulp, Poems In Which and The Bohemyth. Her non-fiction writing has been published in The Independent, NME, Notion Magazine, BBC Three Online and others. She writes personal essays on art, literature, feminism and feelings. Her poetry and prose have appeared in various journals including Hobart Pulp, Poems In Which and The Bohemyth. Her non-fiction writing has been published in The Independent, NME, Notion Magazine, BBC Three Online and others.

Papaya Press workshop at Durham Book Festival
Papaya Press workshop at Durham Book Festival

I learnt about writing when I began working alongside artists. At the time, I was studying literature but when it came to my own creative writing I felt burdened by the weight of the literary cannon. In analysing other people’s work, I’d forgotten how to approach my own. When you’re both a reader and writer it can be hard to get the balance right.

Two things happened which changed my outlook on the writing process. The first was that I discovered the work of Frank O’Hara, a prominent poet in New York in the 1950s and 60s. In 1951, O’Hara began working at the MoMA selling postcards in the gift shop. Four years later he would return to the museum as an Administrator. He was a writer actively forging friendships with emerging artists, curating work, entering into collaborations and having conversations around the creative process.

Secondly, I was invited to devise a collaborative performance to be staged at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. The project itself was difficult for various reasons, not least because I was being used for the skills I’d honed as a writer. I walked away from the experience having decided that:

  • Sexism in the art world was harder to see but did exist, and women in artistic circles were feeling the negative repercussions of misogynistic behaviour.
  • Artists were bound by an alternative set of rules to writers. Artists approached the production of work with a much greater sense of play.

These revelations led me to found Papaya Press, a small independent press based in the North East. Focused on the relationship between writing and art, we do more than just make and sell our publications. Any (small) amount of money we make goes back into the organisation so we can continue to curate exhibitions, deliver free workshops and help connect emerging writers and artists in the North.

We’re an intersectional platform and we prioritise the work of female identifying contributors. Our latest focus is on building conversations around experimental women writers or women artists who work with text. Our current project, funded by New Writing North and the Northern Rock Talent Development Fund, is based on Lydia Davis whose very short stories defy narrative convention with their acerbic brevity.

Lydia Davis, Papaya Press
Papaya Press’ Lydia Davis issue

Lydia Davis was awarded the Man Booker International Prize in 2013 but the achievements of many women writers have been subsumed by history. Zelda Fitzgerald’s personal diaries were co-opted by Scott. Edward Hopper’s wife,  Josephine, was a talented painter in her own right yet her work was hidden in the basement of The Whitney. Recently, two curators at MoMA unearthed in the depths of its archives the brilliant work of forgotten female Abstractionists.

Of course, this is a complex issue and there are wider discussions to be had about class, race and privilege. The point is that we are talking, not only about the past, but also about how to forge forward in the wake of an uncertain future.

Artists and writers have much to gain from entering into working relationships and friendships with each other. Speaking as the latter, reframing the writing process as an ongoing series of experiments is helpful, especially in those initial stages of a project where play is important. How else can we explore all the possibilities of a story if not with an open mind?

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