Senior James Ganas published his first e-book, “JAMES GANAS WAS MY BEST FRIEND AND IM SORRY HE DIED SO YOUNG OF CANCER,” in August. Photo by Joshua Bessex
“The Internet is changing everything about human culture and experience, and literature will not be spared,” said Steve Roggenbuck, traveling poet and prominent alternative literature writer.
Alternative literature, or “Alt Lit” for short, has yet to be defined. It is “Tumblr poetry,” tweets, and “image macros.” It is the tag for an online literary scene that has been affixed to writers like Tao Lin, Spencer Madsen, Megan Boyle, and Roggenbuck. And, more recently, published UW student James Ganas.
Ganas’ e-book “JAMES GANAS WAS MY BEST FRIEND AND IM SORRY HE DIED SO YOUNG OF CANCER” was released in August and has since received critical acclaim from publications such as The Guardian and vast recognition in the Alt-Lit world.
“James has had the idea for the title of his e-book since junior year of high school,” UW sophomore and writer Matthew Hinea said. “I think he thought that the idea of referring to his ‘dead self’ was kind of funny. He has always had the sense of humor that is important for his respective writing community.”
The e-book is a collection of short poems and visual JPEG poems, or “image macros,” which closely represent memes, although Ganas chooses to use expressionist paintings in his own work instead. His work is a thematic commentary on the phenomenon of the Internet and its effects on communication, making Alt Lit a befitting medium.
Ganas’ image macros, or visual JPEG poems, are a central part of his e-book. They usually consist of abstract expressionist paintings overlaid with words (also see below).
“I think what Alt Lit fundamentally stands for, if it stands for anything, is this idea that there are alternative modes of distribution that should be utilized,” Ganas said. “It’s like indie music in general: It’s not really fair to ascribe a certain musician’s genre as ‘indie.’ That’s just representative of the distribution, and it isn’t really representative of the music.”
Ganas’ beginnings as an Alt-Lit writer stemmed from an early passion for writing and flourished through social networking interactions. Ganas began writing poetry during his freshman year at Central Valley High School in Spokane, Wash., where he participated in knowledge bowl and debate. He’s now a political-science major at the UW, dabbles in art history, and is on track to graduate this year.
“I didn’t start sharing [my work] through online sources until about a year ago,” Ganas said. “I post often on my blog. I don’t know what qualifies as a lot of followers because I’m not super savvy at the Internet, which is kind of the ironic thing.”
Ganas’ social networking presence is a part of a growing development centered around web-based publishing that includes, but is not limited to, the Alt-Lit movement.
“E-pubs give people the opportunity to publish very individualized or niche books for a particular audience,” said Annabelle Gould, UW Visual Communication Design Chair. “That kind of opportunity is never in print, and it’s especially hard for young people. E-books eliminate the aspect of authors having to ‘prove themselves’ to an editor.”
Roggenbuck has established an impressive fan base via his blog, “Live My Lief,” and has constructed an individualized niche of his own. Roggenbuck, native to rural Michigan, dropped out of his MFA program last fall and is currently couch surfing the United States, showcasing a variety of poetry readings, to much success. More recently, his work has been cited in publications such as The Guardian and The New York Times Magazine. In the summer of 2011, Ganas sent a friend request to Roggenbuck on Facebook. Roggenbuck accepted.
“I met James through Facebook because he was enthusiastic about my writing,” Roggenbuck said. “When I visited Seattle this past spring, I invited him to read with me, and I was really impressed by his reading. His poems are often very short, and that appeals to me because they just deliver quality humor or beauty, and then they’re done.”
Roggenbuck then founded the “Lief Books” imprint. So far, Ganas’ e-book is the only title under it.
“I designed the website for James’ poems, and I helped promote it by using my name recognition and my following,” Roggenbuck said. “In the future I think Lief Books will continue to be a way for me to call attention to more writers that I like who otherwise wouldn’t have as good of design or distribution.”
Ganas is one of Roggenbuck’s many admirers, but draws his influences from a variety of authors, musicians, and paintings when writing his poems and designing his image macros.
“I read an article in The Atlantic about Wilco’s album ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,’” Ganas said. “It talked about how the message of that album is about how hard it is for people to communicate honestly and openly with each other. The idea that I can’t communicate what I want to communicate to the reader is so subversive of the whole act of writing.”
Ganas linked “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” to his interest in Internet culture, describing his book as “a fictional account of [his] life written through the Internet.” His writing focuses less on distinguishing fact from fiction and more on maintaining honesty in the information age.
“The Internet allows for a space where people are reconstructing their own vision of their lives,” Ganas said. “It’s like how you don’t just post a status update like, ‘I’m washing the dishes.’ It’s more like, ‘I’m washing the dishes and I hate this so much.’ It’s like you’re reconstructing your own emotional reaction to things.”
Ganas’ sentiments are just one perspective in an ongoing conversation about Internet culture and communication. And while at times, his poetry can come off as impersonal and artificial, that perception is often far from the truth; some of his work is directly inspired by his experiences.
“I think that the biggest one for me is the last poem,” Ganas said. “That was inspired by an experience I had, driving from Spokane to Seattle with my girlfriend and Matthew. It’s cool to me because a lot of the poems I write are artificial. It was just a nice day. I figured out that you could recline the seats in a car — it was great.”
Ganas intends to continue his publishing career and schedule more readings. Roggenbuck plans to visit Seattle this coming November and anticipates hosting a reading featuring Ganas. Until then, Ganas is working on his next big project: an e-book, or a series of e-books totaling 150 pages instead of the standard 20. Until then, he will continue maintaining his networking presence.
“The new platforms that are opening up, through blogging and other social media, allow writers to actively build culture and a readership without approval from any editors,” Roggenbuck said. “You can actively contribute to what our culture is becoming, right now, for free, and nobody can stop you.”
Reach reporter Atoosa Moinzadeh at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @amoinzadeh
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