Plympton and Amazon Original Stories Announce Disorder, a Collection of Social Suspense

These are unsettling times. And in unsettling times we often look to fiction to cast a wider perspective and help us see past our day-to-day struggles to the larger context. This was the idea behind Disorder — to use the tropes of the thriller to cast some of our current daily horrors into new relief. The writers we approached were not typical thriller writers; instead we went to some of today's most interesting literary writers and asked them to try their hands at works of suspense that arose out of their own civic fears. Luckily, they were game.

Real-world horrors and ghoulish fictions mix to startling effect in these six works of social suspense meant to entertain, unsettle, and pique in equal measure. If newspaper headlines sat around telling scary stories around the campfire, this is what they would sound like.


Min Jin Lee, author of Pachinko, uses a deceptively simple story to lay bare the logical conclusion of a society that values its sons over its daughters in "The Best Girls." 

The author of Beasts of No Nation, Uzo Iweala, takes us deep inside the mind of a man losing hold on his sense of self after a case of mistaken identity sends him on a Kafkaesque journey through the underworld of the US immigration system in "Anonymous."

In “Loam”, Scott Heim, author of Mysterious Skin, brings us a chilling tale in which the monstrous effects of pedophilia and ghostly revenge are amplified by small town narrow-mindedness.

Lauren Beukes’ “Ungirls” explores the world of Incels in a twisted, terrifying, and ultimately empowering story that could only have come from the writer behind such bestselling books as Motherland.

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In “The Beckoning Fair One”, bestselling author of ll Will, Dan Chaon, weaves a coming-of-age story that will keep you up nights wondering whether everything feels just a little too familiar.

And finally, in “Will Williams” Namwali Serpell, author of The Old Drift, takes an Edgar Allen Poe classic about döppelgangers and moral degradation and reshapes it into a scathing portrait of the schools-to-prison pipeline that treats young black men as fungible — often by turning them against each other.

The entire collection is available as a one-click free download for Amazon Prime members. We are honored that this was the Amazon Original Stories collection selected to launch on Prime Day.

Plympton and Amazon Original Stories Release Warmer, a Collection of Climate Fiction

For the better part of a year we’ve been quietly at work on a project that we’re thrilled to announce has come to fruition just in time for this year's season of hurricanes, Nor'easters, and California wildfires—or, as it's sometimes known, the holiday season.

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Warmer, our collection of climate fiction (“cli-fi”), has just been published by Amazon Original Stories. Featuring original works by National Book Award Finalists Lauren Groff and Jess Walter, Pulitzer Prize Winner Jane Smiley, New York Times bestselling authors Edan Lepucki and Jesse Kellerman, as well as masters of short fiction Skip Horack and Sonya Larson, the collection is an attempt to examine and reflect on one of our era’s most pressing existential crises.

We conceived and pitched the project to Amazon in hopes of offering fiction writers a voice with which to consider our present planetary moment and imagine its potential futures. The authors, whose work Plympton commissioned and co-founder Yael Goldstein Love edited, were excited by the opportunity to contribute their own interpretations of clarity and caution to the ongoing global warming conversation. The result is a collection of stories that both stand on their own and engage with one another, whose plots are at once startlingly strange and frighteningly conceivable.

Whereas most stories about climate change tend to be speculative in genre, the stories in Warmer shine a light on very real human relationships strained by an increasingly warming planet: boiling heat in winter stokes resentments between a bedridden mother and her son; springtime sleet in Mississippi inspires climate scientists at an open bar to party like there’s no tomorrow; a girl growing up on Cape Cod explores the collectible debris of a world she’s too young to remember. And while most cli-fi is wholly dystopian in outlook, our collection ultimately aims to sow visions of hope—if not optimism—and of trepidation in equal measure.

Warmer is available for purchase as either a Kindle eBook or an Audible audiobook, and free to download for all Amazon Prime members. This is only the first of several Amazon Original Studios collection that Plympton will be commissioning and editing. Collections of Family Secrets, Social Suspense, and Feminist Fiction are all in the works, and will continue to build on our passion for socially relevant fiction.

Enjoy the stories, and keep an eye out for more. We'll be hard at work, right up until the end of the world.

Las Vegas Writing Residencies Fall Fellows

We’re thrilled to announce our next three Writing Downtown fellows, in partnership with A Public Space, Ember, and Words Without Borders. Fellows will spend a month in the vibrant heart of downtown Las Vegas, engaging with and becoming a part of the city’s thriving arts scene. The fellowship is designed to give talented writers and other creatives the space, time, and freedom to work on their longform projects, and the bibliophilic joy of living in a fully furnished apartment near Las Vegas’ literary hub, The Writer’s Block bookstore.

Special thanks again to the Amazon Literary Partnership, Submittable, the New York Public Library, and private donors for helping bring these fellowships to life.

Jamel Brinkley, September — A Public Space

Jamel Brinkley

About Jamel

Jamel Brinkley was raised in Brooklyn and the Bronx, New York. He is a Kimbilio Fellow and is an alum of the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop. He has been awarded scholarships from the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, the Tin House Writers’ Workshop, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. A recent graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he was also the 2016-17 Carol Houck Smith Fiction Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in A Public Space and Gulf Coast, and his debut short story collection will be published in 2018 by Graywolf Press. He is currently at work on a novel, Night is One Long Everlasting.

About his project

In Night is One Long Everlasting a teenage boy named Malik and his mother, Ruby, have returned from New York to Ruby’s hometown in southern Virginia for her father’s funeral. Malik is approached by a man, a stranger, who says that he recognizes Malik because he is the spitting image of his father, who abandoned Malik and Ruby when the boy was a newborn. This mysterious, fleeting encounter is the catalyst for everything else that happens in the novel. Malik is forced to confront his Southern heritage, while he pursues the mystery of his father. Along the way, he has a tense romance with a girl named Sierra, who knew his grandfather and acts as a guide for Malik and the reader to the kind of man he was. For Ruby, her son’s encounter brings her face to face with the mysterious man. The weeks she and Malik end up spending in Hobson force her to confront a place she fled. She is also forced to revisit her own decisions as a very young mother. The novel builds toward a conversation between Ruby and Malik about his father, a crucial one they’ve both spent years avoiding.

JC Hemphill, October — Ember


JC Hemphill

About JC

JC Hemphill has more than thirty short fiction publications across a range of mediums. In 2012 he won the Washington Pastime Literary Award and has been fascinated with the art of storytelling ever since. When he’s not writing, he spends his days exploring the great outdoors with his wife, son, and two dogs. (

About his projects

In Downward, a loving mother-son relationship quickly descends into one of extreme possessiveness after a deranged man attacks the Krisch family in their home. Narrowly escaping the encounter convinces Alice that the world is a dangerous place for her son, Charlie, and that she must do whatever it takes to keep him safe.

While Melanie, Alice’s only other child, is visiting from college, it becomes apparent that Charlie is in more danger with Alice than without. But Melanie’s attempts at reason go ignored and after several weeks of Alice’s increasing distrust tearing the family apart, events culminate when an elderly neighbor finds her scrubbing poor Charlie’s mouth with Lysol – “To protect him from germs,” she explains.

Melanie and the neighbor decide it’s time to save Charlie from his mother. It’s a justified idea, but neither of them realizes the extent of Alice’s delusions. To her, Melanie and the neighbor are kidnapping Charlie: it isn’t the outside world that’s the villain, but her internal one. Full of rich characters and steadily rising tension, Downward is a terse thriller that inspects how love and the pursuit of safety can be our downfall.

In Vultures, a new drug has users seeing dark visions, drawing them into a cult, and Elsie Donovan must find the source to save his community.

Jennifer Croft, November – Words Without Borders

Jennifer Croft

About Jennifer

Jennifer Croft is the recipient of Fulbright, PEN, MacDowell and National Endowment for the Arts grants and fellowships, as well as the inaugural Michael Henry Heim Prize for Translation and a Tin House Workshop Scholarship for her novel Homesick, originally written in Spanish. She holds a PhD from Northwestern University and an MFA from the University of Iowa.

She is a founding editor of The Buenos Aires Review and has published her own work and numerous translations in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Review of Books, VICE, n+1, Electric Literature, Lit Hub, BOMB, Guernica, The New Republic, The Guardian, The Chicago Tribune, and elsewhere. Her translation from Spanish of Romina Paula’s August was just published by The Feminist Press, and her translation from Polish of Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights was just published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in the UK and is forthcoming in the US from Riverhead.

About her projects

Jennifer will be translating fiction by contemporary Argentine and Polish writers and co-translating, with Boris Dralyuk, poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. She’ll also be expanding the translation component of her own novel, Homesick .

Looking Towards 2018

We’re already gearing up for our 2018 fellowships. We welcome writers of all genres, including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, screenwriting, playwriting, songwriting, and any other creatives who work in the publishing world, including translators and designers, to apply via individual sponsors. The month-long fellowship includes housing and, potentially, stipends and other incidentals, depending on the arrangement with the partner.

During the program, fellows will lead a public event at The Writer’s Block, in the form of a workshop, lecture, or other community building activity.

Individual fellowships are made possible with support from the Amazon Literary Partnership, Submittable, the New York Public Library’s digital short story collection, and private donors. If your organization would like to partner with Plympton to sponsor a fellowship, please reach out to

To find out even more, visit

Stories from the Strip: Announcing our Downtown Las Vegas Writing Residency Program

We’re delighted to announce our first residency program for writers, in partnership with The Writer’s Block bookstore in Las Vegas. As fellows in the Writing Downtown residency, writers will enjoy the freedom to work on longform projects while engaging with the city’s vibrant arts scene. June, July, August, and September fellowships have been awarded and we are currently working with partners for fellows for future months.


Why Vegas?

“Too weird to live, to rare to die” – Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Las Vegas is known for being…distracting. It’s also a place where hidden desires are openly celebrated, misfits are welcomed home, and misfortunes are cast aside. It’s a place to be oneself but also completely anonymous. Writers seeking solitude can find it in the desert, and those seeking connection can find it in a revitalized downtown, filled with eateries, parks, and public art displays.


The Writer’s Block

The Writer’s Block is the only independent bookstore and publisher in the city of Las Vegas (and the second one in the entire state of Nevada), and its leading literary presence. It is the home to CODEX, a studio that offers free writing instruction to local students. Through book clubs, readings, educational events, and lectures, The Writer’s Block is a sanctuary for bibliophiles young and old.


The Residency

Writers will live in a furnished studio a block away from the store, tastefully decorated by Scott Seeley, who has extensive interior design experience. It has a separate kitchen area, and comes equipped with a table and printer.

Meet this summer’s fellows


Melissa R. Sipin (June) – Submittable

About Melissa:

Melissa R. Sipin is a writer from Carson, CA. She won Glimmer Train’s Fiction Open and the Washington Square Review’s Flash Fiction Prize. She co-edited Kuwento: Lost Things, an anthology on Philippine myths (Carayan Press 2014), and her work is published/forthcoming in Black Warrior ReviewPrairie Schooner, Guernica MagazinePEN/Guernica Flash SeriesVIDA: Women in Literary ArtsEleven Eleven Magazine, and Amazon’s literary journal Day One, among others. Melissa is a cofounder of TAYO Literary Magazine. Her fiction has won scholarships and fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, Poets & Writers Inc., Kundiman, VONA/Voices Conference, Squaw Valley’s Community of Writers, and Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and is represented by Sarah Levitt at Zachary Shuster Harmsworth Literary Agency. She really loves yellow mangoes and strictly believes you’re finally home when you’ve found your favorite Chinese delivery restaurant and a parking ticket on your car’s window dash.


About the project: 

Scorched-Earth follows Dolores, an ambitious immigrant daughter of an ex-meth addict and ex-prostitute. After returning home from a five-year absence and winning a prestigious artist fellowship at the newest contemporary museum in downtown Los Angeles, she finds herself excavating her family’s past for answers. It is a novel based on the Marcos Regime and the experiences of WWII Filipino guerrilla fighters and “Comfort Women,” who were captured and systematically raped during the war. It is a book of mirrors: a mirror between Dolores and her grandmother Pacita, of being born within an empire and during the beginning of an empire’s colonial experiment, and the consuming fire that exists between the love of a daughter and her chosen-mother.


Calvin Gimpelevich (July) – Electric Literature

About Calvin:

Calvin Gimpelevich is an author and organizer based in the Pacific Northwest. His fiction appears in Electric Literature, Plentitude, Glitterwolf, cream city, THEM, and elsewhere. He is the recipient of awards from Artist Trust, Jack Straw Cultural Center, and 4Culture, in addition to residencies through CODEX/Writer’s Block and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. A founding member of the Lion’s Main Art Collective, Calvin has organized shows at venues throughout Seattle and performed at Henry Art Gallery, where he was also a featured speaker. A transgender first-generation American, his work deals with immigration, politics, subcultures, gender, and class.


About the project: 

“Tenderloin is a literary multi-perspective ghost story I’ve been working on for the past years, set in the San Francisco Bay Area, exploring history, politics, and subcultures. I’m in the last round of major of edits and applied to the fellowship for the privacy, time, and space to immerse myself in the book and make those final changes. I’m hoping (with the residency) to be done by October.”


Joanne McNeil (August) – Macmillan/Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux

About Joanne: 

Joanne McNeil is a writer working on a book called Lurk for Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux. She was a digital arts writing fellow at the Carl and Marilynn Thoma Art Foundation and a resident artist at Eyebeam. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The BafflerDissent, and other web and print publications.

Why she applied for the fellowship: 

The residency is of interest to me because this summer I plan to work on my book for a month with no interruptions (currently I’m juggling the writing between freelance projects.) I have been working on the book for just under a year and hope to turn in the manuscript by autumn. The location in Las Vegas is appealing to me because I work better in urban environments. Ambient noise like traffic outside helps me concentrate. Also, since my book is about everyday contemporary internet use, I am always curious about how apps and social networks are used outside New York and San Francisco. I wonder if I might find some interesting stories for my book is Las Vegas.

About her project:

Lurk is a book about what it means to be an internet user. Three periods of time are in focus: 90s cyberculture, then blogs and social media in the early aughts, and finally the launch of the iPhone and apps that followed. I’m interested in how the internet became normal to us. People still talk about internet experiences as science fictional and weird, but soon enough it will be taken for granted like driving a car. I want people to remember feeling like the internet is weird. The book is my way to preserve this friction.


Spots are open in November, and December 2017

We welcome writers of all genres, including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, screenwriting, playwriting, songwriting, and other creatives who work in the publishing world, including translators and designers, to apply via individual sponsors. The month-long fellowship includes housing and potentially stipends and other incidentals, depending on the arrangement with the partner..

During the program, fellows will lead a public event at The Writer’s Block, in the form of a workshop, lecture, or other community building activity.

Individual fellowships are made possible with support from Amazon Literary Partnerships, Submittable, the New York Public Library’s digital short story collection, as well as private donors. If your organization would like to partner with Plympton to sponsor a fellowship, please reach out to

To find out more, visit

Lincoln in the Bardo VR with The New York Times

Lincoln in the Bardo

We're thrilled to announce the release of LINCOLN IN THE BARDO, a virtual reality adaptation of George Saunders' highly anticipated forthcoming novel. This innovative, joint collaboration between The New York Times, creative studio Sensorium, director Graham Sack, and literary studio Plympton, Inc. has been nearly a year in the making. For the author, the novel is a new departure from the short story form—for us, the virtual reality adaptation is a departure from expected storytelling avenues.

Saunders, a National Book Award finalist and recipient of a MacArthur genius grant, expressed enthusiasm for the project from the very start, and collaborated throughout the creative process with writer and director Graham Sack to develop a script that both stayed true to the spirit of the novel and took advantage of the unique potential for audience immersion afforded by virtual reality technology.

"Ironically, the piece is not about our technological future, but about our historical past," Sack said. "On February 22, 1862, Willie Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln's youngest son, is laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, in the midst of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln arrives at the cemetery shattered by grief and, under cover of darkness, visits the crypt to spend time with his son's body."

LINCOLN IN THE BARDO viewers inhabit a dead soul newly arrived in the afterlife, granting them a front-row seat to Lincoln's night of mourning and the neurotic monologues of the piteous, comedic spirits who narrate the afterlife action. It's a viewing experience more akin to theater than film, a fact highlighted by the theater backgrounds of many of the castmembers: the result is a gripping, poignant exploration of death, grief, and the powers of good and evil.

Because the entire narrative arc of LINCOLN IN THE BARDO takes place in a single location over the course of a single night, Saunders' newest work was an ideal opportunity to venture into the previously unexplored territory of novel-to-VR translation. Film production involved a combination of live action shooting, extensive use of green-screen technology, and careful VFX overlay.


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Shooting in this manner was an ambitious, complex endeavor. Lincoln himself, played by the talented Pete Simpson, was the only character filmed live on set at Greenbrook Cemetery; the many ghosts who haunt Lincoln over the course of his cathartic night were all filmed in front of a green screen. Hundreds upon hundreds of pieces of film were then manipulated and stitched together, and eventually combined with full spatial audio, to create a seamless, atmospheric viewing experience.

"It's a new medium through which books can be shared," Graham says. "There isn't anything else like it."

We hope our interpretation of LINCOLN IN THE BARDO will prove to be the beginning of a symbiotic relationship between literature and virtual reality. Our novel-to-VR film is the first of its kind, but—if the overwhelmingly positive responses from viewers are any indication—it certainly won't be the last.

LINCOLN IN THE BARDO is scheduled to arrive on bookshelves February 14, 2017. The film is currently available for viewing via the New York Times' Virtual Reality app, free of charge.

Introducing Plympton on Audible Channels!


We here at Plympton are excited to announce that a project we’ve been working hard on for the past year has finally come to fruition! Audible, in a collaborative effort to expand the reach of short-form audio, recently launched a new subscription service, Channels.

The press is excited, too.

Plympton worked closely with Audible and the Channels team to curate a high-quality collection of notable short fiction and nonfiction by both established and emerging authors.

We’re especially proud that many of the stories featured on Channels were originally published through Plympton, as DailyLit Originals. We’d like to give a special shout-out to our talented cover designers: Juan Sebastián Pinto-DíazEd Gaither, and Aaron Perry-Zucker.

We hope you enjoy this one-stop platform for diverse, quality short-form programming, from us to your earbuds.

50×50 at The National Archives

Recovering the Classics had a 50×50 exhibit at its most prominent location yet: The National Archives, as part of DPLAfest.

The piece, “Space Raft Time Ship,” was created by Anthony Johnson, a Navajo artist who traveled in from Phoenix to execute the pieces.



Anthony managed to design, construct, install and perform his piece in 72 hours after he landed.

The artist says, “My main concern was to honor all the beautiful book covers. Artists from all around the world are participating in this amazing project, so I wanted their work to be the focus, but I also wanted to make a statement about storytelling and highlight some little known facts about the founding of our nation. So I channeled one of my favorite books, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (hence the raft) and decided to make the piece about our collective life experience through storytelling. So that’s how the name works. We’re all on this incredible space raft called Earth, moving through time, and the stories we write, our histories, our heritage…these are the things that allow us to evolve our consciousness. They shape our experience in Space and enhance being alive.”

To give emphasis to the book covers, Anthony wove paper covers printed in 12 foot sections through metal grates to create a rug-like patten. He also attached them to pieces of rope knotted in deliberate intervals. He says both weaving and knotting are methods that Indigenous People use to tell stories and keep history.

“I’m Navajo and my people are known for weaving. Some rugs have even been sold for a million dollars. But a lot of people don’t know these rugs are like books for us. They contain stories and knowledge that is passed on orally from generation to generation, just like a book can be. With the knotted rope, I wanted to show that many Indigenous People had intricate documentation systems. In fact, the Incan People used a system of knot tying called Quipu to keep history. People in that society were trained specially to create and interpret that system. This is just like how we use the written word to communicate today. And that’s why the smaller book covers are attached to knotted pieces of rope.”

Because the work was displayed in the National Archives, he wanted to reference documentation systems other than the written word. This is in spirit with Recovering the Classics because we are using visual imagery to reinvigorate interest in classic books.

Lastly, the wooden structure was created to showcase the book covers and give a raft-like feel. Not only was this practical to hang the rope from, it is also a deeply significant representation for the artist himself.

As Anthony describes in his own words:

When you get the opportunity to show something in the same building as the US Constitution, it better have some meaning. Some people might look at the wooden structure as some pieces of wood tied together, but it is actually a representation of the many types of lodges and shelters we Indigenous Peoples use to tell stories and govern ourselves. The tripod structure is reminiscent of the tipis Plains People use in their life way as both shelters and ceremonial houses. Additionally, the three poles also represent the three branches of our American government and that we are all connected to the Earth, the Ultimate governance system.

The pole structure is also symbolic of the lodges our people build to dance and hold ceremony in. A lot of people don’t know that Benjamin Franklin frequented the villages of the Iroquois Confederacy and Algonquin people around the Northeast United States, documenting his thoughts in an essay called “Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America.

He extracted many of their practices and shared them with the Founding Fathers while they sought to make a government that was more harmonious. That’s why everyone in Congress has the opportunity to speak. That’s why they sit in a circle. He got these and many other concepts from the Indigenous people in his area. The other part of these lodges that is important is the fire. That’s why in the piece, each tripod has a pile of cards below it. They represent fire. It’s something we use in all our ceremonies, in all our homes. We talk around fire, tell stories. We warm ourselves. We cook. We read books. There’s something primal and essential about it.”

Yiying Lu’s New Plympton Logo

The fabulous artist Yiying Lu has given Plympton a facelift and designed a bold new wordmark. Yiying’s clients have included Disney, Twitter, Scholastic, and even Conan O’Brien. So we are thrilled she took the time to design the Plympton logo. (The fact that she collaborated on the Dumpling Emoji with Plympton co-founder Jennifer 8. Lee may have helped).


Yiying’s new Plympton logos

Yiying’s new Plympton logos


Salient examples of Yiying’s work include the beloved “Fail Whale”, the erstwhile logo of Twitter service outages which helped her gain worldwide fame. More recently she redesigned that whale for Conan O’Brien’s website.

Her eclectic style is informed by work in many different visual mediums including web design, illustration, origami, dolls, and packaging.

Yiying’s work is typified by vibrant colors and joyous characters, often animals. But she also is equally experienced in corporate branding and delivering to companies styles that fit their needs. Her design for Plympton is an understated departure from her harlequin mode. It opts for a striking stencil look that evokes a classic printer’s ink style.

The Plympton  “P” is a take on the paragraph or pilcrowsymbol.

You can see more of Yiying’s work on her website

Bring Recovering the Classics to Your Community: The 50×50 Campaign

We were so blown away by the response to Recovering the Classics at ALA 2015 that we have big news:

We’re bringing the covers to all 50 states, and we need your help! We’re calling the campaign 50×50. The idea is to build a community of book-lovers across the country by exhibiting at least 50 covers in libraries, book festivals, galleries, schools, and other places of your imagination in all 50 states. 

You can become involved by volunteering to organize an event of your own! We’re already getting started with some great folks in North Carolina, Massachusetts, Illinois, Ohio and other states. And we’re planning a Kickstarter in the fall to help bring down the costs for exhibitors.


Below is our official announcement:

Recovering the Classics Presents 50×50

Celebrate the success of Recovering the Classics by hosting your own 50×50 event! With your help, we can showcase 50 classic book covers in all 50 states, and nurture communities of book-lovers in the process.

In 2013, Recovering the Classics asked designers from around the world to reimagine covers for great books in the public domain. This spring, we announced a partnership with the New York Public Librarythe White House and the Digital Public Library of America to bring the covers to libraries and schools nationwide through special edition ebooks.

Now it’s time to celebrate! We’re looking for libraries, schools, book stores, galleries, local civic organizations, and others across the country to create their own events around the covers — exhibits, readings, school activities, or design-a-thons.

By coming together for this series of events, we’ll develop a community of readers who will share ideas, events and curricula around these classics for years to come.

Host Your Own

Do you want to hold your own local Recovering the Classics exhibit? We have posters in different sizes, as well as postcards and stickers. Right now, we are working on bringing down these costs for partners, which is where our future Kickstarter and sponsorships comes in.

To really do it right, you would pair our covers with designs by your local artists, giving everything a distinct regional flair.

If no single local organization can exhibit 50 covers, we can send batches of 10 or 25 to multiple groups within a state. We’re happy as long as there are at least 50 distinct covers in each of the 50 states!

Ideating with Stanford at CODEX Hackathon

So we had all these amazing people coming to CODEX — passionate people from around the country with a great mix of backgrounds: engineers, designers, literary journal editors and librarians. But how exactly do you get them working together to tackle the challenges of reading, publishing, libraries?

Some people came in with a team, or a project already in mind. But what about all the others?

We were superlucky to connect with Erik Olesund, who teaches at the Institute of Design at Stanford (also known as the Stanford He volunteered to start our hackathon by holding a design thinking and innovation workshop. Whew.

First, he gave us a very specific shopping list:

  • 25 packs of 3×3 inches Post-It notes
  • 50 black Sharpies
  • 5 packs of large 8×6 Post-It notes.

Total bill: $77.45

Erik Olesund from Institute of Design at Stanford | Photo by Michael Bucuzzo.

Erik Olesund from Institute of Design at Stanford | Photo by Michael Bucuzzo.

Some of our folks from the literary world were a bit nervous about coming to a hackathon, since they weren’t programmers and had never “hacked” before. Did they have to prepare? We assured them that their perspectives were actually critical to making great projects.

A successful hackathon is often less about the technical expertise coming in, and more the ideation and collaboration, Olesund had explained to us. In the design process, Olesund said there are two main components in helping great ideas flourish.

A diverse set of expertise is actually a group’s advantage, said Olesund, as people specialized in different skillsets are working together to come up with the best solution (check! CODEX had that, by using travel stipends to curate the crowd).

“A developer and a publisher see the world through very different lenses,” he said. “So having someone who is very different from you look at a problem that you care about is something extremely helpful.” Another component is to have a very open mind to ideas. “So even though you might have like 50 years of experience…right now you’re going to say yes to let all the ideas to allow people to be really creative and generative,” Olesund said.

During the 45-minute session, any awkward getting-to-know-one-another feeling quickly dissipated as the room began bustling with people actively engaging with one another. One of the key exercises Olesund did was pairing people off, and then having them shoot down each other’s ideas, followed by a session where they built off their ideas, no matter how crazy. The results — and energy levels — were incredibly different. It was a subtle lesson that helped set the tone for the weekend.As a result, the brainstorming session helped folks generate hundreds of ideas.

Adina Talve-Goodman, the managing editor at One Story, found the entire design workshop inspiring, and familiar. “I recognized a lot of the techniques and exercises used during the Stanford design process from when I used to do improv and theater,” said Talve-Goodman. Her group, which included a systems designer from IDEO, ended up creating Close Reader, a platform that allows writers to workshop remotely with each other.

Colorful Post-it notes containing ideas of all capacities quickly found its way up on the walls. From there, hackers with similar ideas congregated together. These new-formed groups then had the opportunity to select the best ideas, refine them and move forward with them.


Group brainstorming ideas | photo by Michael Bucuzzo.

Group brainstorming ideas | photo by Michael Bucuzzo.

“The Stanford design process really helped bring together a lot of interesting ideas and teams,” said Ted Benson, a MIT PhD who is founder at Cloudstitch, who participated in the session. “It was also nice to have that process kick off the hackathon, because when we all demoed our projects the following afternoon, everyone was already familiar with the people and ideas for each team.”

While hacking includes sketching out concepts and creating experiences to test initial assumptions, “hacking is a broadly defined term,” he said.

Here is a list of the projects that came from the hackathon.

For anyone who is curious, the Stanford workshops also come in many versions, including day-long, two-day long and week-long versions for all sorts of organizations and companies.