St. Louis Bound: Found’s Founder

Spreading the word about his publishing ventures the old-fashioned way, Rothbart tours for months on end, taking in city after city, reading from his various projects and then hawking them after the gig.

 

The Mad Art Gallery, located in the shadows of the sprawling Anheuser-Busch Brewery, is a converted police station, filled with fascinating nooks and crannies. Still possessing the old jail cells, holding rooms, and other intriguing corners, it’s a tempting place to explore if you’ve got access.

A couple hours before his last reading there, Found Magazine publisher Davy Rothbart is doing just that. A wiry and intensely enthusiastic fellow, he’s zipping through the readapted, one-time shooting gallery in the basement. Then he’s searching for a stack of old mug shots in a basement cell (“They’re right in here!”) and, eventually, he winds up in the vast kitchen, where he offers some pizza to everyone within the sound of his voice. With three stops at the venue in the past two years and another on the way, Rothbart’s perfectly at home at the Mad Art, one of his regular haunts on a tour schedule that never seems to quit.

Spreading the word about his publishing ventures the old-fashioned way, Rothbart tours for months on end, taking in city after city, reading from his various projects and then hawking them after the gig. When he finds a captive audience in a town, he’s already booking the next show before heading to that night’s crash pad.

“Obviously, it’s a dilemma,” says Rothbart of his nonstop travels. “I’d like to pace it out, have three days in a city. Have a day to do the event, then a couple days to see friends, hang out, go hiking.” Instead, he gets by on the fly.

Rothbart has been living his life on the go for the past two years, ever since the release of Found magazine, an unabashed hit among fans of zines and alternative publishing. Originally, the zine reflected Rothbart’s own habit of collecting little bits of detritus from all around: damaged keys, crunched love notes, strange and inexplicable correspondence between people of all sorts. He immediately broke down the wall between reader and publisher, asking for submissions. Now, when he gets to actually visit his home in Ann Arbor, MI, these items greet him by the dozen.

“I just wanted to do a zine and make 50 copies for friends, you know?” he says of the publication’s humble beginnings. “The stuff we get in is so exciting. I suppose someone could find real weathered paper and come up with some fantastic story. There’re just those little twists that are so bizarre, but true to life. The magazine comes out only once a year, and only a tiny bit of what we get winds up in there.”

If the publication caught on among fans—at readings, all types of things get passed along to the engaging Rothbart—it caused a reverse reaction for the originator. These days, Rothbart would rather see what shows up in the mail, since his own hunting (“trolling, I’d call it”) often comes up empty.

“I feel like I rarely get good stuff anymore,” he worries—even as he details some recent treasures from New York.

He’s culled enough, in fact, to put out a third edition of Found, which he’s currently on the road promoting—in all 50 states, no less. In 2004, ideally, he’ll compile all three issues and lots of additional material into the first Found book. “It’ll have a little bit of the favorites from issues one to three, but otherwise, it’s all new stuff,” he says.

There’s also a CD coming out, with bands taking their favorite correspondence from the issues—the love and lost-love notes are a particular source of rich material—and turning those scraps of conversation into pop songs. On his last tour, Rothbart also read from a recently released collection of engaging short stories, The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas.

Not surprisingly, Surfer is also a self-published work, fitting neatly into his do-it-yourself work ethic. After all, this is a publisher who mails out his zines by hand and, while using outside help when possible, still maintains a personal stamp on most of his efforts.

Ideally, he’d like to farm out some of those tasks. The Found book will be picked up by an outside publisher and he’d like to allow himself more time to work on other projects. For example, the documentary on an inner-city D.C. teenager that he’s begun and the novel that’s kicked around his head for the past year. And, if possible, finding a little more time to do reports for Chicago Public Radio's This American Life, for which he’s a contributor.

“I’m constantly torn,” he says, voicing his internal debate. “It’s a constant quandary and dilemma. I have an idea for a novel—I know, everyone has an idea for a novel!—and I don’t know if it would be any good. But I’d love to have two years to go to town on it. Really give it a go. But I like bringing stuff to people. I enjoy running around the country sharing these things. I guess the thing is to find is the balance: creating new stuff and sharing it.”

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