The Encyclopedia Project – Encyclopedia built on fiction that playfully reveals the potentially fictional nature of all information

Encyclopedia Volume 2, F-K, Tisa Bryant, Miranda Mellis & Kate Schatz, eds., Encyclomedia, 2010.


“The Encyclopedia Project is an encyclopedia of fiction and fictional forms. It is a 5-volume hardcover book project that seeks to present a wide variety of approaches to narrative by reimagining and reinterpreting the reference book and the literary journal. The first volume is Encyclopedia Vol 1 A-E and its 336 pages are filled with original fiction, paintings, essays, plays, photographs, lists, prose poems, and video stills by 114 writers and artists.
Encyclopedia borrows the aesthetic and design of the traditional encyclopedia, but subverts the canonical structure and method. Like the traditional encyclopedia, our Encyclopedia’s entries span A-Z, and will be contained in five cross-referenced volumes that will be published annually—Vol. 2, F-K; Vol. 3 L-P; Vol. 4 R-U; and Vol. 5 V-Z.”

"Encyclopedia is a multi-volume hardcover book project that presents a wide variety of approaches to narrative. Part reference book, part literary journal, each volume appropriates the form of the encyclopedia—from general layout to cross-referencing—as a venue for publishing new, innovative literary and visual works.
Encyclopedia Vol 1 A-E was published in 2006; Encyclopedia Vol 2 F-K was published in October of 2010. Together, the two books contain the prose, essays, photographs, translations, drawings, lists, emails, plays, diagrams, elegies, collages, cut-up sonnets and short stories of more than 250 writers, artists, scholars, activists, educators, and performers."

The Encyclopedia Project at Small Press Traffic

Encyclopedia Vol 1 A-E, Tisa Bryant, Miranda Mellis, Kate Schatz, eds., Encyclomedia, 2006.


«The Encyclopedia Project is an encyclopedia of fiction and fictional forms. It is a 5-volume hardcover book project that seeks to present a wide variety of approaches to narrative by reimagining and reinterpreting the reference book and the literary journal. The first volume is Encyclopedia Vol 1 A-E and its 336 pages are filled with original fiction, paintings, essays, plays, photographs, lists, prose poems, and video stills by 114 writers and artists.
Encyclopedia borrows the aesthetic and design of the traditional encyclopedia, but subverts the canonical structure and method. Like the traditional encyclopedia, our Encyclopedia’s entries span A-Z, and will be contained in five cross-referenced volumes that will be published annually—Vol. 2, F-K; Vol. 3 L-P; Vol. 4 R-U; and Vol. 5 V-Z.
We began The Encyclopedia Project, and our press, Encyclomedia, because we saw the necessity of increasing visibility not just of “the arts” but of the arts that are continually marginalized because of social and cultural biases against work considered “experimental” or “avant-garde”. We also wanted to challenge the ways in which traditional literary journals and anthologies segregate arts and artists rather than connect them and their ideas, and to offer a venue for new, innovative works.»


«Encyclopedia Vl. 1 A-E offers 336 pages of cross-referenced entries by 114 contributors. The entries range from bildungsroman to celebrity to epic, taking the form of essays, blog excerpts, e-mail exchanges, lists, prose poems, video stills, and drawings. The book's unorthodox form and content follows from a similarly inventive method of solicitation. the compilers composed an expansive list of words, sent customized lists to more than 200 writers and artists, and asked them to provide an entry between one sentence and 4000 words. The resulting disparate group includes sci-fi auteur Samuel R. Delany, poets Rosmarie and Keith Waldrop, artists Laylah Ali and Zak Smith, and authors Carole Maso, Thalia Field and Brian Evenson." - Alexander Provan

"The design is much in imitation of the Golden Books period of American encyclopedias. it features a wealth of illustrations, as in Anna Joy Springer's rebus about studying with ACKER, KATHY; as well as an entire section of lavishly reproduced color plates. It boasts great interviews, as in Jacob Eichert's entry EXENE; and Afua Kafi-Akua's CARTER, BETTY. It reproduces the entirety of Jorge Luis Borges's story, Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, which not only serves as an important precursor for this project but is one of the greatest of twentieth-century short stories. [Y]et there are also abundant entries for which the fictive space runs more along the poetical lines[...] There are, of course, innumerable other noteworthy entries." - Rick Moody

«Seeking to redefine our concepts of cultural identity, history and language — and the classic reference work itself — Encyclopedia Vol. 1 A-E features the work of 114 writers and artists on information (and in a format) not found elsewhere. Under California, for instance, you will find “See canyon, Exene, exploration”; under catatonic or eaves, there are no words, only a photo or a line drawing. Original fiction and poetry, painting and photography are among the media used. Editors Miranda F. Mellis, Kate Schatz and Tisa Bryant met in the MFA program at Brown University, and Vol. 1 is the first imprint of their newly founded press Encyclomedia. The book itself is a beautiful hardbound edition and resembles its archetype — except for the bright turquoise-and-pink cover bearing the contributors’ names in metallic lettering. Those contributors include Eileen Myles, Georges Bataille, Brian Evanson, Alice Notely, Jorge Luis Borges and Samuel R. Delany. Entries that stand out: Anna Joy Springer’s rebus for her deceased teacher, the writer Kathy Acker, in which the pictograms that describe their relationship begin to fall apart; Jess Arndt’s narrative for the Barbary Coast, where space, time and histories collide in re-creating a tale of piracy and slavery that includes Ronald Reagan, Nicolas Cage and Jean Genet; and locals Ron Athey and Juliana Snapper’s definition of the term double voiced through reference to their operatic performance Judas Cradle (seen at REDCAT last year). Five more volumes are planned, with F-K up next. More information — and an open call for submissions — can be found at www.encyclopediaproject.org.» - Amra Brooks

«Next time I run into a library scientist, I’ll ask him where exactly in a library he’d put a book/encyclopedia/curatorial project/object gallery/idea catalog/how-to manual/publication like Encyclopedia Volume I, A-E. Granted, the book claims to be an encyclopedia, a book that compiles and classifies information via neat, alphabetically-organized entries that define, describe and give examples of the world’s marvels and minutiae. But I’m not sure this book would fit in the reference section very well; it might snarl at all the other encyclopedias, laugh at them, make them edgy. It would parade its sense of humor and assert that it’s the boldest and spunkiest of them all. What other tome could boast a list, several pages long, of the titles of entries that were intended for publication by the editors, but never realized in print? Or a page whose only entries are Courage, Cracker, and Crime Fiction? Or an entry for Encyclopedia that’s just Borges’s story, “Tl√∂n, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” copied-and-pasted ?
The Encyclopedia Project (www.encyclopediaproject.org) and its sister press Encyclomedia were started in Providence in 2004 by then-Brown Literary Arts MFAs Tisa Bryant, Miranda F. Mellis and Kate Schatz. They sent lists of five words–beginning with A, B, C, D and E–to writers and artists. The instructions? The writer/artist should pick a word and provide an encyclopedia entry for it. The entry should take any form the writer/artist wanted. The entry should be less than 4,000 words but more than one sentence. The entry should address the editors’ initial question for the project: “What occurs under the sign of fiction?” The resulting volume is an encyclopedia built on fiction that playfully reveals the potentially fictional nature of all information.
The entries are written by such writers as Brian Evanson, Eileen Myles, Matthew Derby, Carole Maso, Diane Williams, and Keith and Rosemarie Waldrop, as well as filmmakers, artists, theorists and academics. There’s a predominance of Providence folk and professors (mostly of writing) at Brown. There’s also an impressive mix of writers and artists working out of Oakland, CA, where the Encyclopedia Project recently relocated.
The current volume is only the first of five projected editions; the next will cover letters F – K and is due out later this year. The entries are a hodgepodge of short stories, interviews, line drawings, prose poems, photographs, “See _____” directives, blog excerpts, charts, screencaps, aphorisms, photocopied letters, etymologies. Yep, nearly every form but the haiku and the laundry list finds a representative instance in one of these 325 pages. There’s even a Color Art Portfolio in the back showcasing color slide illustrations of topics like “Empty” (a dot and wave grid by Xylor Jane) and “Catalogue” (manila envelopes).
___________
If an encyclopedia predicated on the guiding question, “What occurs under the sign of fiction?” seems counterintuitive, contradictory or possibly shameful to the reference section, that’s because it’s probably at least two of those. Wikipedia’s standards for encyclopedic entries uphold “Reliable Sources” and “Notability.” They bar “Profanity” and “Conflicts of Interest.” Encyclopedia adheres to very few, if any, of the Free Encyclopedia’s regulations, or the regulations of other more traditional print encyclopedias.
The Encyclopedia project seems weird, but in fact, it’s no stranger than the accepted model for a ‘reliable’ encyclopedia. Any act of encyclopedism is, from the start, a quixotic effort to amass information in such a way as to, quite deceptively, suggest order (A, B, C, D, E, F…) where there probably is none (the world is a sticky jumble of words and things; the alphabet is downright arbitrary). In this light, the Encyclopedia Britannica is humorous in its ascetic and highfalutin placement of Hohman transfer orbit (a concept in orbital mechanics) direcly above Hoisin Sauce (the kind on your Lo Mein) in its H volume. The alphabet as an organizational scheme is a chance arrangement–ostensibly free from ideology and dogma–but often leads to a hilarious juxtaposition of categories and images.
Which isn’t to say that dogma doesn’t seep into in any dictionary or encyclopedia. Look at men of reason Denis Diderot and Jean D’Alambert’s 1751 Encyclop√©die (“a systematic dictionary of the sciences, arts and crafts”), whose entries probably say more about the neuroses of the Enlightenment elite than they actually relate the “general” information the Encyclop√©die claims to aggregate:
From the Encyclopédie entry on Chocolate (Diet): One nation practically lives on it: to lack chocolate, among the Spanish, is to be reduced to the same point of misery as to lack bread among us.
From Opera (literature): a chimerical assemblage of poetry and music in which the poet and musician mutually torture each other.
Magot (grammar): Huddled, misshapen bizarre figures in clay, plaster, copper, or porcelain that we regard as representing Chinese people or Indians. Our apartments are decorated with them. These affected knick-knacks have gone to the nation’s head and driven out of our apartments ornaments in much better taste. This is the reign of magots.
Systematic, objective, n’est-ce pas? When Encyclopedia Volume 1, A-E gives us an entry like Ephemera, that presents a 32-item list of found crap (7. rusty gilette rasor blade; 32. Small temporary tattoo of a bat; 28. Big button that says “I saw e.t.”; 12. New York state driver’s license of one Allison landberg”), we might come across the list of junk with the same mix of skepticism, wonder and amusement as we do when we peek into the Encyclop√©die of another era.
In light of all this, it befits the Encyclopedia Project that the word “Encyclopedia” is an historical misinterpretation. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the origin of the word as an erroneous reading of the phrase enkuklos paideia (roughly, ‘a general education’) in the manuscripts of Quintilian, Pliny and Galen. Later commentators misread the phrase as one word, from which we get the Pseudo-Greek enkuklopaideia.
Nevertheless, there’s a surprising sense of honesty underlying the Encyclopedia Project. Both despite and as a result of its farce, exaggeration, clumsiness and humor, the project is explicit and performative in its whimsical process. Rather than make invisible the editorial functions of determining article topics, soliciting entries, setting formal guidelines, editing responses, standardizing presentation and regulating the objectivity, the Encyclopedia dramatizes its medium by exaggerating all of these. The guiding question, “What occurs under the sign of fiction,” deliberately mocks the attempt of dictionarists, encyclopedists and curators, for example, to collect and present their objects with humble and grave self-effacement (as if to say, “we didn’t put this here; it came on its own”). In playing with the form, it renders the fundamental absurdity and futility of any encyclopedic project.
In their editorial statement, Bryant, Mellis and Schatz explain their process, embracing the cyclical false-etymology of the word: “We worked circuitously, spiraling forward, circling back, seeking to open up rather than over-determine the terrain,” later calling the encyclopedia an “unpredictable gathering,” “excessive”; the project, they write, is an “impossible idea.” The project may verge on being thematically aesthetocentric: entries such as Bildungsroman, Betty Carter, Dandy, and George Bataille are clearly geared toward a specific, cultured audience. Yet even this predomination of entries on arts, artists and literature, illustrates a deliberate attempt to reorganize information in a way that embraces, rather than minimizes, its fictionality, illusoriness, and figuration. If the Britannica has no room for play save for its accidental run-ins of orthography and meaning, the Encyclopedia Vol. 1 always has a clever grin.» - Pablo Larios

«The Encyclopedia Project is a 5-volume hardcover book project, an encyclopedia of fiction and fictional forms. The first volume, Encyclopedia Vol 1 A-E, came out earlier this year and is 336 cross-referenced and indexed pages of writing, photographs, lists, video stills and drawings by 114 writers and artists. It’s cool. When I first heard about this project I had a hard time imagining how it was going to work. I missed the launch party but I got a copy of the book and asked one of its editors some questions. Oh and ps, I can’t type encyclopedia without doing that little song you learn in school to remember how to spell it. Anyway, here we go:
Tell me about the origin of the idea for encyclopedia. Where did you start?
- It all started in 2004 when Tisa Bryant, Miranda Mellis, and I were in the MFA Graduate Program in Literary Arts at Brown. We were inspired to create a new kind of fiction-oriented publication by Gail Scott, a fabulous Canadian woman who was a visiting writer in our program. We knew that we didn't want to start yet another journal/lit mag (nothing against 'em--we've all worked in the realm, we read them, we publish in them) and we knew that we wanted the form and structure of the publication to relate to/inform/engage with the content. We wanted to include all kinds of fictions and narratives, and visual art as well. After a few meetings and a lot of wine, Miranda started talking about the old encyclopedia—and that was that. We got excited by the encyclopedia as an organizing principle, and we were interested in the way the encyclopedia sought to contain all knowledge—we knew immediately that it was a model we wanted to tweak/subvert/play with. We started in Providence, but now we're in New York and the Bay Area.
What is your mission?
- 'Encyclopedia' means "circles of knowledge" and that is a guiding principle for the work and artists that we publish: we want to expand and break open existing circles of knowledge, to allow overlap and back-and-forth and cross-referencing and unexpectedness.
We aim to: Create a series of books that are beautiful, strange and packed with innovative art and literature. Publish the creations of emerging writers and artists working in innovative forms. Represent 50% non-white artists and writers, as well as people of all ages and sexual orientations. Consider the vastness of contemporary fiction/s, to present various approaches to narrative, to present experimental/multi-genre work. Reanimate an antiquated form. Create connections. Have fun.
And also, for Vol 2: to minimize our impact on the environment by using recycled paper and other green products during production.
How does the encyclopedia format help accomplish that mission?
- The cross-referencing system connects pieces throughout the book based on common words, themes, names, etc. It creates conversations between work and artists that might otherwise seem unrelated. Rebecca Brown's long, lyrical essay on EM Forster, 'Aspects of the Novel', cross-references to Brian Evenson's short piece on 'Anamorphosis' (which ends with the line "...this, perhaps, is what anamorphosis can best teach a fiction writer: everything is monstrous, yet everything is normal." I love that line.) Micah Perks' entry for 'Ending' cross-references to Katie Hays' 'Bloomsbury.' And on and on.
But more than that, though, is the notion of taking a traditional form with a particular history (one of exclusion, elision, empiricism) that is pretty much obsolete (see: Wikipedia, etc) and reimagining it to serve entirely new purposes. The encyclopedia is public domain, it is normal: we've taken it, made it pink and teal, and filled it with language and art that is gorgeous, monstrous, immediate.
And by doing the project on our own terms we can be very clear with our intentions, and can act on them, can define and redefine them, can continually expand/invent this project.
This project is kind of enormous. How long did it take you to get from idea to first volume out?
- Heh. Forever. From initial conceptualization to actual existence in the world took about two years. Two years and some months. It was a long, crazy, amazing process. Just the process of soliciting artists and editing and deciding on content took about a year. Then we moved on to designing, then printing, then getting the book and getting it out in the world...and now we're simultaneously promoting Vol 1 and working on Vol 2. We just brought on a fourth Encyclopedist—Joanna Howard joined us this summer. She's holding down the fort in Providence Did any problems come up during the process? Any interesting stories?
- How much space do you have? I could go on and on. To sum it up, though, I'll say that we all brought certain skill sets to the project--but we also had a lot to learn. We wanted complete creative control so we published the book ourselves, and, to that end, started our press, Encyclomedia. From the beginning, we've done it all ourselves—from fundraising to finding and working with our printer to distribution to editing to working closely with our book designer—and have had to figure it out as we've gone. And we were in school full-time writing theses for the beginning stages, and then graduating, job-searching, and trying to stay focused on our own individual writing as well. One good story is that Miranda, Tisa and I all have our first books coming out in 2007! We're considering a big old book tour...
Throughout the whole process there were many many delays—one thing we've learned is that something like this always takes a lot longer than you think. But really, I think the most interesting story is that of the collaborative process that we undertook. We make all decisions by consensus, and have worked so, so closely on this project—I can speak for my co-editors when I say that we have all gained immense knowledge, inspiration and energy from each other.
How did you get the funding for the project?
- A scrappy combination of things! We're super grassroots, man. For real. From Brown University we received incredibly generous grants from the Graduate School and the Creative Arts Council. We've had some fundraisers and have received private donations, and we also sold advance copies. In the end, we published the first volume without having to sink our own money into it, which is pretty great considering the high cost of publishing a hardbound book w/ color art and sexy paper.
We also solicited a lot of pro bono work from many supportive friends who donated epic amounts of their time, ideas and labor. James Meetze is a graphic designer from San Diego and did all the layout, and Jason Pontius, a web designer from Oakland, did the book's cover, and our website. Aisha Burns, a graphic designer from NYC provided initial design ideas. Our good friends at SchwaDesign, a Providence-based design firm worked with us to design our logo, and many others helped by editing and proofing, playing at our benefits, and offering general advice and support. The list is immense, really.
Tell me a bit about your selection process for writers/artists.
- For the first volume, we made massive lists of writers, artists, thinkers, and teachers who we wanted to include. Then we sent out solicitation letters: each person got a list of 5 words beginning with A, B, C, D and E. We asked them to create an entry for one or more of the words—text entries could be between 1 sentence and 4,000 words, or could be visual art. Then we sat back (well, not really, we had plenty to do) and let the submissions come in. In this sense, it was really a chance operation: we had no idea what people would do with the words, how they would approach it, etc. And we were thrilled with what we got.
For the second volume, we continued the solicitation process, but have also opened it up to unsolicited work. People can go to our website and see a huge list of words beginning with F-K. They can pick from those words, or come up with their own. And as I mentioned previously, we are committed to publishing 50% artists and writers of color—this of course is considered when soliciting people.
Are you still accepting submissions for later volumes? Which ones?
- Yes indeed. The deadline for submission to Vol 2 F-K is January 15 2007—people can check the website for more info on that. And if people want to contact us with ideas for Vol 3 L-P, Vol 4 R-U or Vol 5 V-Z they can go right ahead.
Was there a soundtrack for the production process for volume one?
- Ooo. It depended on which house we were meeting at, but we definitely rocked it out where ever we were...everything from TV on the Radio to this oldies station that Tisa listened to online to Magnetic Fields to Prince to Ted Leo to Fela to Arcade Fire to Rebecca Gates to Tricky (Tisa makes me think of Tricky) to the delightful sounds of Miranda's awesome former band My Invisible. Also the sounds of Chapin Ave, in Providence RI; whatever was playing at AS220; and now, in our new bi-coastal existence, the sounds of our voices during conference calls.
What other books/magazines/anthologies/people/places/things inspired you for this project?
- Off the top of my head, a very partial list: encyclopedias, from Britannica to World Book to the Encyclopaedia Acephalica to the ones Tisa loved when she was a kid. Diderot and Pliny the Elder. Gail Scott and our teachers at Brown—Thalia Field, Brian Evenson, Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop, Forrest Gander, Carole Maso. Cabinet, BOMB, Narrativity, Conjunctions, Callaloo, NOON. The good people at McSweeney's. The Family of Man, the spines of old books, this pretty blue book that Miranda had on her bookshelf. Pantone guide. Small presses. Libraries, card catalogues, maps, charts, graphs, lists. Feminist processes. DIY. Each other. Etc etc etc.» - Kate Schatz in a conversation with Ms. Keough


"You’ve heard of a fiction anthology. Now here comes a fiction encyclopedia. What’s the difference?
Top to bottom, encyclopedists Miranda Mellis, Kate Schatz, and Tisa Bryant. Fiction grad students Tisa Bryant, Kate Schatz, and Miranda Mellis began their envelope-pushing five-volume Encyclopedia Project with a question: What occurs under the sign of fiction? “That question gives us a lot of room to play,” says Bryant. “Everything occurs under the sign of fiction.” While entries in a fiction anthology might be limited to works of fiction, the encyclopedia’s first volume, published this summer, also includes essays, stories, photographs, and e-mails. There’s a short play titled You Just Have These Moments (An Existential Celebrity Melodrama). Not the sort of stuff you’d expect to find in an encyclopedia. But then, this is not your average encyclopedia.
The encyclopedists like the multiple meanings of the word sign—a zodiac sign, a semiotic sign, or a mathematical sign. But when they envision the entries in their encyclopedia, they think quite literally. “If there was an empty lot, and there was a sign that said Fiction, what people would be in it?” asks Schatz. Bryant continues, “And if we asked all these people to come play in the empty lot, what would they bring to play with?”
Volume I—A through E—is a handsome hardcover art book whose 336 pages begin with “Accent” and end with “Extant.” In between are entries on “Amnesia,” “Chronopathy,” “Cross-dressing,” “Doppelganger,” and “Essay.” The entry about novelist Kathy Acker is an elaborate pictogram. “Dahlia,” by the California-based writer Jaime Cortez, is a short personal essay that weaves together visual art, encyclopedia-style facts (“the American Dahlia Society recognizes fifteen dahlia colors”), and personal reminiscences about childhood and family. Each entry is followed by cross-references to other entries; “California,” for instance, consists entirely of cross-references. Traditionally, says Bryant, fiction is understood to be about “making things up.” The Encyclopedia Project asks what is meant by “made up”—the project “includes the possibility of what is mis- or differently remembered,” Mellis says, and proposes that “fiction as such can sometimes tell the truth more than the truth.”
The project was born while Bryant, Schatz, and Mellis were fiction students in Brown’s MFA program. Gail Scott, a Montreal-based novelist and essayist who was then a writer-in-residence at Brown, urged her students to think about the fact that “there is an entire field of work and thought that is about poetry—about critically thinking about poetics—and there really isn’t a similar thing for fiction,” says Schatz. Scott challenged them to “put some grant money where our mouths are,” says Schatz, and start a publication.
They knew from the start they didn’t want to produce a literary journal. Rather, they wanted their project’s form to speak to the ideas in it. An encyclopedia, with its weighty goal of containing and cataloging all the world’s knowledge, gave them the opportunity to poke fun at the impossibility of the task, and cross-referencing let them make unlikely connections. Through fund-raisers, private donations, advance sales, and grants from the Graduate School and the Creative Arts Council, the three raised $12,000 to print 1,500 copies of Volume I through their own press, Encyclomedia. They priced the books low, at $25, to make them accessible, and have sold almost forty copies, sight unseen, from their Web site alone. They plan to roll any profits back into the project, and hope the next four volumes will pay for themselves.
The encyclopedists plan to publish a volume a year, reaching Volume V (V through Z) in year five. “F through K is crazy,” says Schatz. It includes hot-button “Fallujah” and “Katrina,” as well as such timeless literary concerns as justice, fiction and form, and feminism. If Volume II is anything like Volume I, however, entries will also teach us how to play “snapper comet” or “Make a Dadaist poem.” That is to say, they’ll be playing in an empty lot, and you’ll be invited." - Beth Schwartzapfel

The Encyclopedia Project

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