Author Interview: Cory Spangler

Hello readers!

We sent some questions to one of our local authors and artists, Cory Marshall Spangler, asking about the books he makes by hand–the Native Stranger Periodical. is a set of gorgeous books put together by Cory and the Native Stranger Artist Worker Collective. It chronicles the growing season of Raisin’ Roots Farm right here in Fort Collins. It was written, photographed on film, manually designed and manually typed by a seasonal farm hand as he worked.  It was then built page by page by the author, Cory Marshall Spangler, printed locally, and bound lovingly by the labor of hands of fellow artist workers.

You are one of the founders of Native Stranger Artist Worker Collective. What spurred you to start this collective and what is your vision for the collective moving forward?

I started the AWC with my wife, Elli Perry, and our close comrade in art, Mark Austin Schumacher, known to just about everyone in Fort Collins as Rooster. For me the impetus for establishing a collective was two-fold: 1) the evolution of a friendship – I’d even say kinship – and 2) the expansion of the creative frontier – within us, between us, and with more of those like us. Elli and I arrived to Fort Collins total strangers to the scene. Through fate, luck, or much of both we fell swiftly in with the art and working community, and were invited into it to stay like we were honored guests. It was special to us and we all knew it. After a few – I’d say rather successful – events and projects, it was time to accelerate our intentions creatively, start a collective based on labor, love, and respect – and get to work. We did.

Now a year on with two books on the shelf, the third written and in production, my eyes are on the next statement: a second volume that takes the definition of the artist worker as embodied by the farm hand and connects it beyond the farm, the community, even this point in time. My vision includes controlling the means of our production, not just of the Periodical but of the statements of other artist workers. I haven’t even mentioned the book written by another fellow traveler on the farm that we intend to release, or the records, performances, exhibits and music video that was all done with the seal of the AWC.

Your book, from the way it is written to the way it is bound, is very much “old school”. Was there a specific reason you decided to make it this way? What do you think it adds to the book?

You could call it typewriter to table. We needed it done fast with no compromises. Since I’m a lost cause to all things new school and flat out suck at them, I did it the only way I know and I set to it by improvisation. I typed the manuscript on my Olympia portable and manually designed every page: cutting the right paper from a sketchbook, measuring and setting the margins, setting the text and pictures, typing, cutting, and affixing dated documental titles to each film photo I took, all of it. It never left the house, so to speak. When it was done, Elli proofread it and Rooster and I scanned this manuscript one page at a time. I still have the original and half the pages are blank because all the photos were originals, too. Rooster had the heroic detail of going through and magic-wanding out every eraser mark from my penciled margins, and I owe him until the end of time for that. We schlepped it off, digitized, to the printer and when the text blocks came back our friends turned out en masse to bind them all for a show and exhibit we did, which was last September. So it was pretty straightforward. Everything I just described was the reason it was done this way.  From word one/draft one on June 1, to the last cover on the last copy in early September – it took three months and presto, a book was in the world. No delay, no back and forth with this entity or that, no cycle to follow but our own. I think that’s not too shabby for a physical publishing zero to finish.

What it adds? Our hands are all over it. The worker in a photograph on page 70 could be the same who glued the thing together. The process gives to the books an authenticity senior to its aesthetic. Each copy is a unique and limited piece of artist labor. It’s like getting a bunch of carrots at the farmstand from the hand who pulled them that morning and the roots still have dirt on them. You get the thing itself, and a token of the process.  For a printed literary endeavor it does not get more real than that.

Urban farming, CSAs, and supporting locally sourced food are big topics right now. Whether intentional or not, is there something you hoped your book would highlight or bring attention to regarding local food? In what ways do you think your book connects with this topic of discussion, if any?

Regardless of any synchrony this book may have had with those topics, my intent from the outset was to show the dignity and significance of the work we do, and over enough time, not the timeliness, but the timelessness of it. I truly had not given much special thought to some clever resonance with a trending talking point or any such thing. That said, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t realize the moment of it just the same. Seeing the moment is part of the job of what I do – farm work and photography have profound lessons in common when you consider how much of either is determined by intuitive sight – and the way I write about it all is instinctive. I think, if purely unconsciously, the broader topic may have informed my drive to get this document into the world at the speed I did.

What I wrote is by no means an expository think piece about localism, or even local farming – a disclosure that won’t make me any cooler. “A farm hand’s diary, in words and pictures.” is more like a time capsule from this side of the production line, left by someone obsessively preoccupied with the sacred and the small. It had its own urgency and will to exist, in other words.

We love the periodical style, and obviously, the various seasons on the farm lend themselves to a book broken up into several installments. Was that always the idea for the project, or did it start as one big book and then get separated out into periodicals later? What was the process of deciding to do more than one?

Thank you. When we first had the idea for Native Stranger Periodical. I thought it was going to be a zine. In a matter of weeks we knew it was going to have to be something a bit longer… After that, I thought the volume could be wrapped up in six months of farm life. Six months from then, much of the third book in this experimental docu-trilogy takes place in time outside of that single year. So the work expanded into what it did naturally because the concept allowed it to, and its focus changed into what life required of it. A year later I’m just the operator of the focus, showing what needs shown.

That the book is named what it is and comes out periodically was a deliberate part of the idea, a decision that fell almost immediately into place and guided the process itself. I remember saying to Elli: I want to make real books at the speed the internet destroys them. I want to put real things back… It’s my way of Luddism. The first volume – three book-length issues – focuses on one diary, one farm hand, one year. Subsequent volumes of Native Stranger Periodical. will have different focuses. Maybe forty years and enough periodical events later they can all be read as a big continuum, and these first ones are like the overture to movements down the road. Who’s to say?

In what ways does the second diary differ from the first? or the third from the second? Does the progress in the books follow the progress of the farm work, or is the seasonal format more of a guideline than a rule?

They are as different as the suits of a tarot deck. They are visually alike, they have a distinct look, but for similarity that’s about it. Of the three, the first is the strictest document of farm labor and farm-centric observations. In the second one I disclaim: “sometimes farming involves not farming.” The third book hardly takes place on the farm nor in this time or place at all. Last year, when asked what my book was about I always shortly replied: It’s a documentary about a farm where I work and live… True enough, but I hadn’t yet seen how it would evolve around the bend. Now, when asked what it is, I say: a periodical about work, life, death, photography, memory, and time. A more ambiguous answer, but the most accurate. These six huge themes are explored inside the microcosm of a farm, one tiny flicker in the kaleidoscope, but one in our very oldest collective memory. All that aside, the photographs in each book follow the progress of farm work faithfully, then gradually become subtler in their telling of time as time in the narrative fades, dilates, and returns. The compositions change. You get the sense that the photographer’s mind that was so deeply present in the beginning is elsewhere by the end, because it is. The writing indeed follows the diary I kept this past year and, in some instances, follows roads old diaries paved – ones that have nothing to do with farming or with work at all. Do you write about your job every day in your diary?

The third and final issue of this volume is due out soon. There is a finished novella inside the issue. I intend to publish this on its own as well. I had no way of knowing any of this last year when I took my camera into a bed of greens and snapped a picture of my crewmate cutting them down that first harvest day. The final part of the diary is by and large an experimental tragedy, chronicled in the reminiscences of a maintenance janitor, who is also the farm hand, who is also the writer, keeper of the diary. It also points and signals the way into the continuum of the Periodical, ideas I touched upon above. After all, the farm hand’s diary doesn’t necessarily end when it closes to the reader. My wife is writing the foreword to this final book and will speak to the changes and the process, because she witnessed it every day.

Keeping to the seasons is one of the best things I’ve ever done for my writing. They are thematically cardinal to our understanding of time and ourselves. For guidelines in literature there are few as true.

What has been your favorite part of producing the periodicals?

Seeing my friends all turn up at Wolverine Letterpress the morning of bookbinding day to do something none of us had ever done before is something that is with me forever. When the Music District put up the Collective for a week so we could put on a killer release show at The Downtown Artery it – and the turnout – was unforgettable. Being in the trenches at Cloverlick Banjo Shop with Rooster, grinding away at the production day and night on black coffee and Frank Zappa records was an unbeatable time that bonded us as friends, as artists, and as men. But my favorite part is seeing my books on display at the farmers’ market. When people in a community that took me in come to pick up their vegetable shares and pick up a book. They are part of the harvest, and that’s heavy to me.

What author, dead or alive, would you most like to have dinner with and why?

In the woods, around a fire, eating turtle stew and talking about the language of dreams with Cormac McCarthy. Nuf said.

What’s the best book you’ve read so far this year?

Two way tie: Tongues of the Monte by J. Frank Dobie and Night Comes to the Cumberlands by Harry M. Caudill.  Speaking of McCarthy – those two books… If you’ve read them then you know what I mean.


Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these, Cory!

You can find out more about the Native Stranger Artist Worker Collective at their instagram and tag there. You can also email Cory and the Collective at their respective emails: cs00849@gmail.com and nativestrangerawc@gmail.com.

You can purchase volume 1, volume 2, or both by calling the store to reserve your copies!

Happy reading!

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