In August 2012, 10,000 people took to the lawn of the Walker Art Center to watch cat videos together. We were there, and it was magical. What happened that night? What was it about all of us watching Nyan Cat, Henri, and Lil BUB on blankets on a summer night, instead of at home in our pajamas, or at work with our headphones in, hoping the boss didn't come around the corner? And what is it about cat videos, anyway, that makes them so irresistible?
This book is an attempt to answer that question. We left the festival that night thinking about cats, and for the last two years Coffee House Press has been collaborating with the Walker Art Center to put together a project that might capture that fascination and say something interesting—not just about cat videos, but also about how we decide what is good or bad art, or art at all; about how taste develops, how that can change, and why we love or hate something. It's about people and the internet and why there are so many more cat videos than dog ones.
To do this well, we asked some of the smartest writers we know, the ones who can make an oatmeal recipe interesting, to write something about cat videos. A sampling is below:
We are obsessed with Carl Wilson's Let's Talk About Love, which might as well be the urtext for this project. He was the first person we asked to write something, and he said yes.
Then we asked the poet/artist/maker of magical things Matthea Harvey and she said yes, too.
Alexis Madrigal, deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, is contributing an essay on the cat videos and Instagrams that are all that's left of the cat you used to have.
Cats as internet painkillers by Rhonda Lieberman, a performance artist, writer, and creator of The Cats-in-Residence Program, an installation/'purr-formance piece' for rescue kitties.
Elena Passarello writes about pop culture, the performing arts, and the natural world, and was the first woman to win the Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest at Tennessee Williams Fest. Her contribution will either be on Christopher Smart (the author of "My Cat Jeoffry," a cat poem written in a mental hospital between 1759 and 1763) or Cat on Roomba.
The poet and critic Stephen Burt on time-wasting and how cat videos demonstrate either that nothing matters, or that any art matters if anyone thinks it does.
Jillian Steinhauer, senior editor at Hyperallergic, wonders how cat videos open up a space for mental surrender, political distraction, and emotional catharsis.
Kevin Nguyen writes for Grantland, the Paris Review, and the Atlantic, but his first job was at I Can Haz Cheezburger. He'll be writing about what draws millions of people to cat photos online, how people make money from it, and where the line is between reality/self on the internet.
Sasha Archibald is taking on the intimate histories of human-cat affection. She writes for The Believer, Los Angeles Review of Books, New Inquiry, and Cabinet among others.
Cat video auteur and winner of the Golden Kitty, Will Braden offers the possibility that cat videos are really all about us, watching ourselves watch cats.
Joanne McNeil writes about the ways technology is shaping art, politics, and society, and, in this case, about Thumbelina, a rescue cat in Ottawa, who is pictured with two legs and a tail—the otherworldly creature known as Half Cat.
There are going to be a baker's dozen of writers contributing to the book we're calling Cat Is Art Spelled Wrong, to be published in September 2015. And that's where you come in: this Catstarter exists because we want to pay these people well for their work. We think what they're doing is cool and important and we respect the time and thought that goes into writing something as compelling as a great cat video. The funds we raise here will make sure that the writers are compensated properly. It's going to look good too, and making this not just your average paperback is part of the cost we hope to cover. And a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Humane Society. Mostly, we're excited to share our thinking-about-cat-videos obsession with you. We hope you'll want to be a part of the project. We hope you will want a poster from the #catvidfest and a sweet tote.
And thank you!
Risks and challenges
The risks associated with this project are ones that are typical to any book from multiple contributors: that the work will be turned in late, or not at all. That we may run up against challenges printing the book with the quality we'd like for a cost we can afford (keeping in mind that we want to keep the price accessible to the average book buyer). It's a far more complicated project than the kind of books we usually publish, and the timeline is very short.
We don't want any of those things to happen. To that end, we're hiring a project manager to make sure that the process is well-coordinated. This person will keep in close touch with the writers, will make sure that their work is edited quickly and professionally, that their contracts are fulfilled and they get paid on time. They'll work with the designer to make sure that the layout is both right for the work and possible to print. There are a lot of moving parts, and having this be the job of one person makes us confident that balls won't get dropped and that we'll stay on schedule, which also keeps production costs lower. It'll mean you'll get a book that is weird and smart and funny and nice to look at, and you'll get it when we said you would.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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