The Life of the Pangur Ban Party
Welcome to the second installment of Rest In Publishing. The column where I showcase small presses and lit mags that are no longer publishing. This time I’m looking at Pangur Ban Party.
Pangur Ban Party was a website, run by DJ Berndt from 2009 to 2013, which published short fiction and poetry series. Inspired by bear parade and Bearcreekfeed, the website featured simple design with bold block colours. The writing was playful and often featured pop culture references (there is fan fiction on the site about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Macaulay Culkin, The Simpsons, and the Wu-Tang Clan). PBP published ebooks by Crispin Best, Sam Pink, Ben Brooks, Sarah Jean Alexander, Carolyn DeCarlo, Rachel Hyman, Chris Killen, Paul Cunningham, Sasha Fletcher & Daniel Bailey, as well as the outstanding anthology Very Beautiful Women. Although the original url now leads to a Japanese website about Spinal Canal Stenosis, Pangur Ban Party is still online for your reading pleasure here.
I spoke to some of the PBP authors about their experiences working DJ. They had nothing but good things to say:
I still don’t know what Pangur Ban Party means or meant but it was, indeed, a party. DJ Berndt created and maintained a place of literary excitement and difference. The work was always presented in a refreshing new ways, always thoughtfully lending itself to whatever the art called for. I loved how my work was presented there and I always looked forward to whatever was next. I miss it. Thank you, DJ. I miss you too.
I started reading PBP when I was 18. I remember being very excited by Jillian Clark and Ben Brooks, because they were basically my age. That felt significant at the time. DJ also published stuff by British writers, who were a marginal presence in the community in 2008. ‘Alt Lit’ wasn’t a term back then. I submitted a few different things to DJ before ever speaking to him. All crap, on reflection; totally out of place for PBP. Once I was introduced to DJ, he pointed me in the right direction. ‘Hi Everybody’ remains the only fan fiction I’ve ever produced. DJ and I met in person once. He is awesome.
the earliest mention of “dj berndt” in my gmail inbox is from february 18th 2009. it is a notification of the first comment DJ left on my now-defunct blog. he said “I liked when it called me ‘a idiot'”, a reference to an abusive online game i had posted, and also a suitable way for him to introduce himself to my life, emblematic of the warm, goofy openness with which he always presents himself. that was the beginning of our friendship, conducted at first in comment threads and then gchat boxes. exactly two months after our first interaction, dj published my tnmt fan fction, “go ninja go ninja go”, on pangur ban party, which – while totally different from anything i’d written before – went on to become one of my most widely known bits of my ever-growing carbon footprint of internet trash. looking at the gchats from when i was finalising the piece, i can see his constant support, his enthusiasm for any stupid ideas i came up with, as well as his instincts of what would work or what he was willing to try. i also now see that the time delay between me suggesting the final title to dj and him having reserved the URL *and* designed the contents page was a mere 18 minutes. the guy was born to do it.
DJ answered a few questions I had about PBP:
The first ebook you published on Pangur Ban Party was your own. Did the site initially start as a way for you to get your own work out there?
Haha no way, I never really had a plan at all! Back when Blogspot was a thing, Adam Coates and I somehow got the idea to try and design some ebooks with it. We knew a little HTML between the two of us, and eventually made what would become the first two PBP ebooks. We posted them and people left comments about wanting ebooks of their own, so PBP was born! I never imagined that it would lead me to the community of friends I eventually found.
How did you find the projects you published? Did they all come from submissions or did you solicit as well? Do you know if (m)any of them were written specifically for PBP?
PBP was open to submissions for about the first year of its existence, but then I had to close them once it started gaining traction and there were just too many submissions. After that I would solicit writers I liked, or friends would approach me about writing something for PBP. I think most of what is on PBP was written specifically for it, but I’m not totally sure.
When I wanted to make Very Beautiful Women, I literally just wrote an email to all the female writers I knew and asked them to invite any female writers they thought might be interested. I was amazed at the feedback I got back from just that simple email. I didn’t reject anything and I didn’t edit one word. I’m really proud to have Very Beautiful Women on PBP, and I love that it came about 100% from the enthusiasm of the writers.
What was the process of publishing an ebook on PBP like?
Umm, I think that depends on who you ask. I ran PBP very sporadically, which was probably frustrating for some people (oops). But usually the design came from me asking if the writer had any thoughts on themes, colors or images. Sometimes the writer had a lot, sometimes none. Then I’d take a random stab at the design and we’d work on it together from there.
Aside from the design, was there much of an editorial process? I feel like you probably had quite a light hand.
The editorial process (like pretty much everything about PBP) was different each time. Mostly there was very little editing and I would simply offer a few suggestions, but there were a few occasions where we would work together on a series for a while. 99% of what I did when running PBP was read submissions and make Blogspot designs.
What did you enjoy most about running the site?
The most enjoyable part about PBP was, by far, the social part. I can’t avoid this cliche answer. The people I met and the friends I made and the fun we had was the best best best. I also got to be part of a community that I felt a lot of passion for. I feel lucky to have experienced something like that. I think it’s rare.
Why did PBP stop publishing in the end?
Yikes, that’s a good question. When I look back now, it feels like it happened very slowly. While I truly loved every second of doing both Metazen and PBP, I think that I got burned out doing them simultaneously for something like two years. I also just didn’t really know where to go with PBP anymore. I loved it and I loved what was being posted, but I could see the thing losing steam. Can I use another cliche and say that it just felt like time?
Since Pangur Ban Party, you seem to have shifted your focus away from writing and publishing. What are you doing with yourself these days?
Oh jeez, I think I’ve just become more of a bro or something? I got really into playing frisbee. I moved away from central Pennsylvania to Denver, which I love very much. It’s true I haven’t written anything in long time, but I still read a lot and watch a lot of movies.
I still think about those years and reread things on PBP and feel nostalgic. Of course I still see a lot of my “alt lit” friends on Facebook. That was a special time, but it feels complete to me now in some way.