Brandon Stosuy

On the Problem with Press Cycles, Making Things That Last, Learning to Make Your Own Decisions About Art, and His Anthology ‘Sad Happens’

Cover of Brandon Stosuy: On the Problem with Press Cycles, Making Things That Last, Learning to Make Your Own Decisions About Art, and His Anthology ‘Sad Happens’

I came to know of Brandon Stosuy’s work via The Creative Independent. For years, it has been one of my favorite creative resources. Almost every day, they publish a new interview with an artist that focuses on artistic process. Making art that requires time and consistency can often be an isolating experience, but TCI regularly reveals that the struggles we face as artists (finding time to write with a day job, creative blocks, the disconnect between art and money, etc.) are ones shared by most artists. In a lot of ways, reading other artists (especially artists that seem to have made it) openly discussing their failures and frustrations alongside their success TCI has kept me motivated to keep working on my own writing. Their stories remind me I’m not special. My struggles are not unique. There is a way through, and that way is the process.

In general, the work that Brandon does has a way of bringing people together. When I first found out that he was putting together a book about crying, I immediately added it to my list of books to read. The idea that there could be an entire book about crying—something I considered to be a private matter, an embarrassing bodily function, something to keep to yourself—felt thrilling. I couldn’t wait to see how artists responded to an act I’ve spent a lot of my life trying not to do (or not get caught doing). Sad Happens (Simon & Schuster, 2023), edited by Brandon Stosuy and illustrated by Rose Lazar, is an anthology of essays, poems, and other hybrid written works from over 100 contributors. The central theme of the work is crying. Big name contributors include Hanif Abdurraqib, Phoebe Bridgers, and Jia Tolentino. It also includes work by a zookeeper, a bartender, a crematorium employee, and Stosuy’s school-aged sons. The criers of Sad Happens shed their tears at all-you-can-eat buffets, as infants coming into the world, in court, and while reading an email that elementary school will no longer happen in person.

The book began on Twitter as a simple collection of observations Brandon made of people crying in public. Over the years, it became a collaborative book project that would unite people through tears.

I spoke with Brandon on Zoom about creating community through art, press cycles, and making things last.


Shelby Hinte: In an email, I mentioned to you that I shared your list poem from Sad Happens with the students in my “Mining for Gold” class, which is all about going out in the world and collecting material for writing, and they were really stoked on it.  A lot of them wrote work directly inspired by yours.

Brandon Stosuy: I think that kind of writing is fun because you can just observe people. I think when you start writing down things you see, especially if you start collecting a lot of things over time, you realize there’s some magic to it, even if it seems mundane at the time. Keeping track of little observations can be really fruitful.

SH: As I understand it, Sad Happens began on Twitter with you tweeting about times when you saw people crying in public. Now, it is this official anthology. What was that experience of having it go from a curation of people crying on your Twitter feed to becoming an anthology full of artists sharing about crying?

BS: Rose Lazar and I have known each other since we lived in Buffalo many years ago, and she worked in this record store and I put on shows. She’s an artist and we’d been saying that we needed to collaborate on something someday. When I was doing those tweets, I would notice people crying while jogging, or, while I was jogging, I’d jog pass someone crying. I just started cataloging them. And then one day, someone direct messaged me and was like, “You should turn these into a poetry chapbook or something. I was like, “Oh, a book.” That stuck in my head, so I wrote Rose and suggested we should collaborate on a few tweets, and she could make some illustrations and it could be a little book. I happened to mention it to my friend Matt Berninger, and he was like, “Oh, that’s a cool idea. Could I contribute something?” So he wrote something. At the time I was telling him that I was listening to Phoebe Bridgers. Matt reached out to Phoebe and she wrote something. Suddenly it was a bunch of tweets, the thing Matt wrote, and the thing Phoebe wrote. It didn’t really make sense yet because it was just two essays and a bunch of tweets. Rose very wisely suggested we make sure it wasn’t all musicians. So we just started asking people, slowly adding and adding and adding. The whole time my agent, Chad Luibl, was showing it to people. At the same time, I’d been doing these books on creativity that had come out on Abrams, and we kept saying, “We also have this book about crying.” But it was just not fully formed yet.

I think initially we just called it The Crying Book, but then, because it took so long to sell the book, we basically kept adding more to it. By the time we brought it to Simon and Schuster we had about 65 people in it. When we were talking with them it came up that it was cool that there were all these writers and artists and filmmakers in the book, but what about adding people who don’t think of themselves in positions of  having jobs that are creative necessarily, but who have their own crying stories? I figured the book started on Twitter, so maybe go back to Twitter. I tweeted something like, “Hey, if you have a job that puts you in contact with crying, hit me up.” That was really when the book came together. A Zookeeper wrote, and her piece is so sad and amazing. All sorts of people wrote it — a person that works in a crematorium, a therapist, schoolteachers. It became this much bigger collection. At that point we realized it was a proper anthology. Rose ended up doing a drawing for every contributor. It took so long to publish this book, but if we had published it four years ago when we first started thinking about it, it would’ve been so much smaller and less interesting.

SH: I’m glad you bring up the issue of time. Your publication The Creative Independent has the snail that is sort of its mascot. I think about that a lot. I think “channel, the snail.” Why do you feel drawn to the idea of slowing down?

BS: Before I started The Creative Independent, I used to work at Pitchfork. I’d been there for about twelve years and my job slowly grew while I was there. Initially, I was a writer, then I became an editor, then a managing editor, and then I was overseeing all editorial and putting on events and stuff. It always felt like there was so much to do. At the time, we had five reviews a day. Then the news was a whole different thing. There was a time where we didn’t actually have a nighttime editor, so I’d be out doing something and hear that someone had died or some crazy  thing happened and we needed to get it written up for the site. When I left Pitchfork, which was when Pitchfork got sold to Conde Nast, I didn’t really want to go into Manhattan or work in a skyscraper. That’s when I started The Creative Independent. I happened to run into my friend Yancey, who’s one of the guys that started Kickstarter, and he asked me what I’d been up to, and I said, “I think I’m going to leave Pitchfork.” He said we should figure out a way to work together in some way. I suggested we started a website. And the way that TCI can exist is because Kickstarter basically pays operating revenue every year. That’s why there’s no advertisements on the site. When I was starting TCI, I wanted it to be one thing a day instead of a zillion things a day. Instead of reviewing people’s work, we just talk to people about their work. We’re not making value judgements, we’re just asking “How do you do your thing?” It’s non-hierarchical. Everyone gets the same kind of feature. When I was at Pitchfork, if you interviewed a bigger artist, they would get this huge bespoke kind of thing, and maybe a smaller person wouldn’t. I was like, “What if everyone’s exactly the same?” That’s why the homepage is just those squares. The very first interview we ever had was with Eileen Myles.

It’s funny, when we first launched the site, we had an event where I was in conversation with Ian Mackaye. He’d been a hero of mine since I was a teenager, so he came up to New York and we did this conversation, and he was like “One thing a day, that’s so much.” In some ways, five things a week on the internet isn’t a lot though.  If it was print it would seem like a lot, but not online.

That’s when I realized that even what I’m seeing as being slow is fast for someone else. My whole thinking was just, slow things down. That’s why there’s the snail, and the spiral is taken from a snail shell, and the idea that people circle back over the same issues in their creative process, over and over again. 

SH: In one of our early email exchanges, when I first pitched you at TCI, you shared the TCI supporting documents with me and there’s this line in there that I think about all the time when I’m reading other interviews or when I’m interviewing someone. It says, “Avoid talking too much about a subject’s latest work or other topics that feel driven by current PR cycles.” This is something that makes The Creative Independent very different from other publications. Could you talk a little bit about the importance of that tenant for you?

BS: The hope when I started The Creative Independent is that it would be a resource—something that someone could come back to in 10 years and think, wow, this is still relevant. When I worked at Pitchfork, it was always about what’s happening now? I thought it would be cool if these interviews were evergreen and people could just come back to them anytime and still find value in them. That’s what’s behind the idea to not make it about the press cycle. It’s funny because publicists will always still try to say, “Hey, can this thing run on this day because this thing’s coming out?” We don’t really do that. We don’t really pay attention to press cycles. I move the schedule around so much all the time because if someone files something that suddenly makes more sense, I’ll move that thing in.

SH: It’s strange thinking about literature or music as being only relevant during a PR cycle, as though the art itself dies if people don’t talk about it the moment it’s released. How do you imagine artists or creators or editors can get people to keep engaging with art beyond the week that it comes out?

BS: I think that’s just how the industry has functioned for so long. Music is especially bad. It almost feels like publicists want everything to happen in the same week so that it creates this kind of moment where everyone’s like “Oh my God, this thing is getting so much hype. It must be super important.” But then, the week is over, and people forget it. One thing I’ve said to publicists is that it’s probably better if this thing runs four months later. If you stretch it out over time, people are reminded of something, they have another reason to engage with it. It’s hard to find a way to make things last or to make things feel timeless because there is always something new and people’s attention spans are short. There is so much information coming at us online. I think people get overwhelmed.

I’m not saying people need to go offline. I’m not a Luddite out. I run a website, but there’s something just so fast about the way things happen.

I think it’s part of why I love running. It removes me from the internet for a bit. I listen to music. I can just think about the music for a while and have experiences with that. I can focus on one thing so it is not so fractured. I think it goes back to slowing things down. Slowing things down is a way to spend more time with stuff.

I saw someone tweet yesterday how wonderful it is to discover music when you’re in a record store. I used to work in a record store in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and I remember people would come in and ask what we were playing. I’d be like “Oh, this is Fugazi,” or something like that, and they’d ask to check it out. I remember other people who would enjoy music privately and then come in and ask something like “Do you have any Fee-gey-zee records?” They wouldn’t know how to pronounce it because they just experienced it on their own and you would never want to make them feel bad. So you’d just quietly say “The Fugazi records are over there.” They would enjoy the music on their own and then they would leave their houses and come into a record store and suddenly this thing they’d been experiencing privately is something other people might know about too.

There’s something that happens when you’re on your own and just kind of absorbing it that I think makes it last longer because you’re not just spitting it back out as content or something. A lot of times when people post stuff online, I think “Do you really think that? Or is this just a content moment where you can get some likes or retweets?” It just feels a little disingenuous. Everyone feels they have to say something about everything. I think it’s okay to be silent too.

SH:I love the analogy you used of someone coming into a record store and discovering music in that way. What do you think is your favorite part about discovering an artist—whether it’s an album, a movie, or a book—beyond its PR cycle.

BS: I think it’s that you just get to make up your own opinion on it. That’s a hard thing with the internet. It’s hard to put the blinders on and just absorb art without knowing what everyone else has said about it. So you come to it without some preconception. I think being able to find something and having no idea what it’s even about allows it to resonate with you. That feels magical to me. I grew up in this working-class household where nobody was an artist. I was stumbling along and finding stuff on my own. I think it’s nice not being an expert.

 SH: I know you’ve had a long career working in magazines, publishing, and being a writer. Almost every day it seems a magazine is folding or some press is being consolidated with another press. In this current landscape, what do you think is the importance of running an independent space for artists? 

BS: We did a book event for Sad Happens at this place called Honeymoon, which is an independent bookstore and coffee shop, and I think having those independent spaces is valuable because it provides a space for the community to gather in. It was free and we were giving tattoos. We wouldn’t have been able to do something like that at a Barnes & Noble.

I think the tricky thing with all these publications shutting down is how much advertising plays into them. At a certain point, when I was still at Pitchfork, people didn’t just want banner ads anymore. They wanted experiences. So there would be a three-day show and it would be sponsored by some sneaker company or something.

There’s that Samuel Delaney book Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. In it he talks about how there’s networking versus contact. Networking is when you go to a conference with everyone that’s within your same world. Contact, for him, is when you go across different socioeconomic lines. You go across different ethnic lines. You’re meeting people from all different kinds of cultures and groups. He says contact is where he made his lifelong friendships. Networking is where it’s something for a job. And then once that job is over, you move on. The whole book is basically about how in Times Square they closed all the gay bath houses and other public spaces. Once gentrification happened and all those places shut down, it kind of took away this space where so many people were stepping outside of their comfort zones.

Everyone says the internet is full of endless possibilities, but the algorithm is guiding your tour through that stuff. So if you view one thing, you get ads for the thing that you’re viewing.

If you can curate smaller spaces that are guided by a vision or a community or friendship or care versus being guided by revenue or ad dollars, you’re going to make connection. When it comes to art and community, you have to do it because it feels valuable in a way that isn’t just monetary. It’s about helping a community versus suffocating a community or extracting as much wealth as you can from it and instead of trying to support it and make it stronger.




Brandon Stosuy is the cofounder and editor in chief of The Creative Independent. He previously worked as director of Editorial Operations at the online music publication, Pitchfork. Brandon curates the annual Basilica SoundScape festival in Hudson, New York, and has been a music curator at MoMA PS1 in New York City and the Broad museum in Los Angeles. For more than a decade, he and the visual artist, Matthew Barney, have collaborated on a series of live art and music events. Brandon is the author of three books on creativity, Make Time for Creativity, Stay Inspired, How to Fail Successfully (all published by Abrams) and two children’s books, Music Is… and We Are Music (both published by Simon & Schuster). He recently published the anthology, Sad Happens: A Celebration Of Tears, also on Simon & Schuster. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two sons.

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