A Letter About Catapult

October 2016

It’s been a year since Catapult launched. A year of profound expansion and additions, new compartments and departments, but one thing has remained the same: the vision. No matter what shape our ship takes, as long as we remain upright, our compass will be pointed to the same small but searing light.

I would like to share that vision with you—not just what we do, but why we’re doing it.

It began as a simple wish: to celebrate extraordinary storytelling. What this required, to our mind, was extraordinary collaborations in unconventional realms.

We envisioned not just a publishing house, but also a publishing place. Where, on the one hand, we stimulate you (the reader) with writing from the field—stunning stories that expose and reveal every stage of evolution, from hope to pain to struggle to submission. Where, on the other, we motivate you (the writer) to share your own necrosis and rebirth (if happy endings are your bag). To that end, we created a storytelling zone with relatively few zoning laws, where the stories we publish in our daily magazine inspire stories you post in our Community section. Where Catapult Community members become Catapult class takers who become Catapult magazine contributors who, when it’s time to shop their manuscripts, maybe circle back to us. Picture spinning flywheels of exquisite corpses whipping down virtual hallways of pragmatic craft notes curated by authors you adore. Picture those same authors extending literary life support as you splash around the white space of your own book, grasping for the most buoyant verbal expression of the imagistic sensations pressuring you to make them known.

Got it?

Too much too quick?

Okay, let’s back up. Way up—to about 190,000 years ago.

That’s when, according to most anthropologists, the first recognizable humans appeared—mammals with expanded cerebral cortexes and dropped larynxes. They may have looked like us, but they did not yet behave the way we do. They did not decorate their dwellings or ornament their bodies or cook their food to more nutritious (and less lethal) effect. In fact, nature would continue to blow early Cro-Magnons from treetops to be trampled by mammoth chickens for another 110,000 years. Why did it take so long to come up with such advanced technologies as sharpened rocks and small hooks to pretty up earlobes? More, why did these good innovations suddenly vanish again, clean forgotten for another 50,000 years, only to reemerge in an entirely different location?

It seems that advanced evolutionary leaps are the result of not only neural density and connectivity, but (equally important) population density and connectivity. For breakthroughs to stick, enough people had to collect in small-enough arenas for innovations to be shared, integrated into everyday life, and migrated to other tribes.

In short, humans did not become the revolutionary beings we now consider ourselves to be until we began to share what we know. Swap stories. Consistently. Stories that mattered.

It’s our humble point of view that every creative act, every scientific development, every technological disruption is the result of some brand of storytelling collaboration. We say with equal humility that everything in existence, past present and future, is in constant storytelling interaction with everything that came before. We are in constant visible and invisible narrative contact with every dream we’ve ever had, every joke we’ve ever heard, every epic holiday roast we were sober enough to absorb, not to mention every bit of knowledge we’ve ever digested. We celebrate that. We celebrate not only the authors—the Woolfs (Virginia) Wolfs (Naomi) Wolfes (Thomas) and Wolffs (Tobias and Geoffrey) but also the innovators—the da Vincis and Teslas and Beethovens and Cricks. We even celebrate the Genghis Khans, the Elizabeth Bathories, the Mary Ann Cottons—not the violence of their actions, but the heroic reactions such horrors provoked, which inspired further correction and revision, investigation and illumination, which led to right here now today. Because one thing is certain: Evolution does not truck with perfection. It trucks with challenge. With plagues and slop buckets and chrysalis mush. It’s a mutation service for the courageous few willing to leap, rib-exposed, into the Unknown.

What that means, concretely?

We publish stories that celebrate life. In its continuously evolving, spontaneously rearranging development of possibilities. Stories that reveal all the layers—the sinews and hairy knuckles, the iron and meat of history and influence. Stories that begin with a profound act of observation and tumble out from there. We believe it’s in the sharing that primary colors become kaleidoscopic, that flat circles bloom into spirals, that the self-obscuring liminal haze dissolves, and we see. And, perhaps for the first time, are seen.  

Most of all, we publish stories that land us squarely, concretely, in someone else’s shoes. The very best stories carry us, witlessly, helplessly, on a wave of empathic suspense into territory that might seem exotic, or demented, relative to our personal point of view, but return us refreshed, bewildered, and changed. Not by means of factual knowledge, but by interior sensation. We experience what it might be like to be someone else, and now we care. That, to us, is the ultimate collaboration.

Now we’re nearly there.

We are resolutely non-boundary people. We embrace old media and new. We publish angels and deviants, hermits and mad hatters, narcissists and mousy types—anyone brave enough to take an unflinching look within. Beyond books we provide classes, teachers, mentors, confidantes, divine inspiration, and quite possibly self-actualization (why not). We’re angling for the big narrative reveal and don’t favor any particular form: Just make it real, make it dangerous, and make it YOU.

We don’t celebrate stories because they’re easy. We celebrate stories because that’s the best way we know to celebrate life.

Elizabeth Koch, Co-founder and CEO, Catapult