“A Drive for Beauty”: A Conversation with Daniel Lisi and hollis hart, the Co-Founders of Not a Cult Media




I FIRST MET the founders of Not a Cult, Daniel Lisi and hollis hart, at a NAC-produced poetry event at Art Share L.A. hollis stood beaming behind a table adorned with books and flowers while Daniel ran laps around the room doing soundcheck and other very Daniel things. The lineup consisted of local poets, and there wasn’t a single empty seat in the room. I left wanting to befriend the folks responsible for gathering some of my favorite writers and also one day have one of my books be a part of their catalog. Three years later, Daniel and hollis are not only my publishers but also two beautiful people I admire and love dearly. It is an honor to have interviewed them and now be able to introduce them to you.

Not a Cult is an independent book publisher based in Los Angeles, established in 2016. Their website proudly states “Beautiful Books” and gives you no other information. A quick scroll down the page shows you that they do in fact make gorgeous books. The idea of NAC began after losing a mutual friend, Tina St. Claire, to cancer and wanting to immortalize her work. hollis said to Daniel, “What do you think it would cost to make a book like this? Wouldn’t it be cool to work with artists and make it accessible to people?” At the time, hollis didn’t know that Daniel had an extensive history not just in publishing and but in all things literary. So the first book TMRWLND was published containing artwork by Dereck Seltzer and the late Tina St. Claire. Learning that NAC has such an intentional origin story feels very true to who they are and the love they give each project.

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YESIKA SALGADO: How would you describe your partnership?

DANIAL LISI: Good question. hollis, how would you describe our partnership?

hollis hart: I’d say we learn a lot from each other. We’ve grown a lot together. Daniel is like my brother.

I want to note that at this moment, while we sit in Daniel’s kitchen, the sunlight dances over both their faces as we all laugh at a joke about Daniel being a Cancer, hollis being an Aries, and that equates to many feelings but a whole lot of tenderness.

hh: I’d say the intersections between our visions are practical and beautiful. Things get edited down well in our discussions.

DL: We were both 24 years old when we started, and now we are rounding out our 20s. The last four years have been a time of wild growth. With this type of startup structure, it becomes a lifestyle, and without the kind of partnership we have, we wouldn’t be able to process the spectrum of elements we handle on a day-to-day basis.

NAC’s first poetry publication was A Study of Hands by Edwin Bodney, and within months, they had gone on to add half a dozen poetry titles to their catalog. All poets had the legendary poetry venue Da Poetry Lounge in common. When I asked about their relationship with the poets (myself included), Daniel replied, “One of the things I always found frustrating was people saying there isn’t a literary scene in L.A. Just because you’re not broadening where you look doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

You have given Los Angeles so much access to publishing, art, events, and generally making books tangible for many folks. What would you say the city has given you in return?

hh: People just keep showing up and it’s really beautiful. 

DL: I am very interested in being able to interact directly with cultural production. What does the city deem relevant? It is a bit of a game with gatekeepers, but we’ve been able to do things in places deeply ingrained in the city. Like doing the Hermosa release with you at the L.A. Central Library was so cool, to be in that space and all the history that it holds was amazing. It feels so good to activate a space like that and get hundreds of people there.

Y’all are “yes” people. Anytime I have approached you with an idea or project, your answer has been “Let’s do it!” and I love that. What have y’all said “yes” to that has taken Not a Cult to places you hadn’t ever imagined?

hh: There are so many moments. Seeing people enjoy the things we’ve made or seeing people work together makes my heart feel like bursting.

DL: There was a moment in New York City where I walked to multiple bookshops that are within a radius of each other near Union Square (McNally Jackson, Strand, Barnes & Noble). Going to each spot and finding the Not a Cult titles was delightful. I don’t want my reply to be purely numbers based.

Numbers don’t lie!

DL: Truly. So we worked into a distribution partnership with SCB Distributors earlier this year, and now we can see a comprehensive list of every single bookstore that adopts our titles. Seeing hundreds of Barnes & Noble stores order our books plus indie bookshops across the country that I love. You can take a step back and say that the whole country is looking at our work, and that has come from being receptive to the visions of the authors we work with.

hh: Speaking quickly to us being “yes” people, we like working with folks who are going to make a book no matter what. They’re not waiting for someone to validate their work to make it. They are going to make a book, and we want to help make that happen in the best way possible. It’s a great feeling.

Other than the two of you, who else is the Not a Cult team?

DL: Ian DeLucca is our other partner. Ian was instrumental in doing a lot of our design work early on. He developed our social media style guide that we use now, our website, the interior layout for our books.

hh: He has such a clean aesthetic and drive for beauty.

DL: A drive for beauty is very accurate. All of our festival and trade show booths have been brain-children of Ian. We also have a very consistent editorial team in place now. People enjoy working on the projects we’ve been able to spin up. Cassidy Trier and Shaun Roberts are our designers. Safia Elhillo has edited several of our books.

hh: Rhiannon and Eden are our day-to-day team.

DL: Rhiannon has been focusing on developing our media content. We feel precious about the events that we do, and Rhiannon handles the documentation. I love now that we have a YouTube channel that has years of shows that we’ve done in all of the beautiful locations we’ve been in.

Man. We have been in some really amazing spaces.

DL: We have all that footage! 

It has been three years since hollis and Daniel began their journey together in publishing. There has been a lot of learning and an incredible amount of success. I have been fortunate to be part of the Not a Cult story. We often laugh at all that we have created without a single college degree among us. I think this is the most important and valuable part of NAC; it is run by dreamers and magicians that create beautiful books and events that change people’s lives. They are protective of their authors and, most importantly, themselves and their vision. It excites me to know that we are only witnessing the beginning of what this independent publishing house is building. Our city is infinitely more vibrant because of it, and an entire generation of writers now aspire to have their titles join this prestigious catalog. I cannot wait to read them all.

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Yesika Salgado is a Los Angeles–based Salvadoran poet who writes about her family, her culture, her city, and her fat brown body.

 

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