Today we’d like to introduce you to Teena Apeles and Andrea Richards.
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Teena and Andrea. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
TEENA: Our collaboration and friendship actually started just over two decades ago, when Andrea and I met at CalArts. After we graduated, we cowrote a piece for BUST magazine about a trip we took to Vegas and had so much fun working together, we followed that with the launch of our first publishing venture, The Deck of Chance, a limited-edition card deck featuring original artwork and very short stories by more than 30 local and international artists and writers, many of whom are prominent in their fields today.
In the decade plus that followed, our careers led us to authoring, contributing, and editing books separately. Andrea has authored three (with two in the works!), while I have primarily been editing books. During that time, we also traveled to New York City to clean out my great aunt’s apartment after she passed away. There we discovered a treasure trove of more than 300 Kodachrome slides from the ’50s and ’60s of her and random people in New York and beyond. I thought how amazing it would be to bring people together again for another anthology exploring these images.
It would take some time for me to formally launch a collective, but then looking at all the artistic and talented friends I was surrounded with, plus, in all honestly, not being able to find full-time work at the end of 2015, I started seriously thinking about forming a collective to publish independent projects. My friend Jeannie Choi came up with Narrated Objects as the name, and that did it.
Next was rounding up the core team, Andrea, being the most vital as my creative partner for life, and then our friends, writer and editor Jessica Hoffmann as a contributor, designer and artist Miriam Blier as an art director, and my sister, Linda, a publicity executive, as an advisor. And since then, we’ve pulled in various friends and former colleagues into the mix, partnered with various organizations (that’s how we met our We Heart P-22 book designer, Lucy Gonzalez, through Friends of Griffith Park), and circulated calls for submissions for our books.
ANDREA: At this point, we’ve both worked in publishing for decades and have had the benefit of working with a variety of different presses and publications, so many of them independently owned. These folks are passionate about what they do—you have to be to survive as tough an industry as books right now.
Narrated Objects is a way for us to draw on these wonderful contacts and also to create the books we want to see, telling stories that haven’t been told before or just didn’t have a home. Finding a home is a recurring theme for Narrated Objects—both of our books, We Heart P-22 and Dear Seller are centered on the concept. Both Teena and I are champions of the unsung—we love unlikely heroes, underdogs, and unexpected and complicated histories. Narrated Objects is about sharing stories and, as editors, we figure out what the right container is so that we can pass a story to someone else. Maybe it’s a book, maybe it’s an exhibit, maybe it’s a lunch bag.
One of the benefits of being small and independent is that you can experiment. Through Narrated Objects, we remain inspired by what we do as well as the places, people, and stories around us. Hopefully what we make inspires others too. We both came out of a strong DIY ethic and that’s never gone away. If we could print and bind the books ourselves, we probably would.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
TEENA: Like L.A. roads (and sidewalks), Narrated Objects’ journey continues to be bumpy, with traffic—we release one publication a year—but also some surprisingly smooth roads while driving into the occasional stunning sunsets because indie publishing is challenging, most new businesses are. Couple this with trying to operate a small business in a pricey city and having certain mandates—such as publishing undiscovered talent and stories and printing locally while supporting local initiatives and businesses—that are not necessarily guaranteed moneymakers. Plus, we are still volunteering our time, or significantly discounting our rates, while working our other gigs and raising kids (and pets), so addressing funding and profitability has meant thinking out of the box. We’ve turned to L.A.’s arts and culture community to help us. And they have!
ANDREA: In 2017, we received grants from the Los Angeles Chapter of the Awesome Foundation and a Creative Economic Development Fund grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation that underwrote the printing costs for our current releases, We Heart P-22 and Dear Seller.
Since then, LACE: Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibits, the Natural History Museum, the National Wildlife Foundation, and USC Pacific Asia Museum have embraced us and what we do beyond our books, hosting or hiring us for special educational or arts events, which has now become an integral part of what we do. The Autry Museum of the National West even has an oversized version of our board game from the We Heart P-22 book in their current exhibit Investigating Griffith Park, along with some of our coloring pages.
TEENA: And while we currently forgo the traditional book-distribution model, which is too costly for small presses with limited print runs like ours, other institutions, indie bookstores, and gift shops (some run or owned by our friends) carry our books. Skylight Books, especially, has always been supportive of us. (Thanks, Steve and Charles!)
We also were lucky to meet Ashley Jacobs at LA Original, which promotes local makers, and that led our books to being carried at their various popups throughout the city and both their locations at LAX, giving us a presence where even mainstream publishers may have difficulty accessing.
ANDREA: We have been lucky to have found these supportive champions. One of the parts of publishing that I love is that after you make the book or the work, you have no idea what its reception will be in the world, where it will go or who it will meet. It’s like sending a child out in the world, and like raising a kid—your job is never really over. We work hard to foster the right conditions and connections for our books to thrive.
So, as you know, we’re impressed with Narrated Objects – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
TEENA: Narrated Objects is a creative collective of writers, artists, designers, photographers, and dreamers whose original goal was to simply develop products to benefit causes close to our hearts with this three-fold mission in mind: to provide individuals with an outlet to share their diverse experiences and talents, to enrich people’s lives through unique multimedia stories, and to partner with organizations doing good. For example, We Heart P-22 increases awareness of L.A.’s urban wildlife (and the importance of protecting it) through an educational coloring and activity book, and Dear Seller sheds light on the challenges of finding a home in the city through personal offer letters and stories. A portion of the profits from the books supports local organization Friends of Griffith Park and art organization Piece by Piece respectively.
ANDREA: While we only have two books at this time, they represent the work of more than 80 people from all walks of life, and through our events and projects (including the board game at the Autry), Narrated Objects has touched thousands of lives.
So, what’s next? Any big plans?
TEENA: We currently have some fun projects in the works, including a book based on my great aunt’s Kodachrome slides, a collection of Filipino food stories and recipes, and a series of zines. But we are also expanding our offerings to include producing arts and cultural events, developing lines of merchandise, and packaging books for like-minded organizations and institutions. And very soon we will be adding many of our friends’ publications and artwork to our online store to support their creative ventures.
ANDREA: Our next events are the P-22 Day Festival on October 19 in Griffith Park, where we will doing P-22-inspired collages with attendees, and a Second Sunday collaborative art and writing workshop on December 8 at USC Pacific Asia Museum, inspired by their Out of the Box exhibit.
If you had to start over, what would you have done differently?
TEENA: Ha, I would have waited to register as an LLC until two years later to avoid the pricey LLC CA tax, taken the time to do a proper profit/loss statement for each product, and definitely gotten certified as a woman- and minority-owned business in order to be eligible for additional funding and government contract opportunities. But I rarely think that way, because we can’t start over. I think we are where we are because of all the mistakes, chance connections, and not-so-business-minded steps we took in the past. We publish and distribute our books independently also because we like to work on our own timetables (for now).
ANDREA: I love Teena’s notion that the mistakes are part of the process—they are an important part of how we got where we are today. All of life might be a messy first draft! If anything, I want us to take bigger risks and possibly make bigger mistakes.
We know how to produce books, events, and even exhibits, now let’s see what else we can do. How else can we share stories and build community? We are talking about cooking groups and potlucks in conjunction with the Filipino food stories project, or buying a Risograph so we can print limited-edition zines. Narrated Objects can make our own model of what a publisher looks like in the 21st century.
- We Heart P-22: We Heart P-22: A Coloring + Activity Book Celebrating L.A.’s Famous Mountain Lion (2nd printing): $19.99
- Dear Seller: Real Estate Love Letters from Los Angeles: $38
Studio shot: Vik Singh
LACE shots: Sarah Russin
Autry, Natural History Museum, Fred Segal, USC Pacific Asia Museum: Teena Apeles
LA Original event: Ashley Jacobs
The pink LA sculpture in our group photo is by Charlie Becker