Growing up in a family of musicians, Marlon Paine was an artist before he even knew it. Some of his earliest childhood memories are learning how to play the guitar and listening to his father’s friends play music together during the holidays. “I was in my first band at twelve, and a band is a necessarily communal project,” said Marlon.
He went on to study fine art and creative writing in college. Surrounded by artists both at home and in school, Marlon was naturally drawn to art. “I think I found my co-founders because of this,” Marlon shared. “There’s a certain way artists relate to each other since it’s challenging to make art and choose a creative path in the world, especially the further one moves away from the commercial implications of their art.”
Marlon started working with his partners at their nonprofit 9VT\5 early in the summer of 2021. 9VT\5 was a platform that Marlon and his co-founders created for artists and creatives to put their ideas into the world. “It can be so isolating as an artist to make something and then have it just sit there, because making something and bringing it to the world are entirely different skills. Many stories, poems, and paintings get lost because no one gives them the time of day.” Marlon continues, “Those are the sorts of things I’m passionate about showcasing, brilliant voices are often hidden beneath the noise.”
One of the earliest projects he worked on was to solicit submissions for Between there and now, too, 9VT\5’s first short story anthology. The poetry anthology started not long after that, in a very nascent form, after they received many amazing poetry submissions that they couldn’t include. They knew they would do a separate anthology for poems afterward, however, it took many months and hundreds of hours of work to publish their initial anthology.
There is another element to 9VT\5. One of 9VT\5’s founders is queer and very active in the LGBTQ+ community, and they wanted to publish previously unpublished voices in order to give greater expression to underrepresented artists and writers. “Like many good things, we felt this came to us naturally, rather than us trying to figure out our next step as a publishing house,” Marlon commented.
This is what 9VT\5 is trying to accomplish now. Showcasing the works of queer poets whose poetry Marlon and his partners at 9VT\5 enjoy, and who they feel others, both in and outside of their community, would enjoy as well. The upcoming poetry anthology will be published in hardcover; in addition, they publish short books by visual artists and writers whose work is mostly unpublished. Marlon said, “It’s always felt like a milestone, to us, for a writer to hold their work in their own hands. It’s such an empowering feeling to have a tangible representation of one’s work. Our writers also receive close to 100% of profits from our publications, for we believe writers should be paid for their work.”
9VT\5 continues to help Marlon and his team as well. Working on these projects makes them better editors, and expands their horizons when it comes to style, subject matter, and everything else that goes into making a body of work unique and worthy of appreciation.
So far, 9VT\5 has directly impacted a dozen artists. “The poetry anthology will include another dozen or so writers: we don’t have a specific number of poets we are seeking to include; rather, we are going to include all the poems which we think are relevant to have in the anthology, irrespective of the number of poets. But as for the broader impact: we’ve sold so many copies of our various publications, it’s impossible to know!” Marlon shared, enthusiastically.
As a pandemic-born nonprofit, 9VT\5 faced challenges. “One of the most difficult things was to get enough stories or poems. We are open to all submissions, but we all have to agree on what we publish. Running a nonprofit and working full-time does not make it any easier. Additionally, we all work full-time jobs that allow us to operate 9VT\5 without needing salaries, etc., but that also means we are not always able to work on it as much as we would like to,” shared Marlon.
There is not always a ton of support for writers, especially the unknown ones. Perhaps there are many people who want to be writers, and it’s simply difficult to provide enough support for so many people; it’s a difficult choice for anyone to decide to make art in their life — this is probably true for any kind of art. Marlon said, “It’s not an easy road and it can come with a lot of frustration and challenges. I don’t think I’m saying anything new here, but there it is.”
Despite the challenges and hardships, Marlon did experience a moment of joy – receiving a grant from The Pollination Project. “It’s an interesting story. My mom received a grant from The Pollination Project for a Monarch Butterfly sanctuary that she planted in California and she encouraged me to apply for one for 9VT\5.” Since they give all of their profits away, it doesn’t leave them much to pursue future projects. Marlon’s team already pays for their operational fees and printings out of pocket, which limits how quickly they can do things. “This grant will allow us to move forward much more quickly — many, many months — than we would otherwise have been able to. This funding will be used to offset the printing cost of our anthology.”
This is just the beginning for 9VT\5, which will continue to support writers, artists, and more broadly, creative communities as a whole for years to come. When asked if there was any advice Marlon would like to share with people, Marlon said, “Just do it! And get someone to proofread your application.”
For more information about 9VT\5 visit their website https://9vtbackslash5.com/