Like Kerouac and the Beats before him, Books & Shovels founder Jeremiah Walton finds himself on the road to spread an avant-garde, counter-cultural message. But are the masses ready for this indie wunderkind, and much more importantly, will he have enough money for gas?
Jeremiah Walton, the 19-year-old busker, is taking his countercultural poetry all over the United States. (Photograph courtesy of "Capt'n" Lynn Thornton.)
Jeremiah Walton, 19, grew up in Manchester, N.H. Today, he lists his residence as a 1995 Volvo station wagon.
He spent his high school years smoking marijuana in the woods and embarking upon drunken marches that left his legs “busted up” many a morning.
“We’d choose a random city or town, go there, get intoxicated and wander around aimlessly,” he said. For whatever reason, he said he always found himself gravitating towards the nearest train tracks.
His poem “21st Century Campfire” -- a work, lyrically, residing somewhere between Henry David Thoreau and Tom Petty -- seems to be an ode to his favorite after school activities.
“Beers fatten the ground, the earth seems to be gaining weight, we’re struggling to roll another joint,” Walton writes. “Not starving artist, just aimless, not lost, just trained enjoyment.”
Throughout his senior year, he was threatened with expulsion if he was tardy for a single class. “I was a little angry middle finger,” he said, “with too much energy to dispel.”
Earlier in his high school days, he founded a mini-imprint called Nostrovia! Poetry. “I wanted to connect with other writers and artists, and publishing seemed viable,” he said.
The catalyst for Nostrovia!, he said, was a "self-centered desire" to promote himself and show his peers that poetry was not "a boring, slobbering beast we want locked in our basements, fed on Valentines and parental holidays only."
Walton's "bookstore" consisted of materials he sold out of a frame pack. Traveling to open mics, poetry slams and sometimes just a random street corner, he would perform and peddle his materials to passersby.
At a joint Ramshackle Glory and the Taxpayers show in Worcester, Mass., Walton encountered several “traveling kids.” Their experiences captivated him.
With college out of the “financial equation,” Walton made a choice after high school.
“I decided hitchhiking would make for an interesting journey,” he said.
The Road Does Not Give A...
"Capt'n" Lynn Thornton, 22, picked up Walton in Brattleboro, Vt. She said she shared his “passion for passion,” and before long, the two were “traveling together and cooperating to survive.”
She described Walton as a half-hazard and brilliant publisher and as an artist, “a natural born madman.”
Recently, Walton launched his latest and greatest attempt to shake the stuffy, mundane indie publishing world to its knees -- a nonprofit, traveling bookstore and publishing press he calls Books & Shovels.
"We set up shop on street corners by opening up the station wagon's trunk, heaving out a trunk full of books, and setting up some collapsible shelves around the vehicle," Walton explained. "We'll be performing, hosting rogue open mics and discussing with others their passions, their dreams."
Not unlike the Dr. Gonzo to Walton's Raoul Duke, Thornton said she's primarily involved with the project for its adventurous elements.
"I was already on the road when this all entered my life," she said. "This gives me the opportunity to still travel and continue my own self-discovery journey while also being a part of something bigger than myself."
On the official Books & Shovels blog, Walton lists his "tour dates." Debuting the project at the 2014 NYC Poetry Festival -- or at least, having made plans to debut there -- he wants to cut a swath through upstate New York, the remnants of the rust belt and Illinois before heading into the great Southern beyond.
"Our plans are far from concrete considering the road's habit of brutalizing concrete plans," he said.
Or as the disclaimer on his website puts it: "the road does not give a shit about our plans."
Proudly Supported by Revolutionaries Like You
Despite his ferociously independent approach to publishing, Walton is aware that he'll need outside contributions to spread his DIY gospel.
"I prefer funding things out of my pocket, but my pocket seems to have holes that I've been working recently to patch," he said.
Far and away Walton's biggest financial concern is the aforementioned station wagon. Just days before he was to depart for New York, the proverbial dagger of Damocles plunged itself deep into that poor little Volvo's motor.
Catastrophe was narrowly avoided, but the icy, bone-white hand of Fate is always lurking in the shadows, preying upon loose fan belts and weather-beaten engine mounts.
"I sunk almost every dollar I have into this project, and realized for it to succeed, I'd need to reach out to the community," he said.
To insure the success of Books & Shovels, Facebook and Twitter clearly weren't going to cut it. That's when Walton turned towards the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, which thus far, has deposited well over $1,000 into his war chest.
For $10, donors are rewarded with a personally edited poem from Nostrovia! and Nostrovia's partner-in-crime UndergroundBooks. A $15 investment gets donors a personalized, hand-mailed love poem and for $50, you'll get actual ink and paper versions of Walton's "Witch-hunting Gatsby's Children," Ezra Letra's "When La Migra Stopped Coming" and "The Smell of St. Joan's Flesh Burning" by Dreamer.
A Rebel with a Cause
Walton said he's the kind of guy who enjoys feeling uneasy and having his "personal safeties prodded and poked 'til I'm in a corner."
He loves being provoked, preferring poetry that puts him on edge. "The word should cut the poet and reader open," he said, "showing that they're both just full of guts."
He's taken the indie route because it allots him more liberties with what's published. "It's no one's fault but mine if things go wrong," Walton said. "I try to live up to every promise I make, though lately I've been getting into the habit of biting off more than I can chew."
The intent of Books & Shovels, Thornton said, wasn't to make money, but to inspire others.
"Success will be measured through the people who find encouragement to chase their dreams and passions with a willingness to make sacrifices to push themselves through Books & Shovels," she said. "This is the impact we will make. This is the ideal reaction we are after."
Using his mobile bookstore as a rather literal vessel for change, Walton said he wants to push "passionate living over making a living" into the public's peripherals.
"Books & Shovels is going to last until I'm dead in a gutter, unable to travel any longer, or settle down, even if temporary," he said. "We encourage others to make sacrifices to live up to their passions and chase their dreams."
A decade from now, he sees that tiny publishing house he built back in high school still in operation, although he's not quite sure what it will resemble. "The press has been evolving since it was founded," he philosophizes, "and it doesn't remain constant."
Uncommon Journalism, 2014.