Oct 202010
Authors: Alexandra Sieh

In a self-described “quarter-life crisis,” Todd Simmons arrived in Fort Collins in 2002 from Idaho looking for an escape.
A “good place to think,” positioned between the plains and mountains, Fort Collins was where he made a new start.
After a few months, he found himself connected with a group of writers and activists, looking for a creative outlet he said wasn’t well established yet.

So by March of 2003, off the printers flew “Matter Zine,” a free tabloid publication filled with stories and poems about local issues, “a radical leaning compendium,” as Simmons described it.

“It was something not as strained, but instead was overflowing with passion,” he said.

And so it continued, a publication that would only last until September.

The “last one standing,” as his partners left to pursue other things, Simmons changed his course. He decided by that winter to create a book that would have the same message but in a for-profit format.

So the Matter Journal was born, a part of Wolverine Farm Publishing, of Simmons’ own creation and first endeavor.

Simmons’ work was released at New Belgium to an overwhelming response, with more than 250 people flooding the event.

From the start, New Belgium provided Simmons with support. Through a grant from the local brewery, he and his volunteers transitioned into the world of nonprofits, allowing their ideas to grow as organically as they had begun.

By Oct. 7, 2005, Matter Bookstore opened on College Avenue between The Vault and Backcountry Provisions, just south of Laporte Avenue, as a facet of Wolverine Farm Publishing.

Filled with thousands of donated books, the town received the store as it had the journal, giving their time, support and enthusiastic appreciation to the organization.

“You get to meet a real slice of Fort Collins here,” said Anny Reed, a Matter Bookstore volunteer. “This is a community.”

A 501©3 organization by 2006, a status delayed by the influx of nonprofit applications during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the store has grown slowly but consistently since its inception–– progress Simmons said is surprising but appreciated.

“It’s been a really unexpected trajectory,” he said. “The way we do things is counterintuitive and probably highly idealistic, almost romantic.”

But like most great creative endeavors, it’s that romanticized story from humble beginnings that has made Wolverine Farm Publishing what it is today.

And its stability in a recently unreliable economic climate is a testament to the support the company has, Simmons said.
“We’ve managed to keep in business what probably shouldn’t have been able to be kept in business,” he said with a small laugh.

Not a man or organization to stay stagnant, the company has more ideas for the future, keeping its roots in the journal while expanding its endeavors with literary journalism and activism support.

A start for writers, activists alike

A graduate student from CSU, Charlie Malone sent his work to Matter Journal as a start to his career as a published writer.
Now a contributing editor and poetry editor for the Journal, Malone said he’s learned a lot about publishing in an environment that’s forgiving but honest, always geared toward his education.

“It’s been great to take something you’ve made and put it in the hands of someone who likes it,” he said, explaining how the creating-something-out-of-nothing part of the journal makes the experience worth it.

Describing Matter’s style as a luddite, something resistant to commercialism and favoring hand-made over mass-produced, Malone said it’s the mismatched, authentic feel that gives Matter its character.

“It’s got a lot of charm that people really respond to,” he said.

And that eclectic nature defines much more than just the interior decoration.

The shelves at Matter hold a book for every taste, not wanting to limit anyone, Simmons said.

With classical literature, memoirs, horror and mystery, the predominant theme throughout is environmentalism, harkening back to Simmons’ own background.

A graduate with a Bachelor of Science in environmental sciences from the University of Kansas in 1999, Simmons has always been guided by environmental ethics.

From agriculture to food awareness and outdoor activities, local interests like farming and cycling hold a number of shelves. But there’s no set rule and no guarantee on titles or works.

Ordering what “they’re in the mood to,” order as Beth Kopp, the bookstore and website manager said, the store offers the opportunity for people to stumble upon a new read or discovery, one of Reed’s favorite parts about the store.

Roots in volunteerism

With nonprofit standing, Matter isn’t owned but managed. And with such limited resources, the foundation of the store is its staff of volunteers.

These are the people who “make (Matter) what it is,” Kopp said.

Like Reed, these volunteers are those attracted to the nonprofit feel, book lovers and writers who take time to work at the bookstore, working with customers and keeping the shelves organized.

“This isn’t another Borders or Barnes and Nobles,” said Robert Stefanek, a volunteer since spring.

A customer before his involvement, Stefanek said he liked supporting a local nonprofit, a place that not only serves its customers but also the groups they work with in their outreach programs, like their creative writing workshop at the Remington House.

“None of our efforts would be possible at this point without our amazing and awesome volunteers,” Simmons said in an e-mail interview. “They are a righteous group of people.”

Another news source

As Simmons explained, writers don’t just need the skills to produce a piece of writing. They need something to write about.
“I always tell people, ‘Do something you enjoy and then write about it,’” he said, “rather than perhaps learning how to write really well and then have nothing to say.”

For Simmons, he said writing has been a savior of sorts, something that allows him to tie up loose ends or work through a period of hardships.

“It’s cathartic,” he said, and it’s that passion for writing that helped him see the value in people telling their stories.
“Through literature, we’ve come into contact with a community of people who can agree about what is beautiful, and what is not,” he said in an e-mail interview.

So the Matter Daily arose in the organization as Matter’s form of literary journalism.

Sometimes printed but always updated online, Simmons and his staff have embraced journalistic storytelling, focusing on environmental themes and cooperatives as important stories that aren’t always recognized.

“We provide a sensible outlet for stories that matter,” he said. “We take a sensible approach to real issues, to things that don’t get enough coverage.”

For Malone, Matter Daily lets him “play journalist,” learning about things that he wouldn’t have otherwise learned about––anything he doesn’t know.

His work, as he said, helps tell stories and empower people.

“We’re really proud of our community,” Simmons said, “We can help by doing good reporting. We write about a place we all share.”

Design Editor and Copy Chief Alexandra Sieh can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

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