Posts Tagged ‘Paper under the Palms’


James Crumley, 68. Sought Justice Beyond Law.

09/20/2008  by Arlo Haskell  1 Comment

Photo by Lee Nye

Letter from James Crumley to Les Standiford, 1987. (click for full-size image)

The New York Times is reporting the death of critically acclaimed crime novelist James Crumley. He was 68.

We had the pleasure of hosting Mr. Crumley in 1988, for Whodunit?, our Seminar devoted to the art and tradition of mystery literature. In a correspondence between Crumley and Les Standiford, our program chair that year, Crumley explained his preference for detectives who are "more rebel than hero:"
    They should put their hearts and minds on the line to find whatever limited justice can be found in an injust world, should oppose greed, the sorriest of evils, and ignorance, and should prefer forgiveness over revenge. We don’t need heroes stalking mean streets, but human beings, imperfect as they might be, seeking a justice beyond law."

The letter reproduced here, typed on Hellgate Productions stationery, shows a lighthearted, funny, and gracious Jim Crumley. He will be missed.

The Papered Past

09/16/2008  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post


During our 27th annual Seminar this January, we’ll consider the various ways in which historians like David Levering Lewis and novelists like William Kennedy reveal essential truths about our shared history. As we prepare for this unique opportunity, we are also uncovering our own history– as an organization, as an event, and as a group of individuals joined in lettered island life. We’ve advanced in this endeavor by expanding our Past Seminars page, which now lists the theme and scheduled panelists for each and every year of our history, with links to images of our promotional posters from the pre-website era. Click here to see a slideshow of these low-tech handsome posters.

Robert Giroux & John Malcolm Brinnin

09/05/2008  by Arlo Haskell  1 Comment
Robert Giroux
Photo by Arthur W. Wang

The New York Times is reporting today on the death of Robert Giroux, editor and publisher of some of the 20th century’s greatest writers, including Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Bernard Malamud, William Gaddis, Derek Walcott, and many more. He was 94.

We had the pleasure of hosting Mr. Giroux in 1993, for our Seminar devoted to the work of Elizabeth Bishop. At the time, he was editing the definitive collection of Bishop’s letters now known as One Art. Reproduced below is a letter Giroux wrote to John Malcolm Brinnin, a friend and correspondent of Bishop’s, and the organizer of that year’s Seminar. (Click to enlarge.)

Robert Giroux
A letter from Robert Giroux to John Malcolm Brinnin, 1991. (click for full-size image)

Nilo Lopez’s Key West Nicknames

07/21/2008  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

I first heard of Nilo C. Lopez when the Key West Citizen ran his obituary a few years back. It described a simple life in Key West, where Lopez’s family raised dairy cows in a small field along Staples Avenue. The obituary also spoke of him as a well-loved story-teller and published author. Intrigued, I rode my bicycle to Key West Island Books, passing the site of what I guessed to be the Staples dairy farm on my way. Once I arrived at the Fleming Street bookstore, Marshall, its proprietor, uncovered the sole remaining copy of the book whose cover you see here, Nilo Remembers Key West Nicknames.

As books go, it is an exceedingly simple job: 26 sheets of plain white paper folded into a semi-gloss card-stock cover and held together by two now-rusted staples. The font appears to be a 12-point, extra-bold Helvetica; the cover is composed of the sort of stock images found in early versions of Microsoft Publisher. The responsible publishing house is Bay Jourdan, heretofore known as the publishers of the Diamondhead, Mississippi, Telephone Directory, whose tried-and-true typographical model is here unvaried. It is a fore-edge-justified, one column listing of the nicknames recalled by Lopez, first the English ones, then the Spanish. One enjoys the sensation that it is in fact a telephone directory of Nilo’s friends from bygone days; so bygone that phones did not exist, absolving the directory of the need to include them. Here are some of my favorites:

     Harry Bulldog Face
     Billy Pork
     Copper Lips
     Give Me Back My Hammer
     Cabbage Head
     Iron Baby
     Lil Slicer
     I Am A Sailor From The Warbler
     Aching Bungy
     Two By Four
     Big Head
     Cat Head
     Cheese and Jelly
     Charlie Rice
     Black Paul
     Sweet Pappy
     Open Your Legs, You Are Breaking My Glasses
     Quarter Lilly
     Bop Man
     Donkey Milk
     Jungle Rat
     Wrongy Smeller


1993: Elizabeth Bishop

07/03/2008  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

The 1993 Seminar, our eleventh annual, was dedicated to the work of Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979). Among the panelists were many who had known her well, including John Malcolm Brinnin, Mexican poet Octavio Paz, Bishop’s editor Robert Giroux, and poets James Merrill and Richard Wilbur. In cooperation with the Seminar, the Key West Art & Historical Society put on the first-ever exhibition of Elizabeth Bishop’s paintings. The show was held at the East Martello Museum and curated by William Benton, who at that time was working on Exchanging Hats (1996), his simply beautiful book devoted to Bishop’s paintings. The painting reproduced on the cover of the exhibition catalog shown here depicts the Key West Armory building (home today to The Studios of Key West) two doors down from Bishop’s Key West home. The exhibition also featured the photographs of Rollie McKenna, including several portraits of Bishop.

In conjunction with the Seminar, Bishop’s former home at 624 White Street was added to the national register of Literary Landmarks on January 4. The photo below, taken by Richard Watherwax, shows James Merrill reading that day in front of the plaque which still adorns the gate at 624, inscribed with the concluding lines from Bishop’s "Questions of Travel:"

    Should we have stayed at home,
    wherever that may be?


The Epithalamium of Harry Mathews

05/29/2008  by Arlo Haskell  2 Comments

Harry Mathews is often introduced as "the only American member of the Oulipo." The introduction is obscure, as few Americans know anything about the Oulipo, and many of those who do came to it by way of Mathews. Short for Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, or "Workshop for Potential Literature," the Oulipo is a group of mostly French writers and mathematicians who invent constricting forms as a means of creating literature. The famous example is George Perec’s novel La Disparition, written (to the length of 300 pages) without use of the letter "e." It was subsequently translated into English, as A Void, by Gilbert Adair, also without recourse to that ever-useful letter. While the constraints gather all the attention, like an Olympic sprinter with prosthetic legs, a successful Oulipian text renders them almost beside the point. To his readers, Mathews is known first as a writer of strange and eminently pleasurable novels. None are overtly Oulipian, but each (I’m thinking of The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium, My Life in CIA, and The Journalist) is marked by sensations unfound elsewhere in literature. One suspects something is going on, that some exotic form is master of the content, before coming to the sure conclusion that Mathews is the prudent master of each.

Mathews and his wife Marie Chaix divide their time between France and Key West, where, from 2001-’04, he served as a member of our board of directors along with Irving Weinman. In 1998, Mathews, Chaix, and others celebrated the Key West marriage of Weinman to poet Judith Kazantzis. To honor their union, Mathews turned toward Perec’s Oulipian re-imagining of the Epithalamium, a traditional poetic form which celebrates bride and groom. In Perec’s version, the basic rule is that the letters used are restricted to those of the names of the betrothed. In Mathews’ 5-part Epithalamium, a further refinement was added, limiting the letters of the first section to those of the bride’s name, the second to those of the groom’s, alternating until the final section, where the letters of both names are freely mixed. It sounds complicated, and is, especially when you consider the strict alphabet of this bride, j-u-d-i-t-h-k-a-z-a-n-s, and this groom, i-r-v-n-g-w-e-n-m-a. But what results is a gorgeous rendering of two distinct, isolate, fully-composed entities, finally coming together in a union richer than the sums of each. It is a marriage of language, in other words, to celebrate a marriage of friends.

Until now, Harry Mathews’s Epithalamium for Judith Kazantzis and Irving Weinman, with collages by Marie Chaix, has been available only to those friends who attended the wedding of Judith and Irving on February 22, 1998, and received one of the ninety-three copies printed by the Grenfell Press. By special arrangement with Mathews and Chaix, we have created a digital version of the Epithalamium, following the design of the original. Click here to view the Epithalamium as a series of images in a pop-up window. Click here to download a .pdf of the Epithalamium, which will allow you to magnify text size as desired.

Photograph of Harry Mathews is ©Sigrid Estrada.

In the Studio with Bob Muens

05/27/2008  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post


KWLS board member Bob Muens is a bookbinder and conservator who has worked in the Conservation Office of the Library of Congress, and lectured at venues including the Smithsonian Institution and El Archivo Nacional de Cuba in Havana. In 1996, he moved to Key West and opened Bookbinding and Conservation, his private studio. Rare documents and books from all over the world, some of them centuries old, are brought to Muens here, who works to restore and preserve them. His clients are universities, cultural institutions, and private collectors. Of Key West’s many pockets of literary interest, Muens’s quiet studio is perhaps the most active and vital. Unlike our seasonal literati, Muens is a year-round local presence, performing the meticulous and culturally important labor of preservation week in and week out. Every now and then I have a chance to drop in on Bob and see what he’s up to.

This week, Bob is working on the 1693 second edition of Cotton Mather’s account of the Salem Witch Trials, titled, with the charming verbosity of the age: The Wonders of the Invisible World: Being an Account of the TRYALS of Several Witches Lately Executed in NEW-ENGLAND And of several Remarkable Curiosities therein Occurring.
You can read a digital version of the 1862 edition through Google Books here .

On the table beside Mather’s historic work, lay a Florida history text published in Madrid in 1722, covering the years after Juan Ponce de Leon’s discovery of Florida in 1512. This beautifully printed, vellum-bound book, known as the Ensayo Cronologico, para la Historia General de la Florida, belongs to the University of Miami. After Muens’s work is complete, the book will join the rare book collection of the university’s library. You can see a digitized version of the book, produced by the Florida Collection of the Jacksonville Public Library here.

This post is the first of an occasional series about what I think of as “the other literature.” It will concern not those stories and poems produced by the imaginative leaps and intellectual rigor of our great writers, but the hardworking professionals and simple instruments —books, paper, inks&mdash by which that literature has historically been disseminated, as well as the humbler literatures of posters, brochures, and printed ephemera of all kinds. For related selections from the Seminar’s promotional literature, click on the blog category Among the Archives.

Once, there were no Websites

05/15/2008  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post


Before 1999, we promoted the Seminar entirely on paper– in magazine and newspaper ads, through direct mail, and on 11"x17" posters. At present, there’s scant online record of the Seminar at all before 1994, and only a text listing of the panelists for the years 1994-1999. We’re working to fix that. Above, posters from 1988, ’89, and ’92. We’re building pages for all years prior to 1999, featuring these classic posters. They won’t be fancy, they’ll stick to the facts. We’ll let you know as they’re ready.

1991: A Guidebook Devoid of Soufflé

05/07/2008  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post


1991 marked our first foray into full-color printing. Techniques had yet to attain today’s precision, and the resulting promotional literature bore serendipitous irregularities. As in life, the sunset on each of these 5"x7" postcards varies widely— from an almost entirely chartreuse haze, to a nearly-complete spectrum that steps from red in the upper altitudes, to a flash of green, to deep blue sea. Our trusty logo was perhaps never more at home than it is against this unpredictable backdrop, where ingredients and intent are only suggestions toward a result.

John Malcolm Brinnin delivered the keynote address that year, "Travel and The Sense of Wonder," in which he said:

Some of the soupiest travel writing on record has been done by moonstruck impressionists aspiring to literature; some of the best by close observers aiming to convey no more than pertinent information, a credible economic or sociological overview, a guidebook devoid of Chamber of Commerce soufflé.

Touché, John Malcom. We’ve got a few of these cards lying around, reader. If you’d like to start a collection, email me with your mailing address, and I’ll post one your way before sundown.

So Many Writers, So Many Persuasions

04/18/2008  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post


1990. If ever a year spoke greater optimism, I, only recently turned twelve, was unaware. The eighties were down, and the twentieth century was nearly out. Our promotional literature from that year displays a timely enthusiasm. A sloop sails counter to the prevailing winds betrayed by the bent coconut palm. The postcard, below, has fireworks. And that custom-cut font, running in every direction it can to get away from itself! In the program, David Kaufelt recounts how it all began:

Literary agent Dick Duane and I were schmoozing over Diet Cokes and white meat chicken sandwiches in a Manhattan hotel bar with Rosemary Jones of the Council for Florida Libraries. She was in New York to round up authors for the council’s annual lecture series. But New York publishers’ publicists were having none of it, fully convinced no one in Florida read, much less bought books.

I said we have so many writers of so many persuasions in Key West, we could have our own literary festival. There was a suden enlightened silence. We could. We should. And we would.


1986: A Mix of Very Fine Quality

03/27/2008  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post


For our fourth annual event, in 1986, we honored playwright and Key West habitué, Tennessee Williams. The graphic design of the program and poster, as in 1985, is simple and direct. The Martha Swopes photograph shows a dapper, not-quite-at-ease Williams, seated in a wicker rocking chair on the telltale terrazo floors of a Key West home. The font is a straight-ahead serif, printed on glossy stock. We were the Key West Literary Seminar and Festival, it seems, and we were administrated by the Friends of the Monroe County Public Library. Then-President of the Friends, Petronella Collins, pens a delightful early statement of our intents: “The correct mix of intellectuality and frivolity has, over the centuries, proved extraordinarily successful. As our Literary Seminar evolved, the keen judgement and clairvoyance of the Council for Florida Libraries was combined with the magic of Key West to produce a mix of very fine quality.”

Yes, intellectuality and frivolity. A fine mix indeed, one whose perfect proportions ever eluded Tennessee:

Frankie and I (let’s face it!) have fallen into a virtual social oblivion here. A great old Queen Bee named Erna Shtoll or Shmole or something like that has arrived on the scene and become the center of gay society. Bedecked with yellow diamonds like 1000 watt light bulbs on the marquee of a skating rink, she holds continual court on the beach and at the bars, the boys flock to her like gnats. …


Among the Archives

03/12/2008  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

1985_poster_w2.jpgA regular focus of this blog will be the treasures I breathlessly retrieve from the depths of the KWLS archives. This first installment is a poster from our 3rd annual, way back in 1985. It hearkens to a simpler, perhaps more elegant, time: two colors, ink and paper, professional type-setting, an ordinary handsome mug. All you need to know, and little more.

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