Editor’s Notes & Cover Art

About the Cover

Our cover design by John Pickard features “Chair with Sign” (c. 1947) by photographer N. Jay Jaffee (1908-2001).

N. Jay Jaffee was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1921. His photograhs seem autobiographical, probing daily city life with wit as well as social intelligence. He was a member of the Photo League, a collective of photographers dedicated to effecting urban change through art.

The Photo League was established by Paul Strand and Bernice Abbot in 1936. This group maintained darkrooms, meeting rooms, and gallery space. They also offered classes and published Photo Notes journal. Because of its broadly social outlook, the Photo League was listed by the U.S. Attorney General as subversive in the late 1940s and membership declined.

The League closed its doors in 1951 but N. Jay Jaffee continued to work in photography until his death in 2001.

This photograph has been reproduced by permission of the Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio, from their Photo League collection. The acquisition of this photograph was made possible with funds provided by Elizabeth M. Ross, the Derby Fund, John S. and Catherine Chapin Kobacker, and the Friends of the Photo League.

Cover research by Anna Duke Reach.


Editor’s Notes

Over the past few years I’ve spent a fair bit of time in these notes and elsewhere musing about the direction and future of literary printing. Even the word itself as a verb suggests the quandary. To print, to stamp, to transfer ink, to leave an impression. What kind of trace remains when the printing is virtual (another word, a notion, that leaves me queasy), a matter of 1’s and 0’s and pixels on a screen, electronic pulses that may come to be stored in, well, a cloud.

But of course, queasy or not, this is exactly the trajectory we are riding. And, as I’ve argued, there’s very much good to come from electronic dissemination. Instant and international reach. Lower costs. All but infinite capacity. And so on.

As part of a significant internal review led by our trustees some years ago, The Kenyon Review chose to recast its mission and, among other challenges, stake a place at the forefront of electronic innovation — asking tough questions, suggesting some possible answers. KROnline has been a hit, of course, as a complement to The Kenyon Review in print. So has our daily blog, our online book discussions, our complete electronic archive in collaboration with JSTOR, and plenty of other projects still being developed.

It surely would have been easier simply to continue printing this journal four times a year and leave it at that. But I’m convinced that sooner or later such isolated publications will come to seem anachronisms, curiosities, not vibrant players in the literary community.

As it happens, however, there’s a good chance you are reading these thoughts on the printed page of The Kenyon Review, our Spring 2010 issue. Whatever praises are to be sung about the Internet, there’s something inescapably marvelous about the thinginess of the artifact, isn’t there? As magical in its way as any image a computer can conjur.

But it’s a magic that most of us take for granted. One needs a little imagination, a little stepping back to glimpse the wonder.

Most students still lug about textbooks at least, even as they read more and more on a computer screen. They’re used to print on paper. They just don’t think about it very much. When an essay is due, they type it and watch as the strokes are translated into characters appearing on a screen (as I’m doing this very moment) and punch a key to print it out. They don’t have to wrestle with tangled typebars or white-out or, lord help us, carbon copies.

Just as alien to most students is the mechanism of a letterpress, the instrument that brought printed texts to most of humanity since Gutenberg. Presses came (and still come) in many sizes, developed many layers of their own technological developments. But they all involve that transfer of ink, that striking of the paper to leave an impression. That’s partly what I’m always trying to do as a teacher: leave an impression, a mark.

It’s with that in mind, as well as a sense of our own historical traditions, that this spring The Kenyon Review will mount a small letterpress in the basement of Finn House, our dandy new home. With the guidance and expertise of a number of collaborators, we will begin a new program to instruct our own associates and interns in the art and skills of printing.

Even as we develop literary media for the future, I believe it’s our responsibility to keep a link to the old technologies, teaching our associates where all the current publishing structures originated. Letting them get their hands dirty. Not all of them will be interested, of course, and it won’t be required. After all, printing requires a lot of patience, tremendous attention to detail. Just setting type letter by letter can take forever. Not to mention getting the ink on the rollers just right. It’s not to everyone’s taste. But I’m willing to bet a pretty fair share of these students will be excited.

We also plan to introduce some letterpress printing opportunities into our several summer programs. Over time — there’s no hurry, no rush — the program will surely grow to include other Kenyon students. Eventually there may be classes. We expect that KR will start producing some small-volume broadsheets and even chapbooks, just for the fun of it.

I love the fun of it, to be rediscovering and imparting the basic mechanisms of print for our students just as these mechanisms are disappearing elsewhere. Just as KR is also steadily reaching out across the Internet as well. It’s a lovely balance.

— D. H. L.

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