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Posts Tagged ‘Columbia University’

The Beginning of Granary Books: An Interview with Steve Clay

February 1, 2016 | by

A page from John Cage’s Nods, published by Granary Books in 1991.

Last September, Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library opened “The Book Undone: Thirty Years of Granary Books,” an exhibition celebrating Columbia’s purchase of the Granary Books archive. “It’s difficult to fully describe the range and impact of Steve Clay’s Granary Books,” wrote Mark Dimunation, chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress. “Beginning in 1985 he has concocted a mix of poets, artists, printers and craftspeople whose work defines an era and fundamentally shapes our understanding of the artists’ book.”

Granary Books began in Minneapolis, but when Clay first visited New York in 1986, he was quick to see an opportunity. “I came to do a one-week summer class in Columbia’s Rare Book School,” he remembered when we spoke in his Manhattan loft, “my first time in New York. Just coming to the city, getting off the bus at Port Authority, that was it.” Three years later, Clay arrived in New York to stay. After looking for a space on the Lower East Side and Soho to start a bookstore, he joined forces with the poet and bookseller David Abel. I asked him to talk about those first years of Granary Books.

We found 636 Broadway, doing it together with no formal plan. On the tenth floor you could display books, artist’s books, that you couldn’t on the ground floor. I lived there on the couch for months, took showers at David’s on Thompson Street. Milk carton on the window ledge. No kitchen. David knew a lot of people, perfect for a shy guy like me. Dick Higgins of Something Else Press came into the store and so did the poet Jerome Rothenberg, who became and remains essential to Granary. We put on a retrospective show of Something Else Books. Higgins gave me great advice on how to deal with the projects people who came to the store suggested—You’re going to have to find a really nice way to say no.Read More »

The Great Columbia Book Slide of 1934

November 8, 2013 | by

In 1934, Columbia University moved its twenty-two miles of books to the newly built Butler Library. By means of a really long slide. Which actually looks less fun than it sounds, and was much too shallow for human use. (Which is probably good, considering this was on a college campus.)

bookslidelarge

Not to be confused with the recreational-use book slide from the Panorama House:

moon-1large

… or the bokstörten of the Stockholm Public Records Building:

boookchute

 

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Literary Architecture

August 16, 2013 | by

One Friday evening in March, I took the train to Columbia University and walked into one of the strangest and most interesting classes I’d ever seen. It was the Laboratory of Literary Architecture, part of the Mellon Visiting Artists and Thinkers Program at Columbia University School of the Arts, and a multimedia workshop in which writing students, quite literally, create architectural models of literary texts. For the past four years, Matteo Pericoli has led the workshop at the Turin-based Scuola Holden creative writing school, and this year, he brought the concept to New York. While the idea seems intuitive enough—each student chooses a text he or she knows inside out, and then builds it—the challenges arise in interpretation. “A text you love is not, necessarily, the best for this project,” said Pericoli. He adds that it is crucial that students work from another author’s text, rather than their own, to facilitate the true objectivity necessary.

And then of course there is the question of getting away from the literal. “One student chose ‘A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again’ and thought she would just make a ship,” he explains, referring to David Foster Wallace’s cruise-ship odyssey. But then they learned the class’s mantra: “Literary, not literal.” The structure that ultimately resulted (because the writing students team up with architects to build models that must function as well as engage) was very different. Writes Elizabeth Greenwood of her final model,

I designed a rectangular structure with many floors. Bolstered by concrete brackets, the end pieces represent the hard, inescapable fact of heavy things in the essay: the Harper’s assignment, the ship itself. But the floors inside these brackets are made of glass to represent the clarity and truth Wallace sees during his time at sea. On the outer edges are two parentheses turned away from one another (which might one day be openings for stairs) representing the thoughts and connections between seemingly unrelated things. These cuts into the plexi allow light to filter through between the floors, illuminating their invisible links and also tracing seemingly disparate themes and digressions. As the floors ascend, these parentheses edge closer to the upper right corner, where an elevator shaft penetrates through the structure. This burst of continuity between floors represents the author’s presence, and the author himself, who cannot be contained even within the clearest of glass, and who stubbornly refuses to be subdued even in the most ostensibly light of occasions, like a vacation on the high seas.

As Pericoli explained to me, the process of examining structure, flow, interconnections, the author’s intentions, all managed to both mirror and illuminate the process of writing: rendering explicit that which had been intuitive, forcing students to deal in both interpretation and a little mental detective work. What is an author’s intention for how a piece is read, or experienced? What is a reader’s? As much as anything, the variety of interpretations—and, yes, over the years, Pericoli has seen multiple students take on the same work, with wildly differing results—is startling. J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace becomes a rectangular structure with a meandering path that evokes the protagonist’s unwilling shifts in perspective. To the Lighthouse bears no resemblance to an English country house by the sea, but rather becomes a structure that centers around a vacancy: that of the mother. The exercise demands both serious imagination and intense discipline—qualities essential to the disciplines of both writing and architecture but presented as dauntingly unfamiliar challenges that both force participants out of their comfort zones, and ultimately create new ones: different, yes, from the initial familiar comfort of a beloved text, but functional and fascinating all the same.

Read more about the Laboratory here. You can read more about Matteo Pericoli on his website and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Remembering Sendak, Gaining Honors

May 9, 2012 | by

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