Out of Print is a new series in which we feature our favorite library discards, used-bookstore finds, and family hand-me-downs.
Circa 2002, I forced my eighteen-year-old brother to drive me to a church basement in the outer suburbs of Chicago to watch a community-theater production of a play about the life of poet Stevie Smith. As I recall, we got into a screaming fight on the way there, and he further enraged me by falling asleep during both acts and leaving the theater several times for cigarette breaks. In truth, the show was abysmal, and in retrospect–given the number of soliloquies by a lead with a highly unconvincing British accent and very distracting Dutch-boy wig–his behavior was downright saintly.
All of which is to say, I was obsessed with Stevie Smith. I liked her idiosyncratic verse and her strange novels; I was interested in her latter-day career as a beatnik cult figure; I loved the book of her collected sketches, Some Are More Human than Others. But the root of my obsession was a little-known text I’d picked up in a London charity shop, 1959’s Cats in Colour.