Guest blogger: Alexa Torchynowycz, Systems and Cataloging Librarian in the E.H. Little Library, “Did you know we had this?!?! A serendipitous encounter with Solzhenitsyn”

An independent press, a censored author, and two donations: No, this is not the beginning of a “… walked into a bar” joke. It is, however, the beginning elements of a chance meeting of materials in the Rare Book Room.

I recently cataloged the first broadside printed by the Iron Mountain Press, which was donated by Dr. Robert Denham, class of 1961. A broadside in the printing industry is a single sheet of paper with printing on only one side of it and this particular broadside contains the poem “Release of Solshenitsyn” (1969) by J.M. Martin. I was excited to work with this item because it was the first issued in a series of broadsides from Iron Mountain Press and, just like with comic books, the first issue is very rare (we are the only library in WorldCat with this item). The Rare Book Room has several other broadsides from this series. To find them, search for Iron Mountain Press broadside in the Rare Book Room catalog https://davidson.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/discovery/search?&tab=RBR&search_scope=RBR&vid=01DCOLL_INST:01DCOLL&lang=en

Examples of three Iron Press broadsides: "Persephone's Dilemma", "Release of Solshenitsyn", and "In the dark all cats fly"
Iron Mountain Press Broadsides

An added bonus to working with this broadside was that the poem was about the Russian author, Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I had read several of his books and was familiar with his background. I enjoyed reading the poem and picking up on elements that pointed to Solzhenitsyn’s history. As much as I try to, I can’t keep the things I catalog in my office forever, so I finished up my work and put the broadside with a few other items I was planning to take back to the Rare Book Room.

Little did I know that Solzhenitsyn would be making a repeat appearance in a very big way.

A few days later, I grabbed an innocuous-looking archival rare book box out of a stack of things I needed to catalog. I couldn’t tell what was in it so naturally, my curiosity was piqued. Upon opening the box, I found several handwritten notes and a plain paperback written in Russian. The first note I read said that the book was an issue of the literary journal, Novyi Mir, and this precise issue (1962, no. 11) contained the first-ever publication of … wait for it … “One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich” by none other than Alexander Solzhenitsyn. What a fantastic coincidence and an even more fantastic find!

Copy of bookplate of donor, Dr. Jack Perry and front cover of 1962 publication in Cyrillic.
First page of the volume in Cyrillic.

The story focuses on a prisoner of a Soviet labor camp and the extreme conditions prisoners faced there. Solzhenitsyn had to severely edit his own novel in order to see it published, but when it finally came out in Novyi Mir it was the first time that the labor camp system, or Gulag, was depicted in a Soviet published work. It was an immediate sensation both inside and outside of the Soviet Union, but soon afterward, Solzhenitsyn and his work were labeled as anti-Soviet by literary critics within the USSR. Solzhenitsyn published several more novels, none of which saw an initial publication in the Soviet Union again and all of which were critical of the Soviet government. This led to the author’s deportation in 1974.

Though the issue of Novyi Mir with “One day” had a large publication run (over 95,000 copies sold) they began to disappear in the Soviet Union because of a government initiative to censor the novel. Few physical copies of the November 1962 issue of Novyi Mir exist in libraries today and here was one in my hands! I also still had the “Release of Solshenitsyn” broadside sitting on a cart next to me. Two Solzhenitysns from two completely different sources. I was so excited about this unbelievable coincidence that I took (ran is the more correct verb) “One day” and the broadside up to the Rare Book Room. As soon as I got up there I asked, “Did you know we had this?!?!” They were as astonished as I was. Sharon Byrd, the Special Collections Librarian, also helped me to put the pieces together of how we acquired this item. The Novyi Mir was donated by Dr. Jack Perry, a Davidson professor of political science. In 1962, when “One day” appeared in Novy Mir, Dr. Perry was living in Russia and most likely picked up the issue during his time there. He then taught at Davidson from 1985 to 1995 and over 20 years later, presented this copy of “One day” to the library.

And now you can answer my question from the title of this blog post with, “Yes! I know we have the first broadside from Iron Mountain Press AND the first publication of “One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovich” by Alexander Solzhenitsyn!”

Guest Blogger: Andrew Rippeon, Ph.D. Visiting Assistant Professor of Writing, “More Frankenstein”

Broadside with the silhouette of a human with cross hatches of green surrounded by quotes regarding monsters and Frankenstein

Broadside Celebrating the Bicentennial of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Halloween 2018

It’s been 200 years since the publication of Mary Shelley’s story of a creature created in a laboratory.  In the cinematic adaptations, the creature is stitched together, composed of body parts taken from corpses and medical specimens (and a famously “abnormal” brain).  Given this collage-like nature of Frankenstein’s creation, it seemed fitting to mark both the bicentennial of Shelley’s publication and Halloween 2018 with an “exquisite corpse”-style letterpress print.  In the Surrealist technique of the exquisite corpse, multiple authors or artists contribute short fragments to a single composition, with the result being a collaboratively composed final work that often demonstrates striking, unexpected juxtapositions.    

In our practice of the exquisite corpse, volunteers from Professor Sample’s WRI-101 course (“Monsters”!) visited the new and developing Letterpress Lab in the Wall Center for a brief overview of typesetting and letterpress printing.  After an introduction to the anatomy of moveable type (including the face, foot, belly, shoulder, and beard of the individual pieces of type, known as “sorts”), and the basics of typesetting (upside-down, from left to right), students selected typefaces and then set short quotations they’d brought with them, drawn from their readings in all things monsterish.  Some had chosen extracts from novels, while others had more theoretical excerpts.  When typesetting was complete, the students’ individual quotations were then gathered together onto one of two mid-century Vandercook proof presses, and locked into place in the bed of the press.   

The following day, students returned to print their type on large-format sheets previously printed with an appropriate background: a monsterish, vaguely human silhouette emerging from a visually noisy background.  Perhaps appropriate to the occasion (a celebration of what is sometimes called the first work of science fiction), these background sheets were produced on the letterpress but by means of a decidedly twenty-first century technique known as “pressure printing,” and in this specific case enabled by the technology of the laser-cutter in the college makerspace Studio M.  Pressure printing is a little bit like stenciling, but rather than applying pigment onto a sheet through a stencil, the stencil itself is placed behind the sheet, and the pair are run through the letterpress.  Ink transfers unevenly from the press to the print—a “mistake” in traditional letterpress practices!—according to the presence or absence of the material behind the printed sheet.  In this case, a negative and then a positive stencil were used to create, respectively, the background field (silver) with a silhouette removed, and the foreground figure (variably inked) with the background removed.  Hand inking of the figure produced a stitch-like effect, which continued the monsterish and collage-oriented approach to the print.  In the short edition (limited to 40), no two prints are the same.