Notes From a Tramp Printer, part 4

This is the final installment of “Notes From a Tramp Printer” by Jim Dissette. Jim is the master printer who put together a special letter press edition of “Beanball” by Ron Carlson.Many thanks to Jim for taking the time to write up these wonderful notes, and to Josh Wolf Shenk and the folks at Literary House,who came to us with the idea and put together this very special volume to commemorate our 100th issue. We will be selling copies of the letter press edition of “Beanball” at AWP this week, and also at our store (check back in a few days for this to be available online). Only 90 copies were made, so this is a real collector’s item for any fan of Ron Carlson’s, or One Story.


[at this point in our narrative, Jim has just finished printing the pages, working nine straight days and nights. The beautiful results you can see below, in the title page for “Beanball.” ]


“After manually collating the sheets, we sent them to the Campbell Logan bindery in Minneapolis. The books, miraculously, are now between hard covers, and ready for you.

In the last 20 years I’ve never attended a letterpress printing demonstration at a college or university that did not evoke a sense of awe from its participants. It’s one thing to watch a sheet of homework slide out of a laser printer and quite another to see a freshly inked letterpressed page roll of a Vanderoock proof press. Often, a small core of students will be drawn to the process enough to want to continue learning about fine press printing and its history to continue on through their college years and even beyond.

Colleges and university presses have a strong presence in the fine press world–like Mills College or the Iowa Center for the Book–and those who have embraced the printing arts understand its natural alliance with literature and art and have gone on to contribute greatly to the fine book publishing world.

Unfortunately, the list of failed attempts to establish a working fine press exceeds the success stories. Often times a printing press at a college with languish in the horse-latitudes of “museum pieces and curiosities from a bygone age” rather than be recognized for their real potential: to participate in and enliven the printing arts; to offer students first hand experience in the production of a hand-printed fine-press book; and to another facet to a liberal arts education. There are also obvious prestige factors for the college, especially those whose curriculum include a strong creative writing program. If it’s about writing, it’s about books. If it’s about books, it should be about constructing them and knowing their histories. I’d venture to say, that despite ongoing attempts to invent a viable electronic book and the surfeit of alternative media, coupled with a vast sea of cheaply produced paperbacks, that the finely printed book and its audience is at least here to stay, if not grow more than it has during these past 20 years.

Fortunately, Washington College does embrace the printing arts and over the years has strived to keep it alive, not without its ups and downs as administrations and people change. “Beanball” looks to be a leap in an incredibly healthy direction–to publish in limited edition not only current authors, but previously unpublished material (although “Beanball” is being published in tandem with One Story’s trade edition). Joshua Wolf Shenk, the Literary House Board and the College’s Dean, Christopher Ames, have set an exciting precedent for the Literary House Press, and it will be exciting to watch as they grow, attracting more students, more fine book buyers and collectors. It was a pleasure to be a part of it. ”

-Jim Dissette


[Jim & his “printer’s devils”: Emma Sovich, Mac Boyle & Katrina Skefos]

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