Earlier this year, the Publication Studio moved into its new location downtown at 717 SW Ankeny (on that mini block behind Mary's Strip Club). Run by Matthew Stadler and Patricia No, the print shop's aim is to "print and bind books on demand, creating original work with artists and writers we admire, books that both respond to the conversation of the moment and can endure."
Yesterday the Publication Studio hosted a luncheon at the neighboring Tugboat Brewery to introduce its limited run of Letters from Steward to Stein. The slim, handsome volume collects letters from Samuel Steward, subject of the recent biography Secret Historian by Justin Spring, to Gertrude Stein. The collection contains a forward by Spring and an afterword by Stadler, with the material drawn from the ample archives discovered by Spring while he wrote his biography. The luncheon featured a menu inspired by the decidedly French tastes of Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas, and Justin Spring in attendance to talk about his biography, now nominated for the National Book Award for Nonfiction. Jeremy Larter of the Holocene made the food.
The story behind Secret Historian is unique and startling. While researching Phil Andros. an author of mid-century gay erotica, Justin Spring made a series of increasingly unlikely discoveries. First was that Phil Andros was a pseudonym for Samuel Steward, an English professor and tattoo artist. The archives Steward had left behind at Yale were small, so Spring set out to find the executor of Steward's will. After a series of calls and letters, Spring was allowed access to a treasure trove of Steward's belongings and writings which included a 1,000 page memoir/journal, poetry, fiction, letters, and a card catalog describing every sexual encounter Steward had ever had containing around 750 entries. Steward had been lovers with Thornton Wilder and a subject for Alfred Kinsey. In aggressively exploring his sexual identity in a time of extreme repression, Steward had left behind a detailed cultural portrait of underground homosexuality.
The sheer volume of the information available astounded Spring. He described it as "a blessing and a curse" because there was so much of interest but ultimately too much to contain in a biography. His original draft ran 1,600 pages; the editing process took it down to 500. But anyone interested in the periphery material can turn to Stadler's volume of letters, the first what will hopefully be a series of information on Steward. (I'd love to see that card catalog!) Spring's biography is a remarkable text and you can read a slathering review over at the New York Times.
You can find out about future events with the Publication Studio at their website.