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Archive for July, 2012

Copper Canyon e-book potlatch

Published

On Wednesday I was in Port Townsend for an “E-book Potlatch” at Copper Canyon Press. The press is housed in one of the old wooden buildings at Fort Worden, a former military base turned into a state park and cultural & arts center; Copper Canyon has been there since the 1970s, publishing some of the best in modern and international poetry. Right now they’re figuring out how to bring their backlist (and their front list) into e-book format alongside their printed books – and how to do it right. Consortium, the independent-books distributor, and the “e-book aggregator” Constellation (both part of the Perseus Books Group) sent three people to this planning meeting; according to Consortium’s Michael Cashin, Copper Canyon is on the cutting edge of creating readable e-books for poetry.

For five years in the ’90s, I was the designer for Copper Canyon’s books and collateral, and I’ve done a few projects since then, but my only current connection is as a friend and supporter of the press. Still, e-book typography is what I’ve been thinking about for the past year, so it made sense to participate in the meeting. I was impressed by the level of thinking and planning that was already going on. Both Copper Canyon and Consortium are committed to finding good ways to get books into practical e-book form right now, for immediate sale, and at the same time to developing formats that will be true to the unique demands of poetry and the future demands of technology. It’s not an easy task, but it’s well worth doing. This is an essential part of our culture.

The all-day summit was productive but exhausting. At the end of the day, Copper Canyon hosted a cook-out on the beach at Discovery Bay, where executive editor Michael Wiegers cooked up clams and prawns and salmon, and a few bottles of wine were drunk. It was one of this summer’s rare warm, sunny days, and some of the madder members of the crew ran out into the cold, cold water for a refreshing dip. That’s how the future of publishing happens.

[Photo: Michael Wiegers (left) and me on the beach at Discovery Bay. Photo by Valerie Brewster.]

Granshan 2012

Published

In June, I traveled almost halfway around the world to the tiny Republic of Armenia, for Granshan 2012, the fifth non-Latin type-design competition and its accompanying small conference. This year is the 500th anniversary of the publication of the first book printed in Armenian (the book was printed not in Armenia but at an Armenian monastery in Venice, which was then a center of both printing and scholarship); this year Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, was also named the World Book Capital by UNESCO. Armenians are enthusiastic about their unique alphabet, which was created 1600 years ago by Mesrop Mashtots (now a saint in the Armenian church); we visited not one but two locations where giant stone letters are placed like so many statues, one set on a hillside facing the republic’s highest mountain, the other under the trees in a garden next to the Church of Saint Mesrop Mashtots in Oshakan. (Armenia is the world’s oldest Christian country; it officially adopted Christianity in 301 CE, decades before Constantine made it the official religion of the Roman empire.)

The judges of the competition chose the best designs among the typefaces submitted, and gave a Grand Prize to Dalton Maag for Nokia Pure, which was a prize-winner in three categories: Greek Text, Cyrillic, and Armenian. Meanwhile, the two-day conference opened with a day of public lectures (I spoke briefly about the importance of space in typography) and concluded with a day of more specialized talks about type design. (Actually, it concluded with the field trip the next day to the giant letters in the countryside.) I was particularly taken with Ken Komendaryan’s talk about designing the currency symbol for the Armenian dram (with its relationship to the tall arch form common to many letters in the Armenian alphabet and to architectural forms in medieval Armenian buildings) and with Panos Vassiliou‘s discussion of harmonizing type designs across different writing systems (something that you could see every day in the streets of Yerevan, where Armenian, Russian, and English all appear frequently in multilingual signage and advertising).

The two co-organizers, Edik Ghabuzyan and Boris Kochan, brought together an international group of type experts, not only for the judging but to encourage conversations and cross-fertilization within the field of non-Latin type design. This was a high-profile event in Armenia: we were interviewed for local television (and Edik told me later that Granshan was covered on all the local TV stations – something he had never seen before), and as president of ATypI I was invited to join Edik and Boris in a meeting with the Minister of Culture.

After the official events, Edik and his team took us on a day trip into the country to see Lake Sevan, one of the largest high-elevation lakes in the world (“This is our lake, our sea, our ocean,” said Edik proudly), the Black Monastery on a former island in the lake (the island is now a peninsula, thanks to Soviet-era engineering), and the historic monastery of Haghartsin. Then we claimed a patch of ground overlooking the forested river in the valley near Haghartsin for a family-style barbecue masterminded by Edik. I’ve posted a few photos from that day, along with Yerevan street signage and some images from the amazing exhibition of ancient manuscripts, inscriptions, and early printed books at the Matenadaran museum, on Flickr.