Last spring I was surprised and honored to be chosen as the winner of the first annual Beltran Family Award for Innovative Teaching & Mentoring at at Penn. The award came with the opportunity to host a program at Kelly Writers House.
I knew right away that I wanted to create an interdisciplinary project that would incorporate some of the rich resources of the university, and also bring together a cooperative effort of writing, editing, art and design. My idea was to produced a small letterpress edition of an original short story written by a member of the Writers House community-at-large. The book designer and producer would be a Penn student: Henry Steinberg, a multi-talented senior with serious book design chops. I put out a call for submissions, and assembled a committee of readers.
The winning story was “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” by Sam Allingham. It’s based on the life of clarinetist Artie Shaw and resonates perfectly with the aesthetics of the project. Henry’s design is elegant and clever. He worked hundreds of hours, first designing the book (created to resemble a 1940’s era songbook), and then hand-printing and binding the edition, in the Robinson Press, located in the basement of the Morgan Building, on 34th Street on the University of Pennsylvanian Campus. I’d seen mock-ups and PDF drafts along the way, but before last night I had seen a copy of the real book. I have to say, I was delighted to hold this beautiful piece of American craft art in my hands, and equally delighted by Sam Allingham’s charming reading of the 2000-word story. (If the writing business doesn’t work out for Sam, who is currently a student in the MFA Writing Program at Temple, he should consider a career in acting. But something tells me Sam is going to do fine. Keep an eye out for him, afictionados.)
Henry produced six copies of the hardback edition: one for Beltran Family, who kindly endowed the project; one for Kelly Writers House; one for the Rare Book Department of Van Pelt Library; one for Sam; one for himself; one for me. He also made a limited softcover edition to be sold at the launch party for $15 apiece (a low price, set to be affordable.) It sold out within minutes, proceeds going to Kelly Writers House.
Take a look at the photos below to get a sense of the beauty and wit in Henry’s design.