Publications and presswork









What is the Robinson Press? Upon the founding of the Kelly Writers House as a writer-centered community in 1995, the writers and teachers who formed the House's hub assumed from the start that a printing press would be involved. It was only the physical limitations of our small Victorian cottage that initially prevented letterpress projects. But the idea has always been compelling: to teach young writers the uses of cutting-edge digital technology and at the same time reinforce the traditional materiality and physicality of hand-set printing.

When, in the spring of 2005, the University of Pennsylvania began discussing how it would celebrate the Ben Franklin tercentenary, the Van Pelt Library, the Department of Fine Arts as part of Penn Design, and the Kelly Writers House together dreamed up the project of what became The Common Press. Three printing presses, ink, and moveable type were purchased, and the project began in earnest.

The Kelly Writers House's imprint of the Common Press began as the 15th Room Press, involving Writers House affiliated writers and students and named to help us imagine an extra room beyond our 14-room cottage. Over the two years, and in that new space, our community learned to design projects, hand-set moveable type, ink and clean the presses, and hand-print broadsides. In 2010, thanks to the generosity of Penn alumna Nina Robinson Vitow, our imprint on the press was endowed and renamed the Herman and Jeanne Robinson Letterpress, or the "Robinson Press." With Nina's gift, made in honor of her parents, the Writers House was able to continue and to enhance its work at the Common Press. We currently have two broadside series — one which features the work of our visiting poets and one, called the "Hub Series," which features the work of our community members. The Robinson Press also sponsors one student chapbook project each year. In addition, we collaborate with our partners at the Common Press for special press workshops and embark upon larger limited-editions projects.

It is the intention of the KWH community to continue teaching our young writers the importance of setting type, getting your fingers inky and experiencing the feel of type impressed on paper — if only to remind these students of what is generally true behind the mission for all KWH projects: writing is a communal rather than a solitary act and the work of bringing writing to readers is a practical art that requires concrete skills. The colophon symbol of the Robinson Press — three mismatched chairs replicated from actual chairs in our Arts Cafe at the KWH — continually reminds us of our community project.

To get involved, email wh@writing.upenn.edu.

See more about our collaborators, The Common Press.


Projects

Broadsides

Since the fall of 2006, the 15th Room Press has been producing limited-edition, hand-set broadsides for visiting poets on our letterpress. We also produce a limited-edition broadside series featuring the work of our community members, called the "hub series." For more information about these broadsides, contact Erin Gautsche at gautsche@writing.upenn.edu.



Monsters Mind

The 15th Room press spent the 2007-08 year on a immersed in a consuming book project called "Monsters Mind." The book uses 16th and 17th century monster imagery culled from the VanPelt Rare Books library, text written by students, and a very modern color scheme. Each monster image in the limited edition was hand-inked and printed Charles Brand etching press, the text hand-cranked through a Vandercook letterpress page-by-page, and the finished book hand-bound in Room 202 of the Kelly Writers House. We're very excited about our first foray into a large collaborative project, and even more excited about all of the volunteers who participated in writing, design, printing and binding.


The Temple

During 2008 and early 2009, senior English and History major and Writers House hub member Brooke Palmieri revamped the manuscript of George Herbert's posthumously published collection of poems "The Temple." Print inevitably causes several degrees of separation between manuscript and finished form, author and audience. The problems that arise along the way ultimately cast the typesetter as both a source of survival for the poems through print, and (somewhat paradoxically) the chief cause of textual variants and deformations of the author's work. The early printed editions of Herbert's text from the seventeenth century include some of the earliest examples of "shape poetry" with texts shaped into altars, doves' wings, and the like, and Palmieri's reworking of it explores anew practices of typographical deviation and its effects on the original text.


LIVE Paper Dolls by Trisha Low


Classes

Making_Writing

An introduction to creative writing for artists’ books and bookmaking projects. Students will learn numerous handmade book techniques and complete exercises on writing in conversation with book forms, as well as learn the basics of handset type and the letterpress. Field trips to local exhibitions, the Rare Books Library’s collection of artists book, and both creative and historical readings will compliment the course. Students will complete a “book” project as part of their final exam.


Grotesque Forms: Writing/Printing/Bookmaking

An introduction to letterpress printing and bookmaking and writing for the artist book, focusing on the history of the artist book, competence in letterpress technique, print composition and design skills, and alternative book binding. Course readings focused on the work of Johanna Drucker and Jerome Rothenberg, and the examination of multi-media works. Field trips to local artist book collections supplemented course readings, projects, and the final project. The entire class was taught, and practiced, through the lens of "the grotesque" in art and literature. As a final project, 10 students made their own limited-edition artist books that considered the course theme of the "grotesque" through writing, image, printing and binding.



Workshops

Binding, Bound, Restriction: A Workshop with Carolee Campbell, 10/4/2007:

A small book printing and folding workshop with Carolee Campbell (Ninja Press), this workshop also included collaborative writing and physical space restriction.

Johanna Drucker: "Writing Books: what writers learn from making their work into books," 2/13/2008

A lunch program. Listen on Pennsound.

Workshop: "Exquisite Printwork," 2/13/2008

A collaborative writing and printing workshop at the Common Press, Morgan building.



Exhibits

Mixed Media, Mixed Company: Conjunctions at the Common Press

an exhibition opening, 4/24/2008

This exhibit looked at some of the collaborations that have come out of the Common Press, the letterpress studio at Penn, in its first year of production and juxtaposes them with the poetry broadsides from the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Founded in commemoration of the 300th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin's birth, the press provides a mixed media environment where students interested in the book arts can move between digital and manual text and image making. It encourages collaborations among writers, printmakers, and others across the University. The Common Press is a joing effort of the Kelly Writers House, the Library, and the Fine Arts program in the school of design.

The 15th Room Press, Kelly Writers House's imprint in the Common Press, makes hand-set and printed letterpress broadsides in limited editions that feature the work of visiting poets, and "hub" community members, as well as participating in other collaborative projects with Common Press partners.