Beach, Hemingway and smuggling Joyce’s Ulysses into the U.S.

I met with Krista Halverson, director of the newly founded Shakespeare and Company publishing house, at the famed bookstore in Paris. Listen here to our conversation

We talk, among other things, about the history of Shakespeare and Company, how Sylvia Beach started off, how James Joyce got Ulysses published,  how the United States banned it,  and how Ernest Hemingway figured out a way around this.  Here’s the back-story:

The SS Lansdowne was a railroad car ferry built in 1884 by the Wyandotte Shipyard of the Detroit Dry Dock Company. It crossed the Detroit River from 1884 to 1956, between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario

The first copies of James Joyce’s Ulysses to enter the U.S. came via Windsor, Ontario. The books were printed in Paris and mailed by Hemingway to a friend of his in Windsor who worked for the Curtis Publishing Company in Detroit.

The friend, a reporter named Barney Braverman whom Hemingway had met during his days either in Toronto or Chicago (found references citing both), commuted from Detroit to Windsor each day on the ferry. Braverman reportedly lived on Chatham Street in a house kitty-corner to the back of what is today The Windsor Star newspaper building. Once the smuggling plan was hatched, 40 copies of the novel, published by Sylvia Beach owner of the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore, were sent over from Paris.

Every morning Braverman set off with a package under his arm (or somewhere less obvious) containing copies of Joyce’s novel (I’m guessing no more than one or two at a time), strolled downtown  and somehow got past the border guards and onto the ferry. This was the only way to cross the river back then. At the time, construction of the Ambassador Bridge had only just begun.

These were in fact interesting times. Prohibition was in full swing. All sorts of people used to smuggle bottles of fine Canadian whisky across the border tucking them away in their trouser pants and underwear. Booze wasn’t the only thing banned. The authorities were also pretty uptight about ‘immoral’ ‘pornographic’ literature, though this really wasn’t what the guards were on the lookout for.

Each day, for what must have been several weeks on end, this innocent looking publishing salesman crossed the river, went to the Detroit Post Office and fired off first editions of what is now considered by many to be the greatest novel of the 20th Century. Beach’s friends and subscribers throughout the U.S. were on the receiving end, among them Alfred Knopf and Sherwood Anderson (if you’re intrigued by this escapade, check out Michael Januska’s novel Riverside Drive, it includes the smuggling of Ulysses into the States in its storyline).

Image from here.

Today a copy in fine condition fetches $75,000 (twice that if it’s inscribed).  Unfortunately the curious literary tourist can’t take a ferry across the river (only commercial trucks can do this), but he/she can visit John K. King Books on the Detroit side at 901 W. Lafayette Street. It’s humungus. How humungus? Here’s a video I took the last time I was there

Back in Windsor there’s a great shop you can stop off at too, at 1520 Wyandotte Ave. E.  Biblioasis isn’t quite as big, but  it’s filled with a good selection of new (many published by Biblioasis itself) and used books. Here’s one that’s sure to  please the literary tourist.

San Francisco and The Arion Press here we come

The Arion Press was founded in San Francisco in 1974 by Andrew Hoyem growing out of a partnership he had with Robert Grabhorn using the Grabhorn Press‘s famed collection of metal type. Arion has published more than 100 fine press books, many of which are illustrated with prints by prominent artists.

Each year the press publishes three or four “exquisite” books in editions of 400 copies or less. Titles over the years have included Moby Dick, a lectern edition of the Bible, and James Joyce’s Ulysses. Other books include treatments of the poetry of Wallace Stevens, W.B. Yeats, Seamus Heaney and Emily Dickinson, novels by Samuel Beckett, H.G. Wells, Graham Greene, Virginia Woolf. and plays by Tom Stoppard, David Mamet, Edward Albee and Arthur Miller. These books are highly collectible.

Hoyem was born in 1935. He is an accomplished printer, a published poet, and an exhibited artist. His Arion Press, named after the Greek poet known in myth for having been kidnapped by pirates and miraculous rescued by dolphins, has been called America’s “leading publisher of fine-press books.” The concepts for all Arion publications originate with Hoyem, who chooses literary texts, commissions new work from writers and artists he admires, and designs the books, including their bindings and typography.

Many rank Hoyem’s edition of Moby Dick among the greatest American fine-press books ever published. His most ambitious project, the Folio Bible, took several years to complete. This is likely to be the last Bible ever to be printed from metal type.

In 1989 Arion acquired Mackenzie & Harris, “the oldest and largest remaining type foundry in the United States, established with equipment displayed at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915.” In 2000 Hoyem founded the nonprofit Grabhorn Institute to “help preserve and continue the operation of one of the last integrated facilities for type-founding, letterpress printing, and bookbinding, developing it as a living museum and educational and cultural center, open to the public, with a gallery and tours as well as an apprenticeship program.”

I’ll be in San Francisco next month. I plan to visit the Arion Press, where I’ll enjoy the privilege of interviewing Mr. Hoyem for The Biblio File podcast. I’m pumped. Stay tuned!