On Black Sparrow Press

I have acquired a new addiction. It’s a vice that has swollen my ‘to read’ pile, yet I can’t stop. I am suddenly obsessed with Black Sparrow Press books. While collecting books by author or subject makes sense, this is the first time I have collected by publisher.

These books, most of which tend to be short story or poetry collections, are a pleasure to simply own. They appeal greatly to the senses. Most obviously, they look wonderful. Their dappled, off-white/mushroom covers often feature bold, simple, geometric shapes and colours. It’s a very ‘Beats’ style that was preserved until the company was sold in 2002.

It should come as no surprise that the books carry such a singular identity; all 183 pre-2002 Black Sparrow covers were designed by the same person – Barbara Martin, wife of Black Sparrow Press founder Jack Martin.

In most cases, the cover art wraps around the back of the book, where there are no sycophantic reviews, no sales bullshit, no ISBN. The cover is kept clear for the art. It’s the reader’s responsibility to open up and see what lies inside (it’s usually something wonderful, like short stories by Bukowski or Bromige or Fante, or poetry by Andrei Codrescu or Nancy Boutilier).

Less obviously, these books are a pleasure to simply hold, to feel. The mottled, textured covers and excellent quality add to the enjoyment of reading a Black Sparrow book. A real treat for the hands.

Here’s the other thing: as luck would have it, they’re also pretty great to read.

Chris Greenhough

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