New fine press book edition: Southern Fictions by Kathryn Stripling Byer

Richard Krawiec of Jacar Press commissioned me to create a fine press, limited edition book of poems by Kay Byer. Over the past year I designed the book in collaboration with Kay and Richard, working with Ann Marie Kennedy to have a custom run of handmade paper for the covers, and then I hand-printed and hand-bound all 100 copies which were then signed and numbered by the former North Carolina Piedmont Laureate.

The sonnets are Kay’s attempt to write about and reflect upon the racial conflict in Southwest Georgia that took place around her amidst growing up during the Jim Crow era.

From Kay’s introduction in the book. . .

For years I tried to write about the racial conflict in my Southwest Georgia county as I experienced it growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s, but I didn’t trust my own voice to speak honestly about living in the midst of that turbulent time. Who was I then? Even more important, who was I now?

Ten years ago, an accident in the Smoky Mountains left me laid up with a broken ankle for weeks. I had plenty of time to read and think. So I opened my notebook and began writing a sonnet about growing up in the deep South. One sonnet led to another and into the material I’d tried to write about for so long. As another native Georgian, the fiction writer Flannery O’Connor, once said, “Our limitations are our gateways to reality.” The precise iambic pentameter and rhyme scheme of the sonnet had opened the gate to this particular reality and enabled me to render it into poetry.

Half of the edition is printed on tan Bugra printmaking paper, and half of the edition uses Schiller, a white printmaking paper. Both are premium, heavy-weight text sheets with a wonderful toothy finish that shows off the hand-printed letterpress impression, slowing the reader down and creating an intimate, tactile reading experience to fully enter the world of Kay’s writing.

I decided to play off the first few lines of the first sonnet by taking a few Confederate battle flags, cutting them up into small pieces, and then Ann Marie Kennedy turned them into pulp, combining them with flax paper to create a wonderful toothy and strong handmade paper for the covers. A nice recontextualization and one that means you are literally holding a repurposed flag in your hands while you read Kay’s poems. I will admit it was nerve wracking looking at a 3 foot by 5 foot Confederate battle flag… but after getting over that it felt pretty good to take a rotary cutter and slice the thing up into pieces.

Half of the edition has these recontextualized flag covers, and half of the edition has a simpler creamy warm white flax/cotton blend without any flag fibers. All books feature a frontispiece image of a flag which is meant to imitate what a flag might look like after being up in a window for decades and faded by the sun. There are no illustrations in the book other than this image. Just Kay’s sonnets in which she explores and reflects upon her time and what it means now, what she carries around.

Below are a few images from the book. The limited edition books sell for $100, and a portion of the proceeds from the sales of this book will be used to fund youth writing workshops exploring issues of identity.


Below are a few pictures of the finished books as well as a few of the steps involved in creating the hand-printed, hand-bound book edition.

12 Responses to “New fine press book edition: Southern Fictions by Kathryn Stripling Byer”

  1. Dave, this looks fantastic. Wish I could come to one of the events but we’ll be out of town for a wedding. Look forward to seeing the book in person, though!

  2. Angela Kao Says:

    This project looks amazing. Using repurposed confederate flags for book covers over poetry about race issues — wow! Truly an inspired work of art. I also appreciated the photos that show the process as it gives me a better idea of the effort that goes into it all, Dave.

  3. Debra Kaufman Says:

    Such a great idea all the way around. I love reading about the process, Dave. I am also a fan of Kay Byers and have ordered a copy of the book through Richard.

  4. D. Titus Blackwood Says:

    Read an article by Nicki Leone on BiblioBuffet and it whispered goosebumps along my arms as I remembered my many lovely books I lost in a house fire not even a year ago. Unfamiliar with Byer I searched out all her poems I could, and tucked them in my pocket to read while pacing out my chores with the animals. I’m quite fascinated. I’ve only read bits of Southern Fictions, I think I’ll like it best when I get to read more; I’m a child of the Deep South too.
    Great kudos on this special edition. Thank you for the inside peek at the creation of the papers, the deconstruction of the old flag, the hand printing, the sole illustration – it’s all so tactile on the screen to the string binding. This takes me back to HS when another student & I managed to create an art class out of learning to use the school’s printing press. I can still smell the ink.
    How did y’all do the illustration? Carved wood block or lino, or burned plate? Is that Kennedy doing that in the 2nd to last photo? Is she the artist?
    Again, much gratitude for sharing your arts and great skill.

  5. D. Titus, thanks for the kind words. Sorry to hear of the fire you suffered.

    The flag image was a color photo of a flag I found and then tweaked, converted to grayscale image and then had a halftone plate made so I could letterpress it. Intent was it would look sort of like what a flag might look like after being faded by the sun for years.

    Ann Marie Kennedy was the papermaker. I was the designer, printer, binder.

    stop by the studio if you find yourself in Durham.

    thanks again.


  6. D. Titus Blackwood Says:

    Dave, thank you for the detail. If I wandered more from CO I’d haunt your door, but I’m committed to “my” nonprofit for now. You’d know me by my service dog, huge laugh & a Hollins alumni cap. I always wanted to see a hand press in action *live*, not just in a museum. Wishing you even greater success, Ty

  7. arelious knighton Says:

    I was born in Cuthbert,Georgia about 185 miles southwest of
    Atlanta.I graduated high school in 1957.Spent some time in the
    us army special forces.Went to college,earned my phd,and retired
    from the university of Cincinnati after 30 years.Would very much
    like to share some of my stories with you about growing up in

  8. Anonymous Says:

    This is about growing up a black male in rural southwest, georgia in

    the 1940’s-50’s.”Jim Crow”laws were designed to protect the
    whites,and punish the blacks.After 6 decades ,the punishment
    we were forced accept is still very vivid in my mind.This story need
    to be published……

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