Sunday, March 13, 2011

Printer's daughter

I joke that it's all my father's fault, this mania for books--reading them, writing them, holding them, admiring them, you get the picture. When he immigrated to the US in 1922, he wanted to become an architect, to create building that would inspire a society of justice and equality. He was all of 17, bursting with idealistic fervor (which I come by honestly!) The hard reality of trying to attend college and support himself set in and his health broke down. He reluctantly concluded that a trade was his best hope, and he chose printing. He called it, "the art preservative of all arts," although I don't think that phrase was original to him.

Fast forward through apprenticeship, organizer for the International Typographical Union, etc., to a steady job as a linotype operator for a newspaper, family and kids. Books filled our home, books on about every subject--art, history, political thought, novels, poetry. That's not all that outstanding. But what made my house different from that of my friends was the ever-present idea that someone wrote those words and someone turned those words into print and then into books...and that second someone was my father. He used to compose letters in his free time on the linotype, run off a proof, and bring it home. I'd look at the column of type (or the lead slug) and think, "My father wrote this..."

Years later, when I studied calligraphy with Lloyd Reynolds at Reed College, he said, "Printers have always been iconoclasts; they know how easy it is to publish a lie." Yep.

I wrote my first book somewhere around 4th grade. It probably stemmed from a long-forgotten school project, but what I do remember is that I wrote and illustrated a story, then stitched the pages together with a painted cardboard cover. The story, true to the Ross tradition, involved a horse that saved the world by making peace between all the animals (who were engaged in senseless combat). I've gotten over being embarrassed to being proud. I made a book, and it was a book that embodied my best 4th grade ideals!

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