[Puryear, Martin ] Toomer, Jean. Cane. San Francisco: Arion Press. 2000.
First published in 1923, the ambitious, experimental novel Cane by Jean Toomer is here presented with artwork by the celebrated sculptor Martin Puryear. Arranged in three sections, the novel’s thematically-linked vignettes include passages of fiction, poetry, and drama, which together paint a complex portrait of African-American life at that time. Considered a masterpiece of the Harlem Renaissance as well as an important work of Modernist literature, Cane first explores the rural folk culture of African-Americans living in Georgia, then the urban life of African-Americans in Washington D.C., and then returns to the South in its last section. This edition features an afterword by historian Leon F. Litwack discussing Jean Toomer’s life and the historical context in which the novel was written.
Like Toomer, Puryear was born in Washington, D.C. While living in the South as a teacher at Fisk University in Nashville in the 1970s, the artist first read and was impressed by Toomer’s novel. Puryear chose to illustrate the edition here with seven large woodblock prints which serve as abstract portraits of the female characters in the book. In addition to these bold black-and-white prints, Puryear created three smaller prints to be tipped into the book to introduce each section of the novel. These prints are based on the geometric arcs that appeared in the first edition of Cane, and which represent the novel’s circular structure.
Andrew Hoyem designed this book as the 59th publication of the Arion Press. The text type is Times New Roman Bold with long descenders, composed by Monotype. The display type is Lucian Bold, composed by hand. The text is printed on mouldmade German Biblio paper, while the illustrations are printed on handmade Japanese kitakata paper.
This volume is bound in tan linen with two brown cloth tapes that run horizontally along the length of the book. The tapes are visible at the spine, the center of the covers, and at the fore edge where they serve as tie-closures. The title and author’s name are stamped in black on the front and back covers of the book.
This book was published in an edition of 400 numbered copies for sale, plus 26 lettered copies hors commerce fifty of which have an extra suite of prints and a special enclosure. This copy is one of the 350 copies bound in linen and is signed and numbered 295 by the artist at the colophon.
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