You may have noticed I often let the serendipity of events determine the subject on this blog. This is no exception. In fact three strands converge to weave into a single plait. It is some relief that Maxine Hong Kingston wears her magnificent long white hair loose, as otherwise I am sure that I would be tempted into a tortured follicle metaphor. See how close it was?
The first strand is the recent publication of I Love a Broad Margin to My Life which is a memoir, in verse, by Maxine Hong Kingston. She is Senior Lecturer for Creative Writing at the University of California, Berkeley. Her memoirs and fiction have won numerous awards, including the National Book Award and an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Literature Award. I recommend a quick search for her podcast lectures available from BBC and itunes/Berkley/Yale.
The second strand is the arrival on the mat of an invitation to the Lifetime Achievement Award in International Publishing at the London Book fair in a few days. It has been awarded to Sonny Mehta, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Regular readers her will know that I worked with Sonny for a decade and I count him as a mentor. One day I will summon up the courage to write about the influence of this fabulous man had on me. But that is for another time.
And the third strand is the first ‘Guest Blog’ on here which is coming soon. It will be from an art director in New York who worked with us at Stanley Studios in the 80s as an intern. The eccentric Stanley Studios was our Art Department sanctuary from the steel and glass Pan head office in London. More on that later too.
These are the elements that prompt me to show two of the very first of my cover designs for Picador Books with Sonny at the helm. China Men and The Woman Warrior. She has a special voice and you know I am not going to give you a cheat-sheet on here. They are both a great read. Seek them out and see life through the eyes of a Chinese-American.
There is no perfect recipe for all book covers but some choice ingredients can be found here: Genuine original writing, crackling, inspiring publisher, a slightly bonkers studio space and an art director who reads, having the time of his life. And thrilling at the wealth of illustration talent to be discovered and enjoyed. llustrator Cathie Felstead took her maiden voyage with us. And what a debut she made!
In China Men we are taken into the world of workers migrating to America (the Gold Mountain) for work to enable them to send money home to their families. How they are seen as one amorphous group but who, by turn, see the caucasians as all looking alike. For their white-skin they call them ghosts. The Postman Ghost, the Carpenter Ghost . . .
Cathie’s beautiful artwork was the first commission where I bought the original for my home too. There are few objects, except books and music, I treasure but this sure is one. The colour is built up with layers of collage tissue. The rough edges kept for character. Background off-white as in Chinese culture white associates with death. The fish, which appeared elsewhere in Cathie’s glorious portfolio were added as a migration motif and to draw the eye to an early “First British Publication” slogan without destroying the cover with graphic devices more commonly linked to Daz.
Today there are so many references to Branding. Here the distinctive artwork is the success. It worked in a tough, competitive market-place. It’s all about character, identity and paying due attention to the very special. Human appeal counts.
Hear Maxine Hong Kingston reading from her new book here: http://bit.ly/eCH8W4 . . . and follow @RandomPR on Twitter.