New exhibit showcases the work of UI alum’s press

A new exhibit in the UI Main Library showcases the books of UI alum Steve Clay’s Granary press and its unique works.

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New exhibit showcases the work of UI alum’s press

Selected pieces on display as part of the Ganary Books exhibition at the University of Iowa Main Library on Feb. 6.

Selected pieces on display as part of the Ganary Books exhibition at the University of Iowa Main Library on Feb. 6.

Reba Zatz

Selected pieces on display as part of the Ganary Books exhibition at the University of Iowa Main Library on Feb. 6.

Reba Zatz

Reba Zatz

Selected pieces on display as part of the Ganary Books exhibition at the University of Iowa Main Library on Feb. 6.

Rylee Wilson, News Reporter

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Behind glass cases inside the University of Iowa Main Library’s gallery sit strange books made of materials such as velour and latex, embroidered commas and periods, and books with only a single paragraph printed on its pages.

The new exhibit Seeking Seeing Feeling Reading: Granary Books in the Main Library showcases work from Granary Books, an independent press run by UI alum Steve Clay. It remains open from Wednesday through March 15.

Exhibit curator and English Assistant Professor Jennifer Buckley said Granary is one of the most significant independent publishing presses in American publishing. It combines the work of visual artists and poets into art books that go beyond a normal trade book.

“Books have weight and shape and volume, and they move,” Buckley said. “Your body and the book’s body work together to make that happen. From the very beginning, Granary Books emphasized that aspect of the book. The emphasis, especially with the artists’ books, is the way in which the medium is interactive.”

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Clay, who came to the UI as an undergraduate interested in poetry, said his time in Iowa City influenced him in poetry in all facets.

“This led to eventually opening a poetry-centered bookshop in Minneapolis, which eventually led to publishing the first small projects,” Clay said in an email to The Daily Iowan. “That the Bieler Press was my upstairs neighbor at the time helped move this all along.”

A group of avant-garde poets in Iowa City in the 1970s, the Acutualists, influenced the type of art Granary produces.

“Iowa City in the 1970s and right up until the present, it was home to homegrown avant-garde that was linked to, in really complex and sometimes turbulent ways, to the Writers’ Workshop,” Buckley said. “Some of the faculty and some of the students working in the poetry program at the Writers’ Workshop [were] developing different ways of writing and making public poetry.”

Reba Zatz
Selected pieces on display as part of the Ganary Books exhibition at the University of Iowa Main Library on Feb. 6.

Clay said he was influenced by faculty and the literary community in Iowa City.

“I came to UI with an interest in poetry, writing, and small presses and was well aware of the tradition of small presses and little magazines in Iowa City,” he said. “I was particularly aware of the poets Ted Berrigan and Anselm Hollo, both of whom taught at the Writers’ Workshop, although they’d moved on by the time Ia arrived,” Clay said.

The collection books are printed with unusual materials and with unusual formats. Jen Bervin’s The Dickinson Composites features the punctuation of Emily Dickinson’s poetry embroidered onto a tapestry.

One of Clay’s personal favorites is Buzz Spector’s A Passage.

“I love how concept, content design, and materials come together into an irreducible form,” Clay said. “For me, it’s an ideal book.”

The Main Library has an almost extensive collection of Granary books, Buckley said.

“I think in part because Clay has such strong ties to Iowa and the university, I think there is a special connection between our library and Clay,” Buckley said. “There’s no exclusive tie between Granary and Iowa, but it is there.”

Julia Leonard, an associate professor at the UI Center for the Book, uses the Granary collection of to teach her artist-book classes.

“[Clay] is one of a kind,” Leonard said. “I don’t know anybody else who has the range of subject matter that interests them and range of forms that interest them.”

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