Acclaimed and award-winning author Edwidge Danticat is known for writing books that are rooted in her identity as a Haitian-American woman. Not merely a writer but an artist, she further explores her history – and the histories of other immigrant artists – in her latest work Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, inspired by Albert Camus’ lecture entitled “Create Dangerously.” Investigating how personal turmoil manifests itself in art, Edwidge shares the immigrant artist’s story – how art is created in spite of or as a result of hardship and how we are all more alike than we think we are.
Undoubtedly, this message resonates on the cover of Create Dangerously, which has a genuine and honest story behind it. Another brilliant conception of the PUP design team, the cover features an untitled piece created by Haitian artist Pascale Monnin in the wake of the devastating earthquake in January 2010. Art Director Maria Lindenfeldar and Book Designer Allison Grow worked together to produce a haunting yet exceptionally graceful cover. Read their answers to my questions below:
My first impression of the cover of Create Dangerously is that it’s quite striking – if I were browsing the tables at a bookstore, I would pick this book up because of the intriguing image. Where did you find it, and what is it of?
Maria: The image that we chose for the book was originally published in the New York Times as one of several pieces of art commissioned for an Op-Art piece called “Scenes from a Catastrophe.” I saw it while reading the Sunday paper.
In the Times, the image was accompanied by the following words which help to explain the content:
People walk in a daze…
A city upended, destroyed…
The dead, so many dead…
And the living, zombie-like survivors looking for friends, family.
A city in chaos whose trapped children scream under the rubble.
The twins are born in the cathedral rubble.
True story or only rumors?
A nation gives itself over to God, the Americans, the French, whoever will take us
Who survive any way we can.
A traumatized city
My little Lena, two months old, gurgling when she wakes.
Artist: Pascale Monnin, Port-au-Prince, Untitled; © Collection Galerie Monnin
We ran the idea past the author who, it turned out, knew the artist, Pascale Monnin. From there, we were able to deal with the artist directly.
How should we interpret the cover in relation to the book?
M: The author is Haitian-American, and thus the subject matter of the art directly relates to the author’s own background. In addition, the images captures the idea of rising above chaos to create something beautiful, a major theme of the book.
How many different versions of the book jacket did you design before choosing this one?
M: We went through at least three other designs. One used a piece of sculpture suggested by the author, a second used the image we ultimately chose but in a different way, and the third was largely typographic.
Once we settled on the image, we worked quite hard to come up with the best way to use it. From the start, I had imagined it wrapped around the boards of a pre-printed case rather than as a jacket. Once we decided to go that route, we looked at several ways to add a jacket on top of it—a translucent mylar paper, a belly band, and a short jacket were all options. In the end, we went for the short jacket, hand-lettered and designed by PUP designer, Allison Grow. The short jacket allowed us to include copy and blurbs without printing on the art itself any more than necessary. A reader can remove the jacket and view the art relatively intact.
Allison: As Maria mentioned, there were 3 different concepts that were presented. Once the Untitled image was selected to work with, I had tons and tons of scans of typographical treatments to work with. I experimented with all different mediums, pens, markers, paint, etc. until I came to a satisfactory solution. It was really just a matter of experimenting with my tools to find the right type treatment that would correspond well with the artwork.
Why and how did this cover make the final cut?
M: Ultimately, we chose this approach because it embodies the spirit of the book in a way that the others did not. Create Dangerously is a very personal book about emotionally charged experiences. I think we managed to capture that quality with the design.
Why did this particular design stand out from the rest?
A: One of the things that I think sets this title apart from other books, is that it is mostly created by hand (apart from the quotes, etc. on the jacket).
Did the idea for this design immediately come to you, or was designing this cover particularly challenging?
A: With every book assignment, a new and different challenge is presented. It is certainly a balancing act; staying true to the personal artistic vision that I had as well as the authors, while pleasing the editorial and marketing departments. I immediately fell in love with the title of the book and the drawing. Upon first glance, the image to me, evoked a sense of despair, and struggle, at the same time, it is delicate and beautiful. The gestural lines of the artwork inspired me to create something by hand for the jacket and case. I found myself doing a lot of research on Haiti in order to get a better understanding of the culture/art/geography etc. I wanted to create something that would echo the feeling created by the drawing without distracting from it. It was important for me to make sure that the short jacket would compliment the case. Most importantly, my goal was for the jacket to feel authentic to Haiti without being trite, so being able to work collaboratively with the author as well as within the press, I think we accomplished that very well.
Did you collaborate with Edwidge Danticat to come up with this design? How is this cover a realization of her vision, your vision, and the vision of Princeton University Press?
M: This was truly a collaborative project. We were lucky to have the help of the author and the artist, and Allison did a wonderful job of integrating her hand-lettering with the art. In addition, the editor and the marketing department were open to the idea of doing things a little bit differently.
Create Dangerously, from cover to cover, is an amalgamation of two immigrant artists, who, despite having a homeland in common, created two very different – yet powerful – pieces. Maria and Allison emulated the authenticity and integrity of Haitian art and artists, creating a beautiful cover design of which everyone at PUP can be proud.