David McKnight is Director of the Rare Books and Manuscript Library & Curator of the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries. He holds a BA in Classics and History (McGill University, 1985), an MLIS (McGill University, 1992) and an MA in English (Concordia University, 1993) and is active in the field of digital libraries, book history, and descriptive bibliography. Among his scholarly interests is Modernist publishing forms including the small press and little magazines, particularly in Canada. In 1996, he curated a major exhibition: New Wave Canada: The Coach House Press and the Small Press Movement in English Canada in the 1960s / La Nouvelle Vague canadienne: Coach House Press et la proliferation des presses specialisées au Canada anglais durant les années 60 (http://epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/200/301/lac-bac/new_wave_canada-ef/www.lac-...). McKnight authored the entry “Small Press Publishing” in volume 3 of History of the Book in Canada (Toronto, 2007).
University of Pennsylvania
Personal Statement About Topic:
In the mid-1980s I turned my attention to collecting Canadian modernist and avant-garde literature. One of the collecting veins that I had developed from the early seventies included James Laughlin’s New Directions Press titles. Laughlin is remembered as the American publisher of Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and many other twentieth century modernist writers. It was at this time that I became interested in the New Directions imprint and began to acquire books published by Toronto’s Coach House Press (1965-). CHP books evoked a sixties sensibility which was unmistakable and the books were typographically and graphically evocative. As I began my MA in Montreal in the mid-eighties, I was introduced to a scholar interested in twentieth-century literary publishing, in particular little magazines. The world of the small press is a complex ecosystem. Thus I had to make choices. I channelled my collecting interest in three key areas: Canadian literary magazines, Canadian small press imprints, and the Coach House Press imprint. In the case of the latter two, the collectors’ field was crowded and imprints were expensive, particularly those published prior to 1965 (Modernism arrived late in Canada), however, literary periodical collecting was open and, although there were collectors who sought individual titles, no one was ambitious or silly enough to collect exhaustively from 1920 to the present. This was the project I embraced as I sought examples to document my bibliographical work. Over the course of the next decade I built the foundation of my current Canadian little magazine and small press collection and archive, of great importance, in terms of the tenor and shape of my collection. In tracing the history of the little magazine in Canada inevitably I encountered Contact, Raymond Souster’s mimeographed magazine. Appearing on 8.5 x 11.5 stock, each page was pristinely typed and each issue was stapled in the corner and it evoked an immediacy and sense of subversion that was rivalled only by John Sutherland’s First Statement. I followed the history of Contact from mag to imprints, acquiring examples from the press. There are several titles that pose particular challenges for the collector. W.E.E. Ross’s mimeographed Experiment (1956) is extremely rare, (although I have tracked down a copy, but not yet purchased it). Copies of another rare title – Let Us Compare Mythologies – Leonard Cohen’s first book, are on the market for $4000 USD. This price is prohibitive. While I’m still missing a few issues of Contact and lacking key Contact Press titles, I have amassed a representative group of titles which illustrate Louis Dudek, Irving Layton, and Raymond Souster’s devotion to “getting the word out” for the benefit of both writers and readers of the time and the generations that have followed.