In 2019, the Rare Book and Special Collections Division acquired a printer’s archive of material that belonged to psychoanalyst-turned-printer Barry Magid (1949-). Dr. Magid founded his own press, the Dim Gray Bar Press (an anagram of Magid’s name), which he operated from roughly 1989 through 2001. The press archive holds most of the print materials produced by the press during this period, along with correspondence, manuscript submissions, trial sheets, printer proofs, and the zinc-engraved blocks used for illustrations. With this blog post, I’d like to provide a little history of the press, along with some examples of its creative output.
Magid had a long history of collecting books and an interest in printing, but he wanted something “more hands-on than writing a check.” It was the late 1980s, and he signed-up for a letterpress printing class with the New York Center for Book Arts that was taught by Carol Sturm (1949-2022) of the Nadja Press.
Whereas most students in a beginning printing class might be interested in producing a simple Christmas greeting, a business card, or even a single-sheet broadside for an initial project, Magid had other ideas. In preparation for his class, he secured the rights to publish Nicholas of Cusa’s Dialogue about the Hidden God that had been translated by theologian, mystic, and poet Thomas Merton (1915-1968). He also discovered a type-foundry that would set his selected typeface (Goudy Thirty Monotype) and send the pages ready for printing to the Center for Book Arts. Mr. Magid arrived to his first day of class ready to print a small book. Through instruction—and a good amount of trial-and-error—he completed the printing in an edition of 100 copies. The Rare Book and Special Collections Division holds two copies of this work.
While working on another project, Magid came into contact with American poet and writer, Guy Davenport (1927- 2005) and asked if he could print something by him. Davenport agreed to allow Magid to print Belinda’s World Tour, a story originally from the biography of Franz Kafka (1883-1924). As the story goes, Kafka was walking in the park, when he came across a little girl crying for her lost doll. He assured her the doll wasn’t lost but instead was traveling around the world. He then began sending postcards to the little girl from the doll and describing her travels. In this book, the doll’s postcard text is by Davenport, and the illustrations are by Deborah Norden, Magid’s spouse.
Another project would put Magid into contact with literary giant, Jonathan Williams (1929 – 2008). Often referred to as “the truffle hound of American poetry” because he could spot talented new writers, Williams was a poet and printer himself at his Jargon Society press in North Carolina. In 1994, Magid printed Williams’ Letters to Mencken from the Land of Pink Lichen. The title page includes a portrait of Mencken produced from a zinc-engraved block created by Guy Davenport.
In yet another project, Magid printed Climbing Mt. Sinai, a collection of poetry by American poet Sharon Dolin (1956-). Dolin is a recipient of the Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress and the AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry. This volume is one of 126 copies with a zinc engraving of Mt. Sinai.
The Dim Gray Bar Press printed two works by renowned poet and National Book Award recipient Mark Doty: Favrile (1997) and An Island Sheaf (1998). These two Dim Gray Bar Press chapbooks came just a few years after the publication of Doty’s acclaimed book of poetry, My Alexandria (1993), which employs imagery of a decaying city to explore mortality in an age of HIV/AIDS.
In 2000, Magid printed Two Poems by Rachel Hadas (1948-), which includes “Change is the Stranger” and “The Crust House.” Hadas, a poet, writer, translator, and teacher, is the recipient of numerous prizes, including the O.B. Hardison Award from the Folger Shakespeare Library and an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
These are just a handful of samples of the materials held in the Dim Gray Bar Press archive. This collection and others are available for research in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. For more information, send a query to the reference staff via Ask-A-Librarian.
Dim Gray Bar Press Bibliography : https://www.barrymagid.com/press
A Memoir of the Dim Gray Bar Press by Barry Magid: https://barrymagid.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/A-Memoir-of-the-Dim-Gray-Bar-Press.pdf