restricted access To Be a Publisher: Lillian Jones Horace and the Dotson-Jones Printing Company
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To Be a Publisher Lillian Jones Horace and the Dotson-­ Jones Printing Company Alisha Coleman Knight When was the last time you looked at a book? I am not asking you about the last time you read a book. No, I am asking you to recall the last time you examined a book, felt the weight of it in your hand, noticed whether the binding was stitched or glued, rubbed your fingers over an embossed leather cover, listened to the “crack” upon opening a crisp, new volume, or smelled the mold of an old favorite.Think about the last time you visually examined or physically handled a book and considered its characteristics as a material object. Academics certainly cherish the content of their books, but many of us in this digital age have taken the book itself for granted. I want to clarify that my interests in books are not akin to those of the members of the Bodleian Club in Library established by Horace at I. M. Terrell High School 152 Alisha Coleman Knight Charles W. Chesnutt’s short story, “Baxter’s Procrustes,” who believed “a book is a work of art, of which the contents are no more important than the words of an opera.”1 In fact, myopening question is a little misleading , since the subject of this essay is book history and print culture, not book arts, which is a closely related, but different field. Book history (also known as the history of the book) can provide a useful lens through which to assess the importance of Lillian Jones Horace’s Five Generations Hence (1916). As the prominent book historian Robert Darnton has explained, the purpose of this field is “to understand how ideas were transmitted through print and how exposure to the printed word affected the thought and behaviorof mankind.”2 Book historians are interdisciplinarians who are concerned with the phases of a book’s “life cycle,” or what Darnton has called a “communications circuit that runs from the author to the publisher . . . the printer, the shipper, the bookseller, and the reader.” Whether studying a particular phase of this process or the process as a whole, scholars are mindful of “all [of this life cycle’s] variations over space and time and in all its relations with other systems, economic, social, political, and cultural, in the surrounding environment.”3 Studying the strategies that African American book publishers and self-­ published authors, like Horace, used to produce and market their work can reveal the African American community’s “attitudes toward books and the context of their use.”4 This in turn can illuminate how book publishing and dissemination strategies shaped African American intellectual and literary history in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Unfortunately, very little information is available about the publication history of Five Generations Hence, a utopian novel that depicts African American missionaries emigrating to Africa. However, in the absence of detailed records about this novel’s production, it is still possible to offer a close reading of it to uncover how Horace attempted to use book production for and book dissemination within the black community to affect social and political change. When Lillian Jones Horace was in her late fifties, she reflected in her diaryabout her “first great ambition to read”and “another towrite.” She described herself as someone who “loved to read, to study, to know.” Indeed, when she was younger, she had read “blood curdling stories . . . voraciously.”5 Anyone reading Horace’s very personal diary will notice that she did not write it with flawless syntax for the benefit of future 153 To Be a Publisher readers.When she recalled “novels—hide[ing] under the house,” it isn’t clear whether she hid under the house as she read chilling novels, or merely stored her cherished books under the house for safekeeping.6 Either way, books were important to her, so important that she wanted “more than any tangible thing to write a book worth the reading by an intelligent person—not necessarily my friend.”7 Not only did Horace love being surrounded by books, but throughout her life she let everyone know that she wanted to produce them. An undated memory book (circa 1921–22) that Horace received when she studied and worked at Simmons University in Louisville, Kentucky, provides some evidence for how she imagined herself as a writer. In this gift book friends and colleagues wrote notes to her, and it is clear that they knew of...