For more than 20 years, the Western Massachusetts-based Paris Press worked diligently to publish pioneering literature by women, and to educate the public about that literature. The press as it once existed is now gone, but its mission continues at Amherst.
Frost Library’s Archives and Special Collections has purchased some 80 boxes of manuscripts, correspondence and other documents spanning the life of the press.
“In one fell swoop, we now have much more representation of women authors in the Archives than we’ve ever had before,” says head of Archives and Special Collections Michael Kelly. That’s important for several reasons, not least because, in Kelly’s words, “part of our mission is to make the contents of the Archives reflect the diversity of the student body and faculty.” Also, the new materials complement existing Amherst collections from other small presses, and manuscripts by many poets, including Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost and Richard Wilbur ’42.
Who knows who’s in there?” says archivist Michael Kelly. “It might be somebody who sent a manuscript to them 15 years ago who’s now famous. We don’t know. That’s kind of the fun of archives.”
Jan Freeman started Paris Press in 1995 with the express purpose of reviving Muriel Rukeyser’s 1949 book The Life of Poetry, a meditation on the interconnected nature of poetry and other disciplines, which had been out of print for years. The press went on to publish 15 other titles.
Most notably for Amherst, in 1998 Paris Press published Open Me Carefully, a selection of Dickinson’s letters to her neighbor and sister-in-law, Susan Huntington Dickinson, with commentary from editors Ellen Louise Hart and Martha Nell Smith.
The newly acquired collection features material documenting the meticulous production of Open Me Carefully. “It is a very complete record about how that book specifically came from being an idea in an author’s mind to a book that is now on the shelves of libraries around the world,” Kelly says.
Other treasures include cover-art ideas and design mockups, original manuscripts, galleys, edited proofs, typesetters’ notes, indexers’ correspondence, and recordings of readings. There are also letters and emails from authors, reviewers and book review editors.
Some of the manuscripts were sent unsolicited to Paris Press and remain unpublished. “Who knows who’s in there?” Kelly says. “It might be somebody who sent a manuscript to them 15 years ago who’s now famous. We don’t know. That’s kind of the fun of archives.”