"Chicano writers from El Paso are the most progressive, open-minded, far-reaching, and inclusive writers of them all."

Octavio Romano

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Are chapbooks losing their chapyness?

Are chapbooks losing their chapyness?

I have always been a fan of the chapbook. This small, cheaply-made book of knowledge, sometimes aimed at introducing new writers or writers ignored by the bigger presses. 

Many smaller presses put out chapbooks or run contests and publish the winner in the chapbook. There are even many well-known university presses that will publish a chapbook line.

I get chapbooks in the mail of and on to review. However, sometimes, some chapbooks I receive look like --- well, books.

But advertising themselves as chapbooks.

So that is my questions for this evening, these chapbooks which are suppose to be chaparito, are losing there chappyness.

What is a Chapbook? Nobody really knows.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines chapbook as “a small pamphlet containing tales, ballads, or tracts, sold by pedlars.” So make sure the next time you see a representative from a small press, to call him or her a pedlar. Okay, so maybe the guys at Oxford don't have the best definition.

Let's cross the ocean and ask Webster: a small pamphlet containing tales, poetry, ballads, or tracts, sold by pedlars. Well at least Webster includes poetry. You poeta peddlers and sigh relief.

Nevertheless, Oxford does gives us some etymology about the word chapbook. It gives the origin from chapman, which in turn comes from Old English meaning “cheap.” Webster gives the origins of the word around 1798. In fact, peddlers who sold chapbooks were called "Chapman" ("Give me one reason to stay here...").

All in all, the term “chapbook” is a pretty generic term. When you look at the history of what was called “chapbook,” it included a whole lot of printed material, and not necessarily the small printed books with a staple or two that we equate with chapbooks today.

We know this, chapbooks are small paper-covered booklets. Usually folded single-sheets into various lengths.

Some put chapbooks at 24 pages, that is six 8 ½ x 11 sized pages put together, although some chapbooks like the famous Guy of Warwick was 144 pages. Historically, the paper used in making chapbooks was inexpensive. Other examples that were not book-like included the broadside and slip poems.

Another trait of the chapbook is how many are published. For example, the famed Chicano Chapbook Series published only 300 prints of each chapbook. 

As for binding, I've seem many differnt types. Most chapbooks nowadays are end-bounded and others saddle stitched. Some larger chapbook are perfect bound, which gives the appearance of a paperback book. I have even seen some chapbooks spiral bounded and comb bounded. Check out this photo of a "modern chapbook."

Born from rebellion: Censorship and the flourishing of the chapbook

The chapbook has always had a bit of rebellion in it. My knowledge of non-English publishing is not great, so I'll focus on some English history.

We need to look to the Germans first. The Gutenberg Revolution, or the change in medium with the invention of the Gutenberg printing press, began in 1440. That is just 50 years before Columbus “discovered” America. From the reign of Henry VIII onward is the era we are talking about. The printing press was first brought to England in 1476. A Renaissance printer could put out about 3,600 pages of print a day doing about 240 impression an hour.

But even before Gutenberg's invention and its subsequent arrival in England, England has a type of censorship in that publishing was controlled by the monarchy.

When I tell writers that the development of copyright was more to benefit publishers than creators of the work, many writers get mad at me. Nevertheless, this is the case and in my opinion still remains the case. This has origins in the monopoly the English monarchy gave the Stationers.

A group of printers, call the Stationers (hence the word stationary), received exclusive license to publish. In 1557, the Stationers' Company received a royal charter, and it was responsible for setting and enforcing copyright until famous Statute of Anne in 1709. 

This is important, as this quasi-censorship takes us through the Protestant Reformation and the English Civil War. The Stationers had a monopoly on publishing.

But what often happens with censorship, plays, and other writings were published illegally, usually in small publications – chapbooks.

There were about 24 licensed printers in London (part of the censorship was that printing was also limited to London). However, by the 1600, London had hundreds of unlicensed printers. By 1620, some innovations in type face, made printing cheaper, and printing flourished, especially cheap printing like chapbooks (pamphlets, handbills, etc.).

This was just in time for the Civil War and probably played a part in creating the rise in publishing as those opposed to the monarchy relished the fact that so much anti-monarchy literature was being published and distributed. 

On the flip side, the Roundheads who dethroned Charles I would later institute their own censorship to literature being published that was against the Protectorate. With the Civil War closing in, both sides published their propaganda. Charles I was known to respond to anti-monarchy pamphlets.

Though newspapers could be somewhat controlled, pamphlets flourished as well as stage plays. Pamphlets were easy to carry from town to town, could be sent through the mail without much interference from overburdened censors, and often contained pictures that were not to flattering. It's easy to see why the public ate these up.

Publications of pamphlets flourishing despite the censorship and monopoly

This flourishing of publications was occurring despite severe punishments for printing unlicensed work. Nevertheless, by the end of the 1600s and the beheading of Charles I, the enforcement of the licensing crumbled with the monarchy.

After this period, publishing reached one of its greatest heights in England.

In Freedom of the Press in England, 1476-1776 , Fredrick Siebert states that in 1640 only 22 pamphlets were published, but in the four year following more than 1,000 were printed in each year. The tremendous increase in publishing had no real economic incentive for the pamphlet author and publisher. The spread of ideas was what was driving this printing increase.

Like chapbooks today, there is not a lot of economic incentive for the publishers of chapbooks. Publication of chapbooks relies on the want to distribute knowledge.

What does this have to do with chapbooks published by Chicanas and Chicanos. It is the rebelliousness of the chapbook that I draw comparison.

With the advent of the Protectorate, Cromwell instituted censorship laws. In 1649, Parliament passed the Printing Act. Though the king had been executed, much to public appeal, when the act finally did happen, the public had a much different response then expected and this was driven by pamphleteers. The Printing Act limited printing to London and instituted licensing again and outlawed “scandalous” printing especially.

However, by that time the free flow of information had become unstoppable.

It was actually the proliferation of the newspaper serials that helped abate the pamphleteers. The expansion of newspapers was encouraged and even assisted by parliament as newspapers could be better controlled.

After the restoration and the Glorious Revolution, time had changed and Parliament passed the Statue of Anne whose actual title reference the “encouragement of learning.”

So you see the chapbook has rebellious beginnings which remain to this day in that they exist in opposition to the establishment. Small enough for the sometimes “non-reading” public to read. Cheap enough to give a writer a name creating an alternative pathway into publication.

Again, you're asking, what the hell does this have to do with Chicana(o) literature?

Like what the Protectorate found when it tired to censor or limit publication -- chapbooks made Chicano(a) literature unstoppable.

To be continued....


1 comment:

Raymundo Eli Rojas said...

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