HR 22 Editorial

by Christina Thompson

Since the spring of 2000 Harvard Review has been published by Houghton Library, the rare books library of the Harvard College Library. One of the many benefits of this association, from the Review’s perspective, is access to Houghton’s collection of printing and graphic arts. This collection documents the development of letterform and the art of the book over several centuries, and includes a stunning array of illuminated and calligraphic manuscripts, illustrated books, artists’ books, drawings and prints for illustration, wood blocks, printing plates, type specimens, writing manuals, and decorated papers.

Among the most spectacular of these last are the Feridun Özgören marbled papers, contemporary examples of the ancient Islamic art of ebrû, a 500-year-old practice that came to be known in Europe as paper marbling. What I love about Özgören’s work, a sample of which appears on the cover of this issue, is not only its jewel-like color and strange, organic forms—like stones or pebbles or leaves, like clouds, like water—but the way in which it is both old and new, traditional and innovative, original and yet clearly part of something larger than itself.

I like to think that there are similar qualities in much of the writing in this issue. There is a similar sensuousness in “Lavender,” an essay by André Aciman about scent, a similar sense of mastery and respect for form in John Updike’s pen-portrait of Hyman Bloom. There is a similar experimentalism in the stories by Paul Harding and Alan Heathcock; a similar depth of feeling in the story by Jess Row; and a similar awareness of aesthetic context in the portraits by Ellsworth Kelly.

A journal is not a work of art, but it must be guided by principles. We could do worse than to try to be fresh, creative, to say something new and yet, at the same time, to be always aware of our relationship to history. As I look over the table of contents I am struck by the range represented here— from the wackiness of Shel Silverstein’s plays to the clarity of Helen Vendler’s criticism—but if there is a theme it is that of apprenticeship, in which humility combines with ambition to accomplish something of value and interest to us all.

First published in Harvard Review 22

Published on February 19, 2015