Little Magazine Collection


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Tupelo Quarterly, “generous artistic community,” and “the little magazine spirit”

With today’s launch of the third issue of Tupelo Quarterly, we wanted to take the excuse to highlight what we think is some innovative work in the realm of digital literary publishing.

TQ, a project of Tupelo Press, articulates in its mission, “Tupelo Quarterly cultivates generous artistic community, celebrates intellectual curiosity and creative risk, and presumes abundance. We hold the gate open, not closed.”

The launch notes (from TQ1) by editor-in-chief Jessamyn Smith articulate an intentional departure from the sense of scarcity and ego that can sometimes seem to dominate the world of literary publishing. She writes that she wants to to cultivate “generous artistic community”.

And as a concrete act of that generosity, TQ intern Ryan shares problems and solutions to online publishing and Wordpress as a platform (including how do you indent a poem with complex formatting?).

We’re always on the lookout for innovative little magazines that are expanding Felix Pollak’s vision of the "little magazine spirit" into the digital realm, and so we’re excited to keep following Tupelo Quarterly.

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The art feature in Filling Station (“Canada’s alternative literary magazine”) issue 54 is Calgary artist Lisa Brawn, with woodcut likenesses of writers such as Margaret Atwood, Tennesse Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Dorothy Parker, and more. The blocks are cut from salvaged Douglas Fir beams. “I don’t make prints from the woodcuts,” says Brawn in her artist’s statement, “but prefer the tactile quality of the blocks themselves.”

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We romanticize at our peril. We won’t solve the body. We can only keep asking, keep noticing what we find when we push in deeper. I am nine hours in Ariel’s chair the day we apply the greens, blues, and ambers.
Barrie Jean Borich, in an essay “On Ink and Refusal,” Hotel Amerika v. 12 (Winter 2014).

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Women and Little Magazines: Helen Van Vechten and The Philosopher

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, UW-Madison Special Collections would like to recognize one of the very early women contributors to the production of Little Magazines in the United States. Her name was Helen Van Vechten, and with her husband and a local newspaperman as business partners, she ran The Philosopher Press out of Wausau, Wisconsin. 

Essentially a job printing house of fine press editions, the press published many famous authors of the day. Two newspapermen started the Philosopher Press in the late 1890s. After one left to work on his newspaper full time, the remaining partner, William H. Ellis, took on Phillip Van Vechten to help him operate the business.  

The story goes that Helen Van Vechten initially joined the printing office to help with the bookkeeping. But when her husband started spending more time managing their lumber interests, she took over the bulk of the printing work.

The first image below displays advertisements for press editions of two noted authors’ works: Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s, Jenny, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s, A Lodging for the Night. The second image displays book cover designs for another pair of writers and their works: Alfred Lloyd Tennyson’s Elaine alongside Laura Cooke Barker’s Mezzotints. Laura Cooke Barker was a Midwest author based in Ohio. The Philosopher Press work was influenced heavily by other such fine printing efforts at the time, namely that of William Morris and the Kelmscott Press, founded in England in 1891 (part of the Arts and Crafts movement, which aimed to undo the increasing mass production and mechanization of printing and publishing by returning to well-crafted paper, beautiful type, and small print runs).  


[Courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society Archives Rare Book Collection.]


[Courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society Archives Rare Book Collection.]

Entirely self-taught, in just several months Helen Van Vechten became extremely skilled at selecting paper and working with inks. She is also believed to have devised a solution for feeding deckle-edged paper that ensured accurate registration on both sides of the sheet. This innovation was covered at the time in various newspaper accounts of the press but has since been regarded as a conventional printing technique that had been used before. It’s possible that as new printers returned to hand press printing, they had to reinvent procedures that had once been established and then forgotten with the advent of mass printing. These newspaper accounts were equally amazed that a woman in the woods of Central Wisconsin was doing any kind of printing at all.

Philosopher Press also published a monthly literary journal, named The Philosopher, which printed a mix of prose and poetry by men and women, and included illustrations. It was sold at newsstands for ten cents an issue. The Philosopher ran from 1897 to 1906; the name arose from the regular visits with local intellectuals, who would gather around the wood stove in the print shop to discuss philosophy, art, and politics. The little magazine at first published the work of contributing writers and artists, but after 1900 it stopped accepting contributions and printed editorials mainly penned by its owners, especially William H. Ellis. The Little Magazines collection at UW-Madison Special Collections includes Volumes 1-5 and Volume 10 of this publication. The holdings of the Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS) contain Volumes 1-18, the entire run of the publication.


The smaller volumes measure roughly 5 x 7 inches. Binding was done by the press itself.


Title page for Volume II.


Index for Volume III. Women authors and illustrators contributed to the pages of The Philosopher as frequently as men did. They included lesser known writers, Midwestern writers, and authors who had already gained fame and reputation for their work. Among these were Elia Peattie, a noted journalist, author, and critic based in Chicago; Laura Cooke Barker, the Ohio author mentioned above, who also had several full-length works published by The Philosopher Press; and Zona Gale, a Wisconsin writer and playwright who would win the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for her play (first a novel) Miss Lulu Bett in 1921.


Volume I, No. 2, February 1897. 


Volume II, No. 4, October 1897.


Volume I, No. 4, May 1897.

For more information on The Philosopher Press, The Philosopher, and Helen Van Vechten:

Gnat, R.E. (2008). The Books & Work of The Philosopher Press at The Sign of the Green Pine in Wausau, Wisconsin. Indianapolis: The Press of the Printer’s Devil.

Marathon County Historical Society page on Helen Van Vechten:

Wallin, F. (2006). Mrs. Van and the Philosopher Press. Asheville: Pine Tree Press, Inc. [Available in UW-Madison Memorial Library, Special Collections: Z232 P62 W35 2006]

Wisconsin Historical Society Archives: Van Vechten, Helen Bruneau. Papers, 1899-1910. SC 358 MAD 4/14/SC 358


I would like to thank the following people for assistance with this post: Susan Barribeau, English Language Humanities Librarian, UW-Madison Memorial Library; Tracy Honn, Director, Silver Buckle Press, UW-Madison Memorial Library; Andy Kraushaar, Wisconsin Historical Society Library-Archives and Digital Lab; and Oliver Bendorf, a recent graduate of the MFA program at UW-Madison now working on his MLIS degree, and the editor of this blog.

Susie Seefelt Lesieutre

Filed under women women's history printing Helen Van Vechten Wausau Wisconsin The Philosopher Press The Philosopher Kelmscott Press Arts and Crafts movement

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Interview with Jack Gilbert, Asheville Poetry Review v. 20, no. 1 (Interview conducted in two parts, four years apart; 2003 and 2007.)

Chard deNiord:
How do you feel now in looking back on your life, your career?
Jack Gilbert:
Grateful. I lived my life so richly in so many ways. By falling in love. By being poor. I lived my life in such a wide range of being me. Not deliberately, but that's the way it happened. I've had an extraordinary life.

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I’m of two minds about that description. On the one hand, what’s not to like about glitter and sparkly stuff, the trappings that have been making drag queens (and real ones) shine since the dawn of time? On the other hand, I sort of distrust the idea that what would make the world seem to shine would be an application of luster from without. I have a friendly relationship with artifice, but I’m also drawn to those things that gleam from within, of their own accord.
Mark Doty, in an interview in Crab Creek Review v. 24, no. 1, in response to a question that mentions critics’ descriptions of his work as “lyrical glitter,” as “shiny”.

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