1115 8th Ave, Grinnell, IA 50112,
Iowa City, Iowa, United States
School of Journalism at University of Iowa
1400 R St, Lincoln, NE 68588, United States
University of Nebraska
(In five provocative essays, collected here for the first ...)
In five provocative essays, collected here for the first time, Duncan delineates the history of this ideal in his own life, and explores its implicatioons for today's hand-printer and for future generations of readers. This is the second printing of this popular book, printed by offset at the Wind River Press. Distributed for W. Thomas Taylor.
As a student of high school in Keokuk, Iowa, and of Grinnell College in the same state, Harry Duncan aspired to become a poet; but when he went to Massachusetts’ Cummington School of the Arts to study poetry, he ended up as a hand-printer of fine book editions instead and made a major contribution to that field. Having learned something about that craft at the Cummington School, he set up a hand press for the school’s head, Katherine Frazier, at her request in 1939. Abetted by a friend, the illustrator Paul Wightman Williams, Duncan saw to it that Cummington Press maintained the highest standards of book design and production.
He earned a bachelor's degree in English in 1938 from Grinnell College.
In 1944 Duncan printed his first book by the great American poet Robert Lowell, The Land of Unlikeness, having met Lowell through the poet and critic Allen Tate, who was Duncan’s godfather in the Roman Catholic Church. Like Lowell and Tate, Duncan was a convert to that faith. Through the Cummington School, Duncan met other poets as well, and printed the works of some of them. With a list that included, over the years, such illustrious names as R. P. Blackmur, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, Tennessee Williams, William Carlos Williams, and Yvor Winters, Duncan printed, by his wife’s estimate, about 135 books of poetry or fiction during a long and distinguished career. In the process he came to be known as “the father of the post-World War II private-press movement,” in the words of a Newsweek contributor as quoted in a New York Times obituary by publishing- industry reporter Eric Pace.
A Fine Print magazine contributor assessed Duncan’s contribution this way in 1978 (also quoted in the New York Times obituary): “Harry Duncan’s virtuosity, taste and experience have enabled him to reconcile the aesthetic and practical demands of printing and typography and weld them together with literary excellence.” After almost two decades during which he supported himself by driving a school bus while running his press, Williams in 1956 accepted a job as director of the typography laboratory at the University of Iowa School of Journalism. In 1972, he accepted another prestigious position, founding Abattoir Press in Omaha under the auspices of the University of Nebraska. This allowed him to print and publish books full-time. He retired from teaching in 1985.
Duncan’s knowledge of and views on the craft of book printing were gathered into a number of small volumes, notably Doors of Perception: Essays in Book Typography (1983). The occasional lectures and essays published therein included “The Cummington Press,” “The Technology of Hand Printing,” “My Master Victor Hammer,” and “The Permanence of Books.” The essays expressed Duncan’s credo that “books are communicative instruments so vital to civilization that their production must not be consigned wholly to automatic means, whether industrial, technological, or economic.”
As a poet, Duncan sometimes printed his own verse; he was also anthologized in an influential 1954 collection, Poets of Today.
He also translated poetry of Guillaume Apollinaire from the French, and of Dante from the Italian, and set them in fine editions of his own.
(In five provocative essays, collected here for the first ...)1983
Quotes from others about the person
“Because he was a poet and a writer, he believed the book shouldn’t get in the way of the poetry; the book should act as a window to the word.” – Nancy, his wife
Duncan married Nancy, a former student of his at the University of Iowa, in 1960. They had 3 children - Guy, Barnaby and Lucy Elizabeth.