In conjunction with "Wise Men Fished Here: A Centennial Exhibition in Honor of the Gotham Book Mart, 1920–2020," the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts will host a three-day conference on the theme of Modernism – Materiality – Meaning. During its formative years, the Gotham Book Mart was one of the few book shops in North America to specialize in avant-garde and modernist literature, film, and art. Over its long run of 85 years in business, the shop attracted not only New Yorkers but also an international clientele eager to purchase little magazines and small press publications. Like other modernist bookshops, the Gotham Book Mart not only served as a retail space, but also acted as a publisher, distributor, and agent. The shop played an advocacy role for independent publishers seeking a space to promote new books, and provided a meeting place and salon for many writers. Above all, founder Frances Steloff provided support and friendship to five generations of Anglo-American and European writers (and expatriates) who visited her shop in midtown New York.
Responding to growing interest in the concept of the modernist book store, the Modernism – Materiality – Meaning conference will provide a framework for exploring the role of the Gotham Book Mart within the larger context of the printing arts, non-commercial publishing, retailing, and the marketing of modernism, with particular attention to the important role of little magazines and small presses. Other topics will include Surrealism, the New York poetry scene, the Beats, Edward Gorey, and much more. The conference will be preceded by a film festival inspired by the Gotham Book Mart’s promotion of modernist film. Other events will include a poetry reading, panels, and workshops.
Speakers participating in the conference include keynote speaker Andrew Thacker (Nottingham Trent Oxford University), Lise Jaillant (Loughborough University), Michael Taylor (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts), Steve Clay (Granary Books), Brian Cassidy (Brian Cassidy Books), Anne Waldman (Naropa University), Dan Saxon (magazine publisher), Paul Saint-Amour (UPenn), Jean-Christophe Cloutier (UPenn), Josh Kotin (Princeton University), Brad Duncan (UPenn), Liliane Weissberg (UPenn), Michael Duncan (art critic), Michael Thurston (Smith College), Steve Rothman (book collector), and Tim Murray (University of Delaware), among others.
In 2013, Penn Libraries celebrated the dedication of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, named in honor of Jay I. Kislak (Wharton 1943). Jay I. Kislak and the Kislak Family Foundation donated $5.5 million to the Penn Libraries to complete the renovation of the 5th and 6th floors of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, and have contributed to ongoing Kislak Center programming, including To the Ends of the Earth, a conference on cartography, migration, and space (March 2017), as well as this year's celebration of the Gotham Book Mart.