Archive for May, 2011

lolita: the story of a cover girl, john bertram & yuri leving, eds.

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011


Readers of Venus febriculosa will know that in 2009 after discovering Covering Lolita, Dieter Zimmer’s online collection of covers, I sponsored a book cover competition for a new cover for Lolita. In all, 105 entrants from 34 countries submitted a total of 155 entries. Subsequently, I was approached by Yuri Leving, editor of the Nabokov Online Journal about writing an essay on the experience. I readily agreed, and the following year my paper was published. It occurred to me that this is a subject with much more to explore and decided it would be worth taking the project one step further. I contacted book designers, artists, design critics, and Nabokov scholars about participating in an interdisciplinary work exploring the issues uncovered by Covering Lolita and the Venus febriculosa contest. The result is Lolita: The Story of a Cover Girl which contains eighty new covers including a handful of the best covers from the competition along with a dozen essays about Nabokov and design. The forthcoming book will be published by Print Books in August (with the cover you see here by Sulki & Min!). You can see a sampling of some of the covers as well as an interview with me in Recovering Lolita, a wonderful article on Print Magazine’s site! Mary Gaitskill, author of Bad Behavior, is writing the foreword. Pre-order a copy of the book here!

Contributors include:

Stephen Blackwell, Chair, Russian Program, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and author of The Quill and the Scalpel: Nabokov’s Art and the Worlds of Science

Barbara Bloom, Nabokov-obsessed conceptual artist (Revised EvidenceVera’s Butterflies, The Collections of Barbara Bloom)

Sian Cook, London College of Communication and Teal Triggs, Professor of Graphic Design, Royal College of Art, co-directors of the Women’s Design + Research Unit and designers, with Liz McQuiston, of the Pussy Galore conceptual font

Leland de la Durantaye, Gardner Cowles Associate Professor of English at Harvard and the author of the wonderful Style is Matter: The Moral Art of Vladimir Nabokov

Mary Gaitskill, author of several books, including Two Girls, Fat and Thin, Veronica, and Bad Behavior.

John Gall, art director at Vintage and Anchor Books and designer of the latest cover of Lolita, who acted as resident expert and adviser for the contest.

Yuri Leving, Chair, Department of Russian Studies at Dalhousie University and editor of the Nabokov Online Journal

Ellen Pifer, Professor of English & Comparative Literature at the University of Delaware, former president of the International Vladimir Nabokov Society, and editor of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita: A Casebook

Alice Twemlow, Chair and program co-founder, Design Criticism Department, School of Visual Arts and author of What is Graphic Design For?

Duncan White, Co-Editor with Will Normanof Transitional Nabokov

Paul Maliszewski, author of Paperback Nabokov

Dieter E. Zimmer, Author of Wirbelsturm Lolita; A Guide to Nabokov’s Butterflies and Moths; and Nabokov’s Berlin

There are so many incredible designers on board providing new covers including:

Mark Abrams

Keira Alexandra

Geetika Alok

Suzene Ang


Helen Armstrong

Aleksander Bak

Rachel Berger

Laura Berglund

Michael Bierut

Kelly Blair

Davis Carr

Sara Cwynar

Matt Dorfman

Johanna Drucker

David Drummond

Aliza Dzik

Vivienne Flesher

John Fulbrook III

Xavi Garcia

David Gee

Elena Giavaldi

Kate Gibb

Walter Green

Elena Grossman

Lyuba Haleva

Kat Hammill

Lauren Harden & Seth Ferris

Margot Harrington

The Heads of State

Jessica Helfand

Jennifer Heuer

Jessica Hische

Karen Hsu

Agata Jakubowska

Daniel Justi

Jamie Keenan

Philip Kelly

Ely Kim

Marina Mills Kitchen

Gregg Kulick

Chin-Yee Lai

Mark Lazenby

Sueh Li Tan

Ellen Lupton

Mary Voorhees Meehan

Mark Melnick

Peter Mendelsund

Debbie Millman

Razvan Mitoiu

Dan Mogford

Oliver Munday

Susan Murphy

Catherine Nippe

Linn Olofsdotter

Ingrid Paulson

David Pearson

Jason Polan

Laurie Rosenwald

Tanya Rubbak


Paula Scher

Diane Shaw

Yuko Shimizu

Isaac Tobin

Transfer Studio

Anne Ulku

Jenny Volvovski

Michel Vrana

Jen Wang

Chip Wass

Sam Weber

Adrienne Weiss

Barbara deWilde

Gabriele Wilson

Ben Wiseman

Graham Wood

Henry Sene Yee

Anna Zukowska-Zysko

The format will be similar to This Way, a book edited by Marco Sonzogni based upon Venus febriculosa’s 4th book cover competition for Tadeusz Borowski’s This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Please check back soon for more information!



contest no. 7, hunger

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

“The malnourished winter queues were eerily silent”

I’ve been reading Lidiya Ginzburg’s Blockade Diary (written during the 900-day Siege of Leningrad during the Second World War) on the heels of Tim Snyder’s excellent book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (where in addition to the Siege he discusses Stalin’s horrific 1932-33 famine-genocide in the Ukraine that killed, at a minimum, three million people and quite possibly many millions more) and filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa’s remarkable 52-minute Blokada (consisting entirely of silent black and white film footage found in Soviet archives to which Loznitsa meticulously added sound, creating an eerily immediate and ultimately devastating document about the death by starvation of approximately one million Leningraders between September 1941 and January 1944).

“hunger killed where grief had only wounded” Inferno, Canto XXXIII/75

In 1289, five men starved to death in a tower in Pisa./In 1981 ten men starved to death in the H-Blocks in Northern Ireland.

The above quote, from Dante, is a translation by Irish poet and Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney (1939 – ) that appears in his poem “Ugolino” from his 1979 collection Field Work. My colleague and friend Marco Sonzogni, himself a translator of Heaney, recently brought it to my attention. “Ugolino” is his translation of lines 1-90 of Canto XXXIII of Dante’s Inferno (Here is an interesting essay on the Heaney translation) which tells the story of 13th century Italian nobleman Ugolino della Gherardesca who, along with his sons and grandsons, was imprisoned in a tower by Ruggieri degli Ubaldini, the Archbishop of Pisa and left to starve.  Heaney possibly chose this portion of the Inferno to translate because the specter of hunger still looms large in Ireland, where in the 19th century the Great Famine killed a million people and sent another million scattering to other countries.  Heaney himself has said he considered dedicating “Ugolino” to the hundreds of Irish Republican prisoners who, starting in 1976, when their Special Category Status as political prisoners was revoked, refused to wearing prison uniforms and instead chose to wear only blankets, and later refused to bathe after being assaulted on their way to the baths by prison guards. The “Blanket Protest” and the “Dirty Protest” was ultimately followed by the hunger strikes in which Bobby Sands and nine others died.

Today, according to the United Nations World Food Programme, hunger is by far the most significant health risk worldwide. One in six people, or 925 million suffer from not getting enough to eat day after day, and every year six million children in developing countries die from malnourishment. The myriad causes are often inextricably linked: war, poverty, political unrest and disenfranchisement, corruption, economic underdevelopment, famine, environmental overexploitation

Marco had the wonderful idea to use the Dante/Heaney text in a poster contest to highlight awareness of world hunger. We are reaching out to a number of organizations and will work with one of them to make this contest part of its campaign against hunger. Our goal is to create a book of images and essays much like the This Way Project, the proceeds of which will go directly to that organization to alleviate hunger worldwide. Can a poster overcome complacence? Can it spur a distracted world to action? I recall the moment in 1999 when I read Peter Singer’s The Singer Solution to World Poverty in the New York Times Magazine and in fact its unassailable logic did spur me to action and it has affected me ever since. I’ve been in touch with Singer recently and, while he has no interest in judging a poster contest, he has agreed to advise us in our endeavor.

So here is the contest: To design a poster promoting awareness of world hunger that will spur us all to action!

Size: A2 420mm x594mm (approximately 16.5” x 23.5”)

Orientation: Vertical (Portrait) Only

Required Text: “hunger killed where grief had only wounded”

Deadline: 1 July 2011

Prize: 1200 USD

Jury: To be announced.

Here are the complete Hunger Contest Rules


Save the Children


United Nations World Food Programme


*   *   *


We had already left him. I walked the ice
And saw two soldered in a frozen hole
On top of other, one
’s skull capping the other’s,
Gnawing at him where the neck and head
Are grafted to the sweet fruit of the brain,
Like a famine victim at a loaf of bread.
So the berserk Tydeus gnashed and fed
Upon the severed head of Menalippus
As if it were some spattered carnal melon.
“You,” I shouted, you on top, what hate
Makes you so ravenous and insatiable?
What keeps you so monstrously at rut?
Is there any story I can tell
For you, in the world above, against him?…

(the reply)
…As I watched through a narrow hole
Moon after moon, bright and somnambulant,
Pass overhead, until that night I dreamt
The bad dream and my future’s veil was rent…

…They were awake now, it was near the time
For food to be brought in as usual,
Each one of them disturbed after his dream,
When I heard the door being nailed and hammered…

…Saying, “Father, it will greatly ease our pain
If you eat us instead, and you who dressed us
In this sad flesh undress us here again.

So then I calmed myself to keep them calm.
We hushed. That day and the next stole past us
And earth seemed hardened against me and them.
For four days we let the silence gather.
Then, throwing himself flat in front of me,
Gaddo said,
“Why don’t you help me, Father?
He died like that, and surely as you see
Me here, one by one I saw my three
Drop dead during the fifth day and the sixth day
Until I saw no more. Searching, blinded,
For two days I groped over them and called them.
Then hunger killed where grief had only wounded.

When he had said all this, his eyes rolled
And his teeth, like a dog’s teeth clamping round a bone
Bit into the skull and again took hold.

wioletta lenczowska, winner, cover design contest no. 6

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

Perhaps our cover design contest no.6: DSM-5/DSoM at 40, american psychiatric association/pink floyd [2013] was a bit, shall we say, open ended. In any event, there was a record low turnout (fewer than 40 entries!).  Still, if the thirty-odd designs hewed rather closely to relatively predictable images (prisms, rainbows, brains) there were nonetheless among them some well-executed and interesting covers. I especially liked the shattered prism of Moira Perez (Spain) and the light-absorbing prism of Tomasz Florczak (Poland).  Gary Gowans (UK) and Narayana Navarroza (Philippines) both opted for a new, top-down perspective, while the cover of Fionn Byrne (Canada) emphasizes the particular dimensions of diagnostics. Janusz Marciniak (Poland) found inspiration in a rainbow aura. Helena Raczynska-Pachut (Poland) and Przemyslaw Pachut (Poland) rounded out the sequence with their interpretations.  Lastly, I should note that a few people, at least, dispensed with expected themes altogether. I liked the rather clinical covers of  Mia Vucic (Croatia).

Still, it was Wioletta Lenczowska (Poland) whose precise and lovely covers seemed just right.

Row 1:

Moira Perez

Row 2:

Tomasz Florczak

Row 3:

Gary Gowans (l)

Narayana Navarroza (r)

Row 4:

Fionn Byrne (l)

Janusz Marciniak (r)

Row 5:

Helena Raczynska-Pachut (l)

Przemyslaw Pachut (r)

Row 6:

Mia Vucic