A new exhibit at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Morris Library highlights the Black Sun Press, a Paris publishing company founded in 1927 by wealthy ex-patriates Harry and Caresse Crosby. The BSP, initially created to print the Crosby’s own poems, gradually sought out work from experimental, then-unknown writers such as Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and Hart Crane.
Black Sun Press, originally called Editions Narcisse in honor of the couple’s black whippet named Narcisse Noir, published beautifully bound, hand-set books, with Roger Lescaret, a former funeral notice printer, as its master printer. The first publication was “Red Skeletons” with poems by Harry Crosby and illustrations by Crosby friend Alastair, as Hans Henning von Voight was known professionally.
In mid-1928 the name was changed to the Black Sun Press, in keeping with the obsessions Harry developed after escaping death in World War I. He was fascinated with death and with a glittering black sun, which soon dominated his writings and even his signature.
Besides continuing to print their own work, Harry and Caresse published ornate versions of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Oscar Wilde’s “The Birthday of the Infanta,” and letters from Henry James to Harry’s cousin, Walter Berry. Additional titles included D.H. Lawrence’s “The Sun,” James Joyce’s “Tales Told of Shem and Shaun” (later incorporated into “Finnegans Wake”) and various Kay Boyle short stories.
The Black Sun Press published 14 works in 1929 but in December of that year, Harry Crosby died in a suicide pact with a young Boston socialite. Through Caresse’s perseverance, however, the press continued to publish for another 20 years.
The exhibit, curated by David Bond and designed by Beth Martell, includes a portion of the library’s extensive collection of Black Sun Press books, as well as scanned images and photographs from the Caresse Crosby Collection, illustrative of the bohemian lifestyle of the Crosbys and their friends in 1920s Paris.