Col·lecció documental Hanuman Books
- 48 v.: il.; 11 x 7 cm
- Col·lecció MACBA. Centre d'Estudis i Documentació
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The publishing house Hanuman Books was founded by the editor Raymond Foye and the artist Francesco Clemente in 1986. Foye had studied film and painting in the mid-sixties, although he ultimately opted for literature. A meeting with the poet and painter Lawrence Ferlinghetti in a San Francisco café in 1978 led to the offer of a job as an editor at the legendary publishing house City Lights Books. In 1980 he moved to New York, where he worked as an editor for New Directions, Black Sparrow Books and Petersburg Press.
Foye and the Italian artist Clemente met in 1986 through Henry Geldzahler, a former curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and head of Cultural Affairs for New York City. Soon after, Foye invited Clemente to illustrate an English translation of Alberto Sabino’s La partenza dell’argonauta. Following the success of this first collaboration, they decided to set up their own publishing house that same year. Thus Hanuman Books was born, and christened with the name of a popular Hindu deity.
Hanuman Books set up its office and publishing house in a studio at New York’s Hotel Chelsea, but its books were physically produced in Madras – where Clemente had a house – under the direction of Kalakshetra Press, which was the property of C. T. Nachiappan. The format of the titles published by Hanuman Books was directly inspired by Hindu prayer books. The small books, which fit into the palm of one’s hand (11 x 7 cm), were hand-set on a letter press, printed on acid-free cotton paper made in ashrams, and hand-sewn by fishermen.
The striking covers featured bright colours made from vegetable dyes, and gold-embossed titles. The content of the books was just as unusual and irreverent ad their form. Most of the publications were English translations of little-known texts by philosophers, poets and visionaries such as Simone Weil, Sandro Penna and Alain Daniélou, and also poetry, fiction and essays written by contemporary artists and figures from the avant-garde counterculture.
Haunman Books titles were generally published in print runs of 1,500 and shipped from India to Hotel Chelsea in New York, then from there to “friends, individuals, and stores” or to distributors who sold them on to bookshops and museum shops. Nevertheless, in at least two cases the controversial nature of the publication severely limited distribution. In 1998, the print run of Cookie Mueller’s Fan Mail, Frank Letters and Crank Calls (number 15 in the series) was confiscated by Indian customs agents because in contained an image of Priapus, the Roman god of fertility. Foye and Clemente brought a lawsuit against the Indian government accusing it of censorship, and although Hanuman Books eventually won the case, by the time they recovered the shipment they found that many of the copies had been destroyed by the customs agents. In another case, Nachiappan, the printer in Madras, destroyed the first edition of Bob Flanagan’s Fuck Journal (number 12 in the series) as a precautionary measure, citing the anti-obscenity legislation that applied to printers as well as publishers. Nachiappan ended up agreeing to print a further five hundred copies of Flanagan books and, after much pleading from Foye, even agreed to arrange for them to be smuggled out of the country. The last Hanuman Books title, which was also number 50 in the series, was published in 1993.
The MACBA Study Centre holds a collection of the forty-eight small-format books published by Hanuman Press, including titles by Max Beckmann, Cookie Mueller, Patti Smith, Richard Hell, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Frank, Francis Picabia, Henri Michaux, Elaine Equi, Gregory Corso and Bob Dylan, as well as interviews with Jack Kerouac.