Literary Chameleon

. September 26, 2014.
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Writers committed to the printed word have reasons to feel like an endangered species. Fortunately for these old-fashioned creatures, Harlequin Creature, an Ann Arbor-based literary journal, is releasing issue 5.5 this fall.

If you’re not already acquainted with the magazine, its format may come as a bit of a surprise. “No two copies are the same,” says editor Hannah McMurray, a doctoral student in German Studies at the University of Michigan.

Founded in 2011 by McMurray’s fellow student Meghan Forbes, the staff prides itself on avoiding digital reproduction. Each copy of the journal, save for 5.5, which comes in the form of a vinyl record, is hand-typed by volunteers at “typing bee” events, some of which take place in Ann Arbor.

“People are really afraid of the machine in the beginning,” Hannah laughs. “The lack of a deletebutton really freaks people out initially, especially the perfectionists.”

Barbara Brown, a local book artist, helps Forbes and McMurray devise hand-bindings for each issue, and has also taken part in each typing bee. She recalls, “I brought a bottle of Wite-Out to my first typing bee, but Meghan wouldn’t let me use it!”

All Originals

The journal’s unusual rules may intimidate some, but they help Harlequin Creature stand out in a publishing world dominated by tweets and status updates. McMurray doesn’t release any content online. She has made some concessions to convenience, reducing the word limit for prose and allowing each volunteer to type a carbon copy. Still, the journal retains its unique spirit. Original issues – as opposed to carbon copies – even include individual prints by the issue’s featured artist.

“People are interested in it as an aesthetic object,” McMurray says.

“There are different layers of authors,” she adds. “There are the authors and the editors, and then the typists who are typing them in their own way. Each person who types a copy signs it and dedicates it to someone. We encourage people who are thinking of buying an issue to flip through and find a copy whose dedication really speaks to them.”

As you might expect, Harlequin Creature is produced in limited editions – currently 100 issues. And if you’re hoping to get your hands on one, you’ll have to act fast. McMurray reports that the last issue nearly sold out before its release and readers are now snapping up back issues. Copies are available for viewing at the University of Michigan’s Special Collections, and some are still for sale at Literati.

Literati has also hosted past Harlequin Creature launch parties. “There’s a certain romance that comes with taking the time to actually make a work of art,” says Mike Gustafson, Literati’s owner. “We’re proud to support Harlequin Creature.” 

Photo by Sasha Arutyunova

     5.5 Presale  

Issue 5.5 is currently available for presale. Unlike previous releases, it will be a double-sided vinyl record featuring a series of spoken word pieces and an intro and outro by Ian McLellan Davis, the magazine’s music editor. Davis recorded each piece in his home studio.

 5.5 will arrive in stores in late October or early November, McMurray estimates. The record will cost $15.

Anyone can take part in a typing bee for the magazine’s upcoming sixth issue, or in one of the magazine’s workshops, which introduce children to typewriters. Past sessions have taken place at 826michigan and the Dia:Beacon. McMurray says the program can always use volunteers, as well as donations.

Photo by Sasha Arutyunova

Writers and artists can submit work – including prose, poetry, sheet music, collage and other visual forms – through the magazine’s website. Submissions for the sixth issue closed in early September, and McMurray and Forbes will be combing through them, along with their doctoral studies.

“What they’ve done is Herculean,” Brown says.

The launch party at Literati will be November 13th at 7pm. For more info visit harlequincreature.org

 

 

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