August 14, 2015

Library exhibit highlights Black Sun Press

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A new exhibit at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Morris Library highlights Black Sun Press, a Paris publishing company founded in 1927 by wealthy ex-patriates Harry and Caresse Crosby. 

The company, initially founded to print the Crosbys’ own poems, gradually shifted to seek out work from experimental, as-of-then-unknown authors including Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Hart Crane. Black Sun Press, initially 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 they changed the name to 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. 

Black Sun Press continued to publish work by the Crosbys as well as 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. Other titles include D.H. Lawrence’s “The Sun,” James Joyce’s “Tales Told of Shem and Shaun” (later incorporated into “Finnegan’s Wake,”) and various Kay Boyle short stories. 

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 the perseverance of Caresse Crosby, however, the company 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 and drawings along with scanned images and photographs from the Caresse Crosby collection, illustrative papers of Bohemian lifestyle of the Crosbys and their friends in 1920’s-era Paris. 

Visitors to the library’s Hall of Presidents and Chancellors will be able to see some of SIU’s limited-edition, ornately bound, high-quality print books from people who were at the time of the writings, experimental, up-and-coming authors. Viewers can also see a portion of the library’s collection at the exhibit, in place until late October, and make arrangements to examine specific books later in the Reading Room. 

For more information, contact David Bond at or by calling 618/453-2516.