A Message to PBSA Readers from Jesse R. Erickson

Jesse R. Erickson by Daniel Shea

In 1904, the year the Bibliographical Society of America was first organized, writer and activist Charles Waddell Chesnutt published his sharp-witted “Baxter’s Procrustes” in a June issue of the Atlantic Monthly. It was an amusing critique on the period’s bibliophilic societies and a fitting response to his exclusion from admission into the Rowfant club two years prior because of his racial background as a Black American. By 1927, the year that the BSA was officially incorporated, Chesnutt had been a Rowfant member for more than fifteen years and would be until his death in 1932.

In a time that witnessed both the establishment of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Tulsa massacre, the New Negro movement and public lynchings, the nadir of American race relations bore witness to the peaks and valleys of Jim Crow. Yet, amidst the push/pull of regression and optimism, there were bright spots that appeared in the pages of the bibliophilic publications of the period. Contributing editors for the March 1931 issue of Elmer Adler’s The Colophon (part five), for instance, included not only such figures as George Parker Winship, Bruce Rogers, and Dard Hunter, but also Grolier Club librarian Ruth S. Granniss and the Morgan Library first director, Belle da Costa Greene. This issue contains a gorgeously illustrated article by Charles Chesnutt titled “Post-Bellum Pre-Harlem” that reads surprisingly fresh for the period. In 1930, Volume 24 of the Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America published articles by the likes of Latin Americanist Edward Larocque Tinker and, again, Ruth Granniss. Tinker contributed a piece on A. L. Boimare, the first bibliographer of New Orleans, and Granniss, instrumental in building up the Grolier’s library collection, wrote an article on the value of bibliography to book clubs, bringing everything back full circle.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century and, in thinking back upon this legacy, I am humbled to consider that my service as co-editor for PBSA can be viewed as a small part of this continuum. Yet it is important to recognize that in a time of such titans, these societies and clubs would have a long way to go in terms of achieving the ideals of equality in representation, even as the pendulum of progress would inch forward before swinging back again and again. It is heartening to know that my dreams for the future of this field—one in which the stories and traditions of peoples of all backgrounds and identities are expansively reflected in the study, collecting, appreciation, and preservation of these mysterious objects we call books—are in many ways the fruit of a tree that was planted more than a century ago. This tree, I hope, is a golden aspen with trunks and branches that will spread grass-like in the hearts and minds of generations to come. For that has always been the goal, to breathe new life into a thing that is worth living and sustain something bigger than its individual parts, each author, issue, volume, and reader becoming part of a greater legacy by providing a foundation for its successors.

My work for this journal over the past couple of years has been an honor in a life that has been blessed with one honor after another. I am profoundly grateful for the invaluable work of Sarah Werner in her tireless efforts to elevate the journal to new scholarly heights; just as I am tremendously appreciative for the steady, dedicated leadership of Erin McGuirl. And everyone who has contributed to the journal during my term, from the managing and reviews editors, to the Advisory Board members, to the peer reviewers, has my sincere and heartfelt thanks. Their work has so clearly and consistently moved these ideas into action and, in the process, actualized ideals that we all should aspire toward. Perhaps years from now, then, the bibliographers of the future (or something akin to that designation) will look back at this time with the same admiration that we look upon the time of the Winships and Greenes of the book world. Maybe they will look back upon this period and realize that this was truly a special moment, a history in the making.