Madison Smartt Bell ~ Maryland "Born and raised in Tennessee, Madison Smartt Bell has lived in New York and in London and now lives in Baltimore, Maryland. A graduate of Princeton University (A.B 1979) and Hollins College (M.A. 1981), he has taught in various creative writing programs, including the Iowa Writers' Workshop and the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars. Since 1984 he has taught in the Groucher College Creative Program, where he is currently Professor of English."

The Day My Keys Didn't Want To Go Home
By Jean de la Fontaine and Madison Smartt Bell
[Paris]: [nd], Madison Smartt Bell. Edition of 39.

6 x 8" closed, opens to 25.75 x 35.75"; 18 grids. Map fold with cloth back. Paper title label on first folded cloth panel. In cloth slipcase with paper title on spine.

Madison Smartt Bell: "In the spring of 2004 I met Jean de la Fontaine in Paris. He showed me an old slip-covered map with a cloth back and a multi-paneled folding design. Jean and I had collaborated on 2.5 artists' books in the past. The first book, The Double Tongue, began with art by Jean to which I added text. The second book, Mister Potatohead In Love began with my text, to which Jean added images. Version 2.5, intended to consist of images by me to which Jean would contribute text, was never released, although a draft effort, Kochon Kreyol: a story in pictures, survives.

"Jean's idea was for the found map to serve as a template for our third collaboration. We began with the pattern furnished by the folds and panels. I moved to Paris in the winter of 2005 with my wife and daughter. A gray winter.

"I spent a lot of time underground in the metro. I began to think of a story loosely based on these underground transits, and on a piece of choral music by Couperin called Lecons des Tenebres. Meanwhile an image appeared to Jean in a dream. We needed to find a place to work on the project together. A good spot was offered to us by Gerard Barthelemy. He and his family had spent 20 years or so renovating an abandoned mill complex about 50 miles north of Paris. Gerard spent many years in Haiti, where Jean and I have also spent some time -- and the feel of the Moulin Rouge was very much that of a Haitian lakou. Gerard's wife Perrine let us use her studio for a couple of days. The room had once controlled a water-gate and the mill stream still flows beneath it....

"Oddly, Jean and I had never worked together simultaneously on any of our earlier collaborations. The books we had done before had happened through the mail when both of us were in different countries. Oddly we weren't quite sure to do. I forget which one of us made the first move. It might have been me telling a story idea about a person riding around in the metro, unwillingly assailed by the thoughts of other passengers. Or maybe Jean drew the image from his dream, a snake shooting out a man's ear.

"With the ice broken we both worked quickly and happily. My original notion for a story called Lecons des Tenebres was gloomy as hell. The image from Jean's dream might perhaps have been a little frightening. Somehow the friction of the two ideas together cheered each other up..."

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Mister Potatohead in Love
By Madison Smartt Bell and Jean La Fontonaine
Baltimore, Maryland: Madison Smart Bell, 1994. Edition of 39.

18 x 32" scroll attached at each end to a wooden dowel. Grosgrain ribbon with metal hook fastener when rolled. Five woodcuts tipped on canvas backing. Housed in 20 x 2.625 x 2.75" wooded box with sliding top and ribbon lifts. Title burned into top. Signed and numbered on colophon by artist and writer.

A collaboration of artist Jean La Fontaine and writer Madison Smartt Bell. Woodcuts accompany a short story about buskers in NYC. The main character is captivated by a young woman singing a soulful note or two in Grand Central Station, before the cops hustle her off.

Daily Princetonian, Volume 116, Number 30, 12 March 1992: "This short piece tells the plight of an oddly-featured man trying to find a sympathetic soul among his fellow New Yorkers. The story represents Bell at his best — not only is the prose imaginative and funny, and the characters fresh and full of surprise, but the vignette is also infused with a subtle compassion that is truly moving. At one point in the story, Mr. Potatohead remarks to a group of street dancers (he himself is a busker), 'Gentlemen, I thank you. You make my poor life into poetry,' a line which also describes Bell's work quite nicely."

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 Page last update: 03.18.13

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