New Directions Annuals and Anthologies 1936-1991: A Checklist.
John A. Harrison, compiler.
The sub-title of the tenth New Directions annual, "An annual exhibition gallery of new and divergent trends in literature," defines the series that in 1986 already numbered fifty volumes. James Laughlin, the publisher (and editor), reflects in his editor's notes, always a quirky and astute guide to the America of the time, that New Directions "exists as a place for the publication of the experimental and the unconventional." Begun in 1936, the annual served as a testing ground for poems, short stories, excerpts, and translations (even visual art) of many New Directions authors.
From the first there was an emphasis on the offbeat, and particularly in the ND annuals, yet, many of the most important works have been works written in traditional, even conventional forms, or have been translations of classic texts from other languages. In addition, New Directions has been innovative not only in what it has published, but in how it has published it. Unusual in the history of American publishing, New Directions produces large-house volume while maintaining a small press ethic in its use of fine printers, designers, and artists. It does not remainder books. Its international focus is reflected in the large numbers of foreign works in translation it publishes, nearly twenty percent.
Pianos of Sympathy, a sixteen page chapbook by Wayne Andrews, under the pen name Montagu O'Reilly, was the first New Directions book and it was quickly followed by the first ND annual, New Directions in Prose & Poetry, a 136 page anthology made up largely of the contributions to New Democracy and critical pieces on "the problem of semantics in literature." Both the O'Reilly "pamphlet" and the anthology were printed at the Otter Valley Press in Brandon, Vermont.
The New Directions annual, with contributions by Robert Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Bishop, Lorine Niedecker, and Gertrude Stein, was to be the first of a series that continued annually, except during World War II. Laughlin sometimes changed printers, often in the interest of finding the most economical way to produce a book of quality, but sometimes to represent the finest in book design and printing. In 1938, a colophon was designed from a study for a sculpture by Henry Henghes. It remains the New Directions logo, although Rockwell Kent also created a design that was a modification of the original. See facsimile number 4.
In preparing a checklist of the ND annuals and anthologies, it was clear to us that the editor, James Laughlin, was designating "young writers who were seeking to express the spirit of the times in new ways and with new methods" [New Directions in Prose and Poetry 42 (1981)]. The annual continued untile a final issue in 1991.
---- John A. Harrison, D. W. Faulkner, and Davil Dzwonkoski.
This preface is a selection from an article which originally appeared in Conjunctions. One: A Festschrift for James Laughlin.