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This article was prepared for the December 8, 2004

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Publisher’s Colorful ‘Tapestry’

Life comes through in glorious color in "The Sun’s Palette: Poems and

Tapestries," the second book published by start-up Red Hummingbird

Press. Author Paula Bramsen Cullen, working closely with Hanna Fox,

the founder of the new Princeton publishing house, has put together a

volume of poems about family interactions and has used her richly

colored tapestries as illustrations. She gives a reading at the

Princeton University Store on Wednesday, December 15.

The idea for the pairing came as Fox and Cullen, friends since their

sons attended the University Now nursery school in the 1970s, sat

together in Cullen’s living room pondering a title for a book to be

made up of a selection of her poems.

"The working title had been ‘Skins to Live In,’" says Cullen. It

reflected her fascination with "emotional photos of the moment." Some

of the moments she captures occur between members of her family, while

others are of fleeting glimpses of strangers. "Passing a graveyard, I

saw a young father standing on a grave stone, holding his baby over

his head," she gives as an example. Putting herself in the young

father’s place, and seeing the irony of vibrant life so close to

death, she wrote "The Funeral Party."

A keen observer of the interactions around her, Cullen does indeed put

herself into others’ skins, and so the title was apt. But Fox,

suddenly fixing on a tapestry above her friend’s fireplace, thought of

a better one. "What’s the name of that tapestry?" she asked. Cullen

replied "The Sun’s Palette."

In an "ah ha!" moment, the pair agreed that the tapestry’s name

perfectly captured the range of interactions explored in Cullen’s

poems. Further, Fox suggested that a number of Cullen’s tapestries be

included in the book along with the poems. The result is a volume of

some 39 poems and 12 tapestries.

This second offering from Red Hummingbird follows "Candle in Dark

Time" by Virginia Stuart, a work of historical fiction set in

Nazi-occupied Denmark in October, 1943. The book, published in

October, 2003, has done well, says Fox. "We’ve sold a lot at different

events and to book clubs," she says.

"Candle in Dark Time" is also available at area book stores and at the

press’s website, www.redhummingbirdpress.com. The book, one of the few

to look at the rescue of Denmark’s Jews, appeals to children as well

as to adults. "We feel it’s good for Holocaust curriculum in middle

school and high school," says Fox, who attends a big regional

holocaust education conference in Cherry Hill on December 8 and 9.

In choosing publications for her press, Fox looks for books that she

believes deserve to get out into the marketplace, but which, for one

reason or another, have not yet done so. She also looks for niche

markets. In the first case, she chose a book about an important

subject that had received very little attention. In publishing

Cullen’s poems, she is putting in place the first volume in what she

hopes will become a series of books of poetry that have at their heart

social commentary.

A lifelong writer, Fox chose publishing, a famously difficult

business, as a post-retirement career. A graduate of Smith (Class of

1959), she holds a master’s of art in education from Tufts. After

starting her writing career at Scholastic magazine, she worked as a

writing teacher, and as a freelance newspaper and magazine writer. She

is retired from a nearly-two-decade stint of working for the State of

New Jersey, most recently as program director for the Children’s Trust

Fund to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect, a job she left in 2002 to

start her publishing company.

Working with her at Red Hummingbird are Robin Cunningham, who handles

administration and finance, and David Fox, her son, who is director of

technology.

Interestingly, Fox and her new author, Cullen, neither one of them in

a demograhic immediately associated with computer geeks, both are

nearly as effusive about the wonders of technology as they are about

the world of the printed word.

"One of the wonderful aspects of being able to publish at this time,"

says Fox, "is the advances in technology." Her press’s new book, "The

Sun’s Palette," is enriched by a dozen color plates, something that

would have been prohibitively expensive just a few years ago, she

says. Digital photography puts color within reach. Even with generous

illustration, Red Hummingbird is able to sell the new book for the

reasonable price of $15. Another advantage of 21st century publishing

technology is that small print runs are possible, making it easy for

publishing houses to fulfill requests for a modest number of books.

While Fox enthuses over the technology, Cullen is equally enthusiastic

about how it helps her to create the tapestries that grace her book.

Even after she creates a design that appeals to her, she is not sure

how it will look as a wall-sized tapestry. She works up the design in

a 6" x 7" size and then has her husband, Dan, a mathematician now

retired from Mathematica, blow it up on his computer. She also

receives substantial design support from her older son, Sean, a

graduate of the Yale Drama School’s technical production program. His

credits include not only the design of her first book, Journey of

Storms, but also work on technical aspects of the movies "Cold

Mountain" and "The English Patient."

A graduate of Washington University, Cullen, a Princeton resident, has

devoted much of her life to her art and to raising her family, which

includes Sean’s younger brother, Erik, who has spent the past eight

years as executive director of Habitat for Humanity in Montgomery

County, Maryland.

She writes humor as well as poetry, and sees commonalities in the two

types of writing and in the creation of tapestries. All require

"compression," she says, explaining that a fleeting moment, an

interaction, or a perception, must be captured succinctly – and

delivered as a surprise.

In all of the forms of art there is also the element of relationships.

Whether it is in arraying 80 colors on a red rack and seeing myriad

synergistic possibilities, observing a couple talking over dinner and

creating a poem about their interaction, or joining together with an

old friend to bring a book to life, Cullen is weaving color and

experience into art.

And while she says that she values "anonymity," Cullen is also excited

about venturing out into the world with the book made possible by

Fox’s second career, the publishing house she created to get deserving

literary works into print.

Red Hummingbird is first and foremost "a labor of love," says Fox. She

is not counting on fame or fortune, but still, she says, it would be

nice to give birth to a breakout book. Maybe it will be "Candle in

Dark Time," which, says Fox, "would be a wonderful movie." Or maybe it

will be the "The Sun’s Palette," a book that speaks to the

interactions going on day after day in every town, in every family.

While it is far too early to know whether the book will be a runaway

hit, Fox suggests that "The Sun’s Palette" would make a fine holiday

gift.

Reading from The Sun’s Palette: Poems and Tapestries,

Wednesday, December 15, at 12:30 p.m., at the Princeton U-Store, 36

University Place. Signed copies available. 609-921-8500


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