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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
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
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
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
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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