See It Here First: The Cover for Alexander Chee’s New Essay Collection
A Behind-the-Scenes Look at How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
Forthcoming from Mariner Books in April 2018, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is an essay collection exploring life, literature, and politics, and how we create ourselves through art.
Alexander Chee on his new cover:
There were a number of vintage photos of me that we were thinking of using, and I came across this one from a series that I took at the Deadwood bar in Iowa City, when I was getting my MFA at the Iowa Writers Workshop. I took them to make stationery for letters to my boyfriend at the time, who was getting his MFA in Arizona—we sent each other these love letters that were like zines. I would goof around in the photos a lot and sometimes the letters began there. When I got the eventual cover from the designer, I loved it more or less right away, because it reminded me of these but also, his vision has me in mind of the East German passport Christa Wolf tries to use in her final book, “City of Angels,” which opens with her arriving in California, and the passport agent, turning her passport over, and saying approximately, “Are you sure this country still exists?” I talk a lot about the idea of feeling like I belong to an America that doesn’t exist yet in the collection, and this cover, to me, makes the book feel like my passport to that country—one I had to write myself.
Jacket designer Christopher Moisan:
I don’t think I was prepared for the effect reading Alex Chee’s essays would have on me. As a gay man of the same generation as Alex, I felt transported back to my youth in both nostalgic and maybe slightly uncomfortable ways. If I had to sum up my (personal) sense of a common thread running through this book, I would say it would be representation and presentation: in the world, in a smaller circle of friends and community, and to the self. I have a stack of photobooth shots of myself with and without friends hidden away in a box. They truly were the selfies of the 1990s! When Naomi offered Alex’s collection as a possibility I was eager to try using them on the cover in some way. They speak to the era, they speak to autobiography, and they speak to self-presentation. I could only think of highlighting the single and singular photo we selected with strong color. And rather than trying to minimize the long title, running it along the margins of the cover in an authoritatively classic serif seemed to focus the energy inward, to young Alex.