To complement our art theme, Scott Brown, editor of Fine Books & Collections magazine, has chosen a fun and original ABC book, with illustrations by David Hockney and the definitions of the letters by twenty-six well-known writers (including winners of the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize, most of whom have signed the book). Burton Weiss, a bookseller in Berkeley, California, who has this copy for sale, described this book as "magnificent" and "amazing." When asked what he would tell a prospective customer about it, he said, "I'm an old-fashioned booksellers. I'd tell them to buy it, and you know, they usually do."
with drawings by David Hockney and text edited by Stephen Spender
A fine copy, with a vellum spine and handmade paper covering the boards; stamped in gold on the spine and housed in a slipcase (also fine).
Publisher: London: Faber and Faber for the Aids Crisis Trust
Publication Date: 1991
Binding: Hardover, quarter vellum over Fabriano paper. No jacket, as issued. In the publisher's slipcase with a title label designed by Hockney.
Edition: First Edition, special issue, limited to 300 copies.
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Perhaps only a fundraising effort could bring together the stellar group of writers that participated in this book. David Hockney, who is one of the two or three most influential British artists of the later half of the 20th century, made a drawing to illustrate each letter of the alphabet. Famous writers from the U.K. and the United States contributed definitions for the letters, like a children's ABC book, but with a more serious purpose-to raise money to fight AIDS.
"Although, as Stephen Spender points out in his Preface, 'only two writers here - Arthur Miller and John Updike - directly address themselves to the subject of AIDS,' I suspect it must never have been far from the others' minds," Weiss notes. He continues, "To many perhaps it may seem like one of 'Nature's curses' (Updike), progress against which continues to be made immensely more difficult, according to Miller, by 'human denial.' And yet, Hockney's Alphabet, like many abecedaries, is an exuberantly gay book. I mean 'gay,' of course, not as homosexual, but in its older senses - carefree, playful, and/or bright and showy. And I mean 'gay' in the face of all odds to the contrary, in the face of death - to which latter fact, the multifarious exuberance here- Hockney's drawings and writers from A to Z - may be one of art's most effective responses to the disease."
The signatures from Hockney's Alphabet. Left column from top: David Hockney, Iris Murdock, Seamus Heaney, Douglas Adams. Right column from top: Susan Sontag, Joyce Carol, Oates John Updike, Norman Mailer, Ian McEwan.
The book was issued in a trade edition that was sold in stores, and two limited editions. The "regular" limited edition is nicely bound in bright yellow cloth with an accompanying slipcase. Those copies are signed by Hockney and the project's editor, acclaimed writer Stephen Spender.
Three hundred deluxe copies (which is the issue featured here) came bound with vellum spines and include the signatures of Hockney and Spender, along with most of the participating writers. With this book you get the autographs of the science fiction writer Douglas Adams; the cultural critic Susan Sontag; the novelists Martin Amis, Margaret Drabble; Booker Prize-winners Ian McEwan, Iris Murdoch, and Kazuo Ishiguro; Pulitzer Prize-winners Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, and John Updike; and Nobel Prize-winners William Golding and Seamus Heaney; and many other authors of all stripes. What a line up!