Liz Goldwyn, Judith Regan, Lauren Redniss/photo courtesy Regan
Okay, we’ve all had our fun announcing our shock and disgust at Judith Regan for publishing If I Did It, but let’s keep in mind that her eponymous imprint is more than just a clearinghouse for tabloid trash. After all, the news of this broke just as she was preparing to attend the National Book Awards with her nominated novelist, Jess Walter…and shortly after a joint appearance at Strand Books by Liz Goldwyn and Lauren Redniss, both of whom have produced gorgeous coffee-table books for Regan’s fall frontlist. I met with Goldwyn and Redniss the day after that reading to chat about their respective projects.
Redniss’s Century Girl is an amazing work of art, a biography-in-collage of Doris Eaton Travis, “the last living star of the Ziegfield Follies.” As we sit in the café, she turns my copy of the book around and flips to a picture of Doris’s archive room, where she found box after box of the clippings and other memoribilia that form the raw materials of her story. I marvel at the lettering and ask if she had a special typeface made from her handwriting. No, she tells me, she wrote out every page (like the one below—click for a larger view) by hand. “It’s not the most efficient way to write a book,” she admits, especially when she wound up doing several mock-ups of each layout before settling on the final versions.
Goldwyn’s Pretty Things has a more traditional layout, but her history of the last great generation of burlesque dancers is equally packed with visual references. “It’s amazing how many people how locked up their memories in rooms like this,” she says. Originally, she had merely intended to collect enough dresses and other materials to stage her own fashion exhibition, but over the years, the project snowballed into an HBO documentary and now a book. Of the women she’s interviewed, she says “it’s hard not to be subjective and fall in love with them… In a way, they’re family.”
“We both romanticize the past a bit,” Goldwyn admits. Redniss calls her approach “imaginative truth,” saying her aim was to come up with an answer to the question: “How do you make history intimate again?” Both expressed great satisfaction with their publishing relationship with Regan rather than a typical high-end art book publisher. “I didn’t want to have a book that cost $300 and was available to only five people,” Goldwyn says. Redniss agrees, “To do this with a major commercial publisher brings it to a completely different audience. I feel really lucky to have met up with Judith.”
Though they’re careful to delineate the differences in their work—Redniss’s “Century Girl” was of a different world than Goldwyn’s burlesque queens—their coming together in New York has resulted in a fast friendship, with Goldwyn promising during our conversation that she was already making plans to throw a tea party for Redniss when her tour hits Los Angeles. The two are also immersed in their new projects; Redniss is working on another illustrated nonfiction, which she will describe only as “a love story with science,” while Goldwyn has just completed the background research on a historical novel. “I’ve been researching the facts for five years,” she smiles, “and now I’m figuring out the fantasies.”