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On the Typewriter

The typewriter fetish that is rampant in my household crossed a critical threshold this weekend–there was an actual moment, on Saturday, where I considered buying dedicated furniture to better house the typewriters in my growing collection. (I’m trying to talk about this ‘typewriter fetish’ omnisciently and so escape my wild culpability in the whole thing. If I make it sound like a virus, how could I be responsible for owning six?)

One reason for my typewriter interest are the stories and myths surrounding the machines. Anyone who reads likely has a favorite book that was written on a typewriter. The New Yorker had a recent review of The Iron Whim: A Fragmented History of Typewriting, and the review mentions some of the biggest stories: Kerouac’s scrolls, Hemingway’s standing typewriter desk, and Twain as the first to foist a type-written manuscript on a publisher.

And then there’s this, from the now defunct performance group The Typing Explosion, which celebrated typewriters and typewriter-culture beautifully.

Of course, it is easy to love what you can get a lot of, and there are lots of typewriters out there. Ebay lists over 1100 items when I searched ‘typewriter’ while writing this. Many cast iron beauties lurk in yard sales, I promise–take a few Saturdays and look. While you are looking, you can check out the Virtual Antique Typewriter Museum for a brief history and images of early machines. Here’s another brief history.

But the addition of a new manual Smith-Corona with an extra-wide carriage for filling out oversized office forms, found free at a yard sale this weekend, jogged my memory to something I thought striking from the Ralph Ellison link in the last Short Takes. The linked article suggests that the advent of the personal computer–with lightening quick editorial capabilities–effectively ruined the shape of Ellison’s second book. His sentence-by-sentence revisions, the article suggests, were beautiful, but came at the expense of the ‘novelness’ in his novel. And for me it boils down to this (and the article suggests this as well): would Ellison have managed to finish if he hadn’t had a computer’s editorial abilities?

Not that this question adds anything dramatic to the typewriter mystique, but it does feed my typewriter fetish (which I’m now talking about like a parasite). I like the suggestion that there is something the typewriter can do the computer can’t, even if the distinction is purely aesthetic. Writing is lonely. Working on a screen only adds to the countless hours of ‘screen time‘ that are already a part of modern life. Working on a typewriter takes maintenance. It can break. You can watch the arm smash into the ribbon, and then into the paper. Each step feels like a tiny, accumulating permanence. In the typing moment you get to see how thought becomes language, every step of the way, from brain to hand to paper. With a screen, all is hidden in pixels–and most of us have no idea how it works. With a typewriter, that raw magic is still there for me–you just always get to see the magician’s hands.

About the Program

The Kenyon Review Associates Program provides Kenyon students with valuable experience in literary editing, publishing, and programming. KR Associates work closely with Kenyon Review staff, gaining valuable experience in a number of editing, publishing, and programming areas including manuscript evaluation, publicity and marketing, copy editing, developing web site and social media content, outreach programming, event planning and promotion, and other creative and editorial projects

KR Associates attend regular seminars conducted by Kenyon Review editorial staff, visiting readers, and publishing industry professionals. These seminars cover a wide range of topics including editorial philosophy, evaluation of submissions, print and electronic production, marketing, and design.

KR Associates enjoy also enjoy exclusive access to visiting writers and speakers, free issues of The Kenyon Review, and valuable work experience and employment references.

This program is made possible through an initiative of the Kenyon Review, part of the mission of which is to contribute to the enrichment of the academic, cultural, and artistic life of the Kenyon College community.

Requirements and Expectations

  • Submission Evaluation: All Associates are required to read and evaluate eight Kenyon Review submissions per week. Associates who are not able to complete their weekly submission assignments for more than two weeks in a row may not be allowed to continue in the program.
  • Trainings and Seminars: In-person attendance is mandatory at all trainings and seminars. We plan on scheduling six to eight seminars per semester, and most will take place on Thursdays during common hour.
  • Literary Engagement: Associates are expected to participate in literary events on campus and throughout the local community.

Application Details

The application deadline for the 2023-24 program has passed. Applications for the 2024-25 program will open in the fall of 2024. Please check back then for more details.

Questions? Please contact Tory Weber for more information.