May 5, 2014KR BlogNewsletter

Why We Chose It

2014-covers-blogOn the 2014 cover art for The Kenyon Review, by Ellen Priest

What does 75 look like? This seemed an essential question as we searched for cover art to celebrate our dodranscentennial. The black-and-white photographs that have graced The Kenyon Review’s covers for the past twenty-five years offer a subtle, quiet elegance but lacked the bold, big-band, shout-out, parade-level energy of celebration. So began the search for firework-powered art to spark our covers in this anniversary year.

In early days, KR’s cover illustration remained the same with only variations of ink colors to distinguish each issue. John Crowe Ransom, the founding editor, selected inks based on the color of socks he wore on the day the magazine went to press. Seems his socks were mismatched? We briefly considered rerunning the first cover illustration for the anniversary, but our socks weren’t fancy enough to command attention.

Years later, after Ransom had stepped down, 80 percent of magazine sales at newsstands depended on cover art to catch a buyer’s eye. These were tough years for KR, lending credence to the adage that a book is indeed judged by the cover. Editor David Lynn began to use b/w photographs on the cover because they were visually striking but also economical to print, using just black ink. Today, newsstand sales are small, as most KR readers are subscribers. But it takes a good cover to compete for attention in your burgeoning mailbox. While covers need not push for newsstand buyers, we hope these images pull at your imagination. A strong visual image invites you to sit down, read, take a journey through our pages … and may even prompt a poem.

Can you readily identify The Kenyon Review in your mail pile? If so, Rick Landesberg and his creative team deserve a round of applause for creating KR’s graphic identity. John Pickard works hard to reproduce each image to best effect. As a cover junkie myself, I enjoy hunting and gathering images and ideas. This anniversary year seemed time to inspire readers with bold colors that explode like fireworks in the sky, and shout “celebration!”

Paintings by Ellen Priest jumped to our attention with their vibrant layers of collage and color inspired by jazz. The originals are square, but Ellen was kind enough to let us crop images for covers, while reprinting the entire painting on the back cover.

Priest’s inspiration comes from many different sources, including Cezanne’s late watercolors and Matisse’s vibrant compositional structures as well as Abstract Expressionism. She is also influenced by the rhythmic and harmonic structures in jazz and related African and Latin American music. These paintings suggest movement and music, as the artist points out in her title “Venezuelan Suite.” More of Priest’s work may be viewed online at While abstract, images of garlands and confetti are evoked in the lively lines and colorful dots of “Jazz: Edward Simon’s Venezuelan Suite # 13” on the cover of this spring issue.  Put on a garland, toss some confetti, and celebrate the word feast in this 75th year of The Kenyon Review.