For 13 years, Jerelle Kraus worked as the Art Director of the NY Times Op-Ed page, and, naturally, she collected some pretty amazing stories. In her book All the Art That’s Fit to Print (And Some That Wasn’t), Kraus dishes about the characters, concepts, and behind the scenes battles that determined which images were approved to illustrate Times Opinions.
The book’s cover image (pictured below), for example, was to accompany a piece by foreign policy advisor William Pfaff that sharply critiqued former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s war crimes record. Artist David Levine created the caricature of Kissinger which was ultimately killed for “…the excessive midsection flesh.”
Equally as interesting is the story behind the making of this book. A lawyer, and a spooked publisher are just a few of the hurdles that threatened to kill the project, not to mention exorbitant out-of-pocket costs.
What sparked you to start All the Art That’s Fit to Print?
[I] wanted to record a miraculous, historically, and culturally hugely significant phenomenon that would otherwise be lost to history, and to do so with my personal voice.
Did you let the images lead the story or did you let the stories behind the images lead?
Both. I first chose the images to include (extremely lengthy process, since choosing from 50,000) based on the ones that told the most fascinating stories and were also visually compelling. By far the most important, however, was that their stories be the ones I badly wanted to turn readers onto.
Did you consult any of the editors and artists you worked with to fill in memory gaps?
On a few occasions, I consulted them to fill in gaps. I also conducted long videotaped interviews with 10 of the major artists and derived some of the book’s material from these sessions.
How long did it take from the initial idea to holding the book in your hand?
I realized in 1983 that there should be a book on the subject but didn’t begin working on it ’til 1993. It was completely finished and ready to be shipped to Hong Kong for printing when the publisher, scared of a NY Times lawyer’s warning to me, dropped the book. Idiotically, instead of suing him for breach of contract, my entire advance, and damages, I gave him back the third of the advance he’d already paid me. It took me years to warm to the project again and, once I got an agent, one year to sell the book. After signing a (terrible for then-naïve me) publishing contract, I quit the Times to write it and finished in about two years (including the mammoth task of gathering and preparing all artwork). The writing took 18 months, but I made my second publishing deadline, and held the hardcover first edition in my hand the day Obama was elected in November 2008.
How did you stay motivated past the euphoria of getting those first words on the page/screen?
‘Twas tough. Very tough. Wrote at night. Relied on gobs of sugarless gum, some wine, [and] emergency assistance, toward the end, from a friend. Did nothing but write. Forced myself to write. Nearly gave up several times.
The book was published in a second softcover edition with a new, much more thrilling cover and review blurbs on the back cover, in fall 2012. Despite receiving annual royalties, if I live six million years, it would impossible for me to come anywhere near recovering the well over $100,000 I’ve personally spent on promotion, since [the] publisher [didn’t] publicize. My intention has been just to get the word out that the book — which I did for love, not money — exists.