January 22, 2013

“Material of a lewd, lecherous or obscene nature and intent”


Inspecting a day’s work to make sure no naughty bits slipped in.

What is the role of a printing press in deciding which books will see the world?

As reported online by PWGiancarlo DiTrapano, editor of indie press Tyrant Books, mentioned on twitter last week that their printer for review copies, Sterling Pierce, had refused to print one of their forthcoming books because of “content issues.” The book in question is Marie Calloway’s What Purpose Did I Serve in your Life.

Calloway, you may remember, is the author whose story “Adrian Brody” for MuuMuu House caused an internet firestorm for its graphic and thinly veiled account of sex with a New York literary personality. Among the best reactions to the commotion at the time was from Emily Gould for Emily Magazine.

All of which is to say that when DiTrapano writes “content issues” it is safe to imagine that the publisher meant the content was too sexually explicit. DiTrapano is quoted in PW, saying:

“I just found it surprising that they deemed Marie Calloway unprintable.” While there are “collages that contain some nudity,” DiTrapano said the rendering was artistic. “To view the content of this book as pornographic, which I’m assuming is the case, is missing the point.”

“The point” of the book aside, this is an interesting stance from a printer. The very first item in a “Terms of Service” page on the Sterling Pierce site, however, where clients upload their work to be printed, reads

We do not allow nudity, pornography, and sexual material of a lewd, lecherous or obscene nature and intent or that violates local, state and national laws.

It is not beyond reason, given the personalities behind the book and press, to imagine this is all just a publicity stunt. But a stunt involving a nameless factotum at a printing press taking offense would seem already to be so far below the bar being set by Calloway as to be pointless and thus, it seems, unlikely. Nor is this censorship. Sterling Pierce is free to print what they choose. It is more a case of cultural loggerheads: a strangely prurient printing company doing business with one of the more provocative publishers in New York.


Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.