Through a friend I have heard tell of the miraculous goings-on within the University of Iowa's Center for the Book, although I myself have never been privy to their work. Thus, much of what follows is the product sheerly of hearsay, albeit of hearsay most intriguing.
The Center offers a certificate program in which students study both the art and practice of bookmaking as well as the social and cultural import of the book as object and "vessel" of thought and information. It seems to me an utterly remarkable program, and to my knowledge it is entirely unique; an unfortunate divide in much higher education is precisely between the "artistic" and the "academic," and it is invigorating to know that a space exists wherein these two are explored together, without qualitative prejudices or emphases on either.
The only book I have read that has come out of the center is No Shortcuts: An Essay on Wood Engraving; it is by Barry Moser, who, according to the friend who lent me the work and who introduced me to the Center, is really quite the big deal. His essay is lovely: details of practical methods of wood engraving – a technique entirely alien to me except in my knowledge of it – are interspersed with charming anecdotes about the art and Moser's more theoretical approaches to it; several of his woodcuts are also included, culminating in a work quite unlike any other I have read, far beyond what to me was its novel subject.
Otherwise, the Center has produced a great deal of broadsides, both through its own press and through its relationship with Empyrean Press; two that I'm dying to see in person are "Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse," a collaboration between John Ashberry and David Tallitsch, and "To Maoli as the Year Ends," which combines W.S. Merwin's poem with impressions of Canis Major. Through the Center, Empyrean also offers two collections by the terrific contemporary poets Dean Young and Jorie Graham; Young's work, which also includes his Míro-esque drawings, is called Original Monkey, and Graham's is called All Things. I have only seen online reproductions of these works, but they look marvelous, and provide a nice opportunity to further laud the work of Young and Graham. Young's collection Elegy on Toy Piano is just terrific, and Graham's recent Overlord is well worth a read, while her The Dream of the Unified Field is nearly required reading in poetry workshops.
The Center is also home to Windhover Press, to which I am entirely unacquainted but whose titles – among them Percival Stockdale: Samuel Johnson, and His Disgrace to English Literature – make me salivate in expectation. Their works are extraordinarily hard to come by and, naturally, quite expensive when one does; I'm relying again on my friend to introduce me to more of their work.
The Center also sells handmade paper and instructional videos; but its greatest virtues lie beyond its salable items.